Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Rim to Rim to WTF

Like most things in 2020, my "race season" turned out a little bit differently than originally planned. 

Right before sunset, heading up the Bright Angel Trail of the Grand Canyon

It always takes me a few days to unfold from an endurance endeavor. I used to think that I wasn't fully present in a moment if I couldn't understand it right away, but it's just the opposite. I can't reflect upon an experience while I'm fully alive within it. I have to be physically and emotionally engulfed by the struggle with nowhere to hide, no backup plan, no escape route. Then after a few days when my body returns to homeostasis, and my hormones realize that they are not in fact being chased by a lion in search of dinner, I can begin to observe the ways in which I interact differently with the world around me. 

Rim-to-rim-to-rim is a double crossing of the Grand Canyon, totaling about 50 miles with just under 11k feet of elevation gain and descent. With the south rim elevation at 7k feet and the north rim at 8k feet, there can be dramatic temperature changes throughout the day and the park rangers make sure to discourage people from attempting this at all costs. 

It's not an actual event. We didn't have volunteers or support crews, or medical tents. We started our descent from the south rim at 4am on Saturday morning with our hydration packs, nutrition for the day, layers of clothing, sunscreen, and a few bandaids just in case. 

I thanked my body ahead of time for being resilient. For being capable enough to get me to the start line. For being the trusted, often disinclined vessel of my growth and creative expression. 

We had 2 hours of descending down the South Kaibob Trail in the dark and I kept stopping for brief moments to turn off my light, look up, and be absolutely mesmerized by the stars. It got hot right away, even in the dark, from all the heat being held in by the rocks. When we got to the bottom of the descent, around Phantom Ranch, I stashed a can of coke that I hoped I would find on the way back up. We ran for a lot of the way along the base of the canyon, noticing that it was a gradual uphill on our way towards the north rim. I made myself throw back some calories and continued to hydrate. 

Around 15 miles in, I needed to go faster and I took off on my own. I genuinely appreciated that we were there with a group of 8 NYX athletes but I love being alone almost as much as I love endurance. When I'm alone and not running, I enjoy spending time inside my head with my thoughts. But when I'm alone and I am running, I get to be inside my body. With all my feelings and sensations and knowings. 

That is my favorite portal.

My new friend Kendra (that I just met that morning) caught up with me on the climb up to the north rim and her pacing was helpful. She somehow had a lot of extra energy to talk to the people around us, which worked out really well for me so that I could benefit from being pushed by the small group we had joined, but not actually have to participate in conversation. 

We got to the north rim in 6.5 hours. It was getting hot on the way up but I felt surprisingly fresh. We stayed there for about 10-15 minutes, filled up with water, shoved some more calories into our bodies, then started the descent back towards home. If you've ever seen my quads before, you would know that those things are made for descending. I led us most of the way down, then Kendra led us through the base of the canyon, where temperatures reached over 100 degrees. 

I seem to have this interesting phenomenon happen to me where I feel totally fine but then I notice my heart rate shooting up and/or touch my arms or stomach to find out I'm completely bloated and in need of mass quantities of electrolytes. That happened running through the base. Around 33 miles in, I needed to slow down and start rebalancing my electrolytes. This balancing act is a combination of consuming salt tabs and forcing myself to pee as often as possible, since I lose such a low rate of fluid through sweat. 

Maybe I need to investigate a different norm for what feeling "totally fine" means.

We got to Phantom Ranch around 2:00pm, a full 2 hours before the heaven-sent ice cold lemonade stand closed for the day. I sat on a log for about 10-15 minutes, trying to drown out my my problems with lemony sugar-water. I remember staring into space, contemplating the paradox of how done my body felt combined with how far from done my day was. There were still about 10 miles left. All uphill. 

Endurance athletes have a few cliche phrases that we latch onto, of our own specific meathead variety. We like to talk about how quitting isn't an option. That's a great mindset to have when you're trying to push yourself in a race. But quitting is actually always an available background option, in the form of a medical tent safety net. 

This was my first time in a situation where quitting was literally not one of the options. You either made it out of the canyon to safety or you didn't. Phantom Ranch was when that reality set in for me. 

No idea where this was

Up until this point, I had enjoyed running with someone to keep me going, but now I needed to be alone with my suffering. I had nothing else to say about politics, or travel, or race experiences, or really anything at all. If someone had prompted me to produce words from that point on, those words would have been a disturbing reflection of the dark state of my soul. Nobody wanted that. Certainly not me. 

Towards the beginning of the climb up the Bright Angel Trail from Phantom Ranch was where I believe I exited my body. We had passed by several bridges on the way out, one of which was the landmark that I had distant memories of using to identify the location of my coke. On the way back to the south rim, I don't remember passing a single one of those bridges. 

This was also when I started pooping.

Miles 35-40 were a fuzzy haze of trying to stay conscious enough to continue adjusting my electrolyte balance, trying not to shit myself in between bathroom stops, and still hanging onto my arbitrary goal of finishing before dark. Indian Gardens was the water stop about 4.5 miles from the top. I got there 12.5 hours into my day (4:30pm), and I remember thinking that it couldn't be that difficult to cover 4.5 miles in 1.5 hours to make it to the south rim by dark. Never mind the fact that the last 4.5 miles ascend over 3k feet in elevation. I looked at the other zombie-inhabited over-achievers sitting around staring into nothingness, and I decided to keep pressing on. 

I had been so single-mindedly concerned about electrolytes for so long that I neglected to get sufficient calories into my body. I had been focused on controlling my heart rate from spiking, and at this point it started dropping. A little too low. 

My last few bathroom stops had morphed into explosive diarrhea off the side of the trail. After I ran out of "wilderness wipes," I began repurposing my used picky bar wrappers as toilet paper and then stuffing them back into my pack so as to not litter in the Grand Canyon. From that point on, most of my mental energy was spent in reaction to each time my heart rate would drop down into the low 50's: Do I dig around in my poop-infested pack for more calories or can I make it a few more miles to the top and wait for actual food?

The last 3 miles felt like an eternity. 

The last 1.5 miles felt like whatever is longer than an eternity. 

There is still over 1100 feet of elevation to climb in the last 1.5 miles and the most eloquent way that I can think of to describe that phenomenon is fucked up. I kept looking up to see the other moving headlamps in the distance to get a gauge for how much farther I would have to go. It seemed as though walking would not be a sufficient moving mechanism to reach the vertical height above my head that these headlamps appeared to be occupying. I assumed that at some point I would have to transcend my body and fly to the trailhead. 

I might have done that. I honestly don't remember. 

Views of some of the headlamps parading up Bright Angel at night.

True to form, I took a wrong turn right at the top and walked an extra 15 or so minutes to the next hotel down, completely missing what could only be referred to as a "finish line" in 2020. It was mostly just a trailhead with a sign. But there were people there, some of which I knew. More importantly, it would have been 15 less minutes of walking. And that is how my 2020 "race season" ended.

Looking back, I think there was a part of me that was craving an experience where the stakes were as high as survival. At least on a subconscious level, I wanted to be ripped open, emptied out, and stripped of all notions of past and future. At least for a moment. 

That's why I pursue endurance in the way that I do, where I could never be satisfied with just finishing. I want to live inside moments where the choice is to either fully exist in the present, or not exist at all. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Littlefoot Sprint Tri

 Technically it was a duathlon. 

And I just remembered that the one other time I did this race (10 years ago), the swim was cancelled on that day as well. Anyway...

In any other year when you show up to a local sprint triathlon, there are significantly less race wheels and Ironman tattoos. But on August 17th at 9:00am when registration opened (I know the date and time because I had a reminder set), all of us crazy tri-obsessed athletes sold out the Littlefoot Sprint in 4 hours.

My favorite part about the race was transition. Not necessarily T1 and T2, but the whole setup of it: the blow-up arches, the bike racks, the volunteers, the casual pre-race conversations with the athletes near your rack. I missed being around the energy that only comes with this collection of people. 

It's very specific.

We all love our sport so much that we've been waiting around all year for Racing Underground to send out an email saying, "this race is happening." (I know I'm not the only one who set a reminder.) There's nothing casual about this group. That doesn't mean we're not friendly and supportive of each other. We deeply missed cheering for each other out on the course. We want everyone to feel fulfilled and accomplished and successful in their own way. 

But we also want to cross the finish line before everyone else. We're secretly hoping that today will be our breakout performance, regardless of what we've been doing all summer. We really do want everyone to win... but we want ourselves to win just a little bit more. We came here to have a good time and do what we love to do, and we're also willing to bury ourselves in pain to move up a spot on the leaderboard.

It's comforting to be around these people because we're all the same kind of crazy. We've been missing not only our sport, but our people. This year I've realized that it's important for me to be around my team, but I didn't realize until Saturday that I also need to be around other racers that I don't really know. 

The funny thing is, I actually do recognize a lot of their faces. I recognize some of their names as I'm stalking the start list the night before. Maybe we've never actually spoken to each other, but it's also entirely possibly that we have. I probably made a really bad joke at some point mid race, like I did on Saturday as I sat on the ground in T2, looked at the athlete sitting on the ground next to me and said, "I'm more of an Ironman transitioner." That's neither a funny, nor well thought-out joke. He gave me a very sweet pity chuckle but he didn't laugh. The point though, wasn't whether or not the joke was funny. The point was that it was a joke I could have only made mid-race to another athlete sitting on the ground taking his sweet ass time in T2. Because he's my people.

Even though the commitment and consistency of training are what matters over the long term, we need race days to remind us that it's ok important to celebrate who we are and why we do what we do. We are our best selves when we're in our arena, feeding off each others' energy. We take comfort in the fact that the mass of people out there paying money to physically torture themselves truly gets us. They see us, and we see them on a deeper level than most people do. They're rooting for us in a way that most people don't have the capacity to root for us....

While simultaneously hoping that at least on this day, they're just a little bit faster than we are. And that's what we're hoping as well. 

So cheers to my people. I missed you guys. I hope I get to see you again soon.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Why 2020 is the Perfect Year (for us) to Start Our Business

So far, at least for me, 2020 has been a year marked by the itchy burning discomfort of forced stillness.

For the first 31 years of my life, I've defined myself by what I do, what I've accomplished, and what I will accomplish. I locked myself into a rhythm of relentless forward progress that I was both proud of, and exhausted by.

Sitting on my bathroom counter is a framed note that I wrote myself on New Years. It's sort of like David Goggins' "accountability mirror," but prettier. I wanted to be reminded of my intentions for personal growth all year, so I put the note in a place that I would see every day. On the note, I wrote: "make time for stillness."

Ask and you shall receive.

I honestly don't think I would have known how to create my own stillness if the universe hadn't stepped in and delivered 2020. I didn't know how deep into the merry-go-round I was. I had created too much momentum.

The initial slamming of the breaks when quarantine orders went into place was jarring. But it was almost too dramatic to accept as the on-going reality for a little while. Then, as the days turned into weeks turned into months, restlessness and anxiety started to creep in. To some degree, we were forced to face the build-up that gathered when the pace slowed down. Or maybe it was already there, but we were moving too fast to see it.

The physical, mental, and emotional piles of garbage that we had been delaying sorting through came knocking on our doors. What I quickly came to understand were all the ways I rationalized holding back my vision for a future that I could more consciously create. I rationalized that my momentum would eventually land me somewhere I'd be happy with. I stayed just unconscious enough to keep up the pace without questioning why I was doing it or where I wanted to go. I rationalized being too unimportant, too busy, too satisfied, too ok-enough to keep going at the current rate without making changes.

What I learned from the stillness is that I wasn't ok-enough.

I didn't become any less uncomfortable talking about my vision, but I slowed down my thought for long enough to realize I had to share it despite the discomfort. And that is how I found my business partners: two smart, driven, fucking forces of women, with complimentary skillsets and talents, who believe what I believe; 

Who were also not ok-enough with the status quo; 

Who were willing to put it all on the line for something better, something truer, something more deeply real.

NYX Endurance officially launches on August 1st, 2020. We are an endurance company and we are 3 coaches who are damn good at what we do. If you want to be a faster, stronger, more capable version of yourself, we know how to get you there. But what will make us (and you) truly successful is the fact that we're starting this company in 2020: a year where anything that isn't designed with purpose, honesty, and raw humanity will crumble and dissipate. Only the deepest truths and the strongest connections will survive.

We feel more confident taking a risk and putting ourselves out there in 2020 because within our stillness,

Within our darkness,

We have found our voice.

Embrace the darkness 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

4/4/48 & Finish Lines

It took about 5 days after completing the 4/4/48 challenge for my head to clear from that fog that settles in after an event in which you completely empty your tank. I still obviously gave myself the full week to continue eating whatever I wanted because that is one of the best post-race rewards, but the fog is something I never knew I'd miss so much.

Don't get me wrong, the fog is hugely inconvenient and certainly not a sign of healthy brain function. It isn't conducive to focusing, remembering what you walked into a room for, multi-tasking, or even single-tasking. But the fog is also my little reminder that I plowed straight through an old limit.

Our training allows us to put our output into autopilot for a given intensity (i.e. race-specific speed or power). When we get into this mode, our bodies will be able to do what they've done before- what we've trained them to do. So we can only get to new limits when we're focused and intentional about pushing past the old ones. We have to be continuously taking in the feedback from our bodies, calculating how much we have left in the tank at a given intensity, and consciously applying that output. It is physically and mentally exhausting.

About a month before the challenge, there was a day when Ironman cancelled a bunch of events scheduled for the fall, and for some reason that was the trigger that made me realize I was going to have to find a way to manufacture the intensity of a race on my own.

Ryan blasting through the water-gun aid station

For most of us, 2020 has been an anxiety-inducing year. The disruption from our distractions and upheaval from our relentless numbing has been important, but hard. When we feel anxious, our focus is in our heads, not in our bodies. The quickest way to get back into our bodies and shed the anxiety is through movement. Movement allows us to feel more settled in our thoughts so that we can deal with life more simply and not feel overwhelmed by the chaos. For me, when the movement is at it's maximum intensity, and the simplicity of my thoughts regresses to "get oxygen," "run faster," and "try not to die," it feels nothing short of transcendent. 

David Goggins (Navy Seal, Ultra-runner, & Author) came up with the 4/4/48 challenge: running 4 miles every 4 hours for 48 hours. We did a modified version (5/4/24) back in May, and I realized that "just finishing" is not nearly enough for me. I need more out of myself.

Screen shot from our video footage of the event
So it was settled that I was going to "race" 4/4/48. I had absolutely no idea how to go about that: how to pace it, how to manage energy, and if/when I was going to run out of gas and have to crawl my way across my made-up finish line. What I did know was that the only way to guarantee that I emptied my tank was to go out hard and expect to fall off at the end.

Through the 1st day I was holding a sub 7:30 pace, which didn't feel too bad at the time. I thought I needed a little bit of a cushion for my sub 8:00 pace goal and this seemed like a modest buffer. I continued to run sub 7:30's through the 4am and 8am runs on Sunday, so naturally I started to get ahead of myself, thinking I could continue to hold that pace and not use the cushion.

Then came the noon run on Sunday. At that point we were already 32 miles in, it was pushing 100 degrees, and for some reason Ryan and I decided to run on the completely exposed dirt trail by our house. I came in at 7:45 pace, but not easily. When I got back inside, I was a little dizzy, too nauseas to eat anything, and I spent the whole break period going back and forth between laying on my bathroom floor to shivering under the covers in my bed. It was obviously not a good sign, but unfortunately for me, I'm way too stupid to give up. I just thought I might have to walk the last 12 miles, which I was not happy about.

Then somehow around 3:30pm, right before we were supposed to head up to do the 4pm run with friends, I felt ok enough to get out of bed and head back towards the start line. I had figured out that I could cruise the last 12 miles at 9:00 pace and still finish with a 7:50 average, so I felt good about that.

I ran the first 1/2 mile or so of that next lap nice and easy, and then the race mode switch flipped back on and I couldn't let myself phone it in. I finished that lap right at my 7:30 average.

The last 2 runs at 8pm and midnight were brutal. I had never run anything close to the distance I was at, and I had certainly not maintained any kind of speed for that long. But I had gone through the tough stretch and I could see the finish line. My 7:30 pace goal, although completely arbitrary, was the closest thing I had had all year to a real meaningful competition, and I wanted to win. For the last run, I came in at 7:43 average, which was the exact number I needed to hold to make my overall average 7:30 on the dot. I could not have run any faster. I stopped my watch after those last 4 miles, then turned onto my street to walk home, down the finisher shoot,

In the dark,

By myself.

I closed my eyes, pictured the shoot, held out my hands to collect high fives from the make-believe crowd, and sobbed my eyes out.

Sure, it was a little dramatic, but your level of commitment is directly proportional to your level of vulnerability. That's why people have such a hard time setting goals that they can't guarantee. It's emotionally risky.

Right before the last 4 mile segment, I reached out to my team of athletes who were still running with me, and I wrote them a little note about finish lines. Really though, I wrote this for myself:

"It's difficult to explain what it's like if you've never experienced it. Yes, it's the culmination of your hard work and dedication to your training, and the sacrifices you made along the way. But it's also sort of a graduation to a new state of being. You become a different type of person when you make it there, and it always gives you what you need most. If there's a part of you that ever thought, "I can't do this," or "I'm not smart enough, strong enough, resilient enough, experienced enough," in any part of your life, the finish line proves that you are and you can. That's why we fight for it."

Monday, June 1, 2020

Racing, Stripped Down

"It's amazing when you strip it all down. You don't need much. You don't need big crazy events, just crazy passionate people with wild big goals, all supporting and motivating each other to be amazing."
- Lynn Harris (my athlete, who rode longer, farther, and higher than she's ever ridden)

Before yesterday, there was a slowly widening hole in my heart. I sign up for race after race, year after year because Ironman has been the most easily accessible medium for cultivating self worth. Reminding myself a few times per year that I am a limitless human being spreads through the fibers of everything I do and everything I believe in.

I was also missing the personal growth I get to witness in my athletes. I love that they've all been open-minded and dedicated to challenging themselves in different ways throughout COVID, but it gets increasingly more difficult to stay motivated without an opportunity to put it all on the line. Sure PR's are exciting, getting faster is cool, but what I live for as a coach is giving my athletes a platform to shed layers of doubt so that they can realize potential that they might not have even known existed.

Everesting was never about the numbers for most of us. It was about our own personal Everests. I wanted to shoot for the whole 29,029 because I wouldn't have been as motivated by a lesser goal. Realistically, I knew that on a TT bike with limited gearing, I wasn't completely set up for success. I'm a strong athlete with a shit ton of willpower but I'm not that strong. I would have had a better shot with a road bike, on a steeper hill that allowed for less total mileage. But my TT bike wouldn't have made it up a steeper hill for as long and I loved that the grade of this hill made the challenge more accessible for more people.

At the end of the day, I rode about 150 miles in 13 hours, totaling just over 20k feet of elevation gain, the longest and farthest I've ever exercised for (including all my Ironmans). 20k feet was the most I've ever climbed by over 8k feet. As it became increasingly more inevitable that I would be done before 29,029, my goal evolved into just continuing to pedal until I couldn't anymore. If I was going to DNF, I wanted to make sure that it wasn't because I gave up, it would be because just for today, that was my limit.

My top 5 favorite things about our Everesting Challenge:

  1. Being out on the same hill with the Colorado team. Living and breathing in real time with like-minded souls who share the same passion for chasing dreams.
  2. Coming together and organizing this challenge with 2 other coaches (Julie & Alison) who also believe in walking the walk. 
  3. That indescribably fulfilling feeling of completely emptying the tank.
  4. Getting to share my Iron-team with others. I have never been on a solo mission. Ryan (my husband) and Gina (my sister) are part of my endurance journey, and I'm so glad that a few other people got to experience the lift you get when they're behind you. 
  5. My amazing team of athletes who all surpassed milestones yesterday. At the beginning of the day, I asked them all to get to the point that they wanted to quit, at least once, and to keep going from there. Even if they didn't make it much further, I wanted them to all experience the feeling of breaking down a wall. And they did. 

The final 2 climbs were wobbly and it had started to rain. The rest of the CO team had gone home so there were no other bikers left on the road, but I had my support crew (Ryan, Gina, and my dogs) driving up and down the mountain with me. I didn't stop because of my legs, and to be honest, I've had a hard time dealing with the fact that I quit before my legs were tapped out. It hit me when I woke up Sunday morning and my legs felt like they could probably get back on the bike and go again. I stopped because I was starting to lose it mentally. My brain was getting foggy and I was starting to lose focus for short periods, and that was a little scary. I've pushed myself beyond that point before and I promised Ryan I would never put him through that again.

I wrote a blog on January first about needing to put myself in situations to fail more. Technically I failed my Everest attempt, and even though I know that I stretched my limits and did things I've never done before, it still doesn't sit well. I know that the path to success is lined with failure, but I have a lot left to learn about how to deal with it.

I'm endlessly grateful for my sport and the community that we've created. Endurance teaches me so much about what I value, who I am, and what I stand for. I believe in the relentless pursuit of better, and I've found myself in the middle of community who shares this drive with me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

5/4/24 & All the Feelings

I don't know about you but quarantine has been an emotional roller coaster for me. If I were to sum up my experience, it would go something like this:

1. I feel more grounded and purposeful than ever and also like I'm free-falling into an abyss.
2. I feel a sense of freedom without my regular commitments and also completely lost without them.
3. I'm happy about my extra introvert alone time, and also lonely and missing my people.
4. I miss the regular pace of life and I'm also scared of going back to it.
5. I want to make sure I get the most out of this experience and use this time to grow as a person. And it is so fucking hard.

So that brings us to 5/4/24. I've always made life decisions based on how each direction makes me feel more than anything else. So when Julie asked me if I wanted to run 5 miles every 4 hours for 24 hours and my entire body pulsed with excitement, it was an easy "yes." No overthinking, just thank god I have a reason to push my body again.

I didn't really train for it other than my usual higher-than-average volume of weekly exercise because I needed it to be hard. With all of the aforementioned feelings swirling around in my brain, I needed my body to be the focus again. I needed to have a reason to remind myself that I'm strong and I'm capable of pushing myself when things get tough.

When this idea was birthed only about a month or so before the actual event, I wasn't sure how to approach my athletes with it so I didn't push anyone towards it. More of their races were still on the table and I didn't want to take away from their other goals, but 5 of them decided on their own accord to join me and I'm so grateful that they did. I don't know how I got lucky enough to be aligned with the athletes I work with, but feeling like a coach again and maintaining our group text throughout the event gave me life. When we plan the next one of these, I'll be more deliberate about "inviting" everyone (and they know what "inviting" means).

I've never done an ultra-marathon or a Ragnar relay or anything like that, so I really had no idea what to expect. I didn't know how my body would hold up and I didn't know the extent to which I'd be angry about completing 2 of the 5 mile segments past my bedtime. Ryan reluctantly agreed to participate along with me, even though his longest run up to this point was only 13.1 miles. I think part of his reasoning was that he didn't want me to be alone in the dark. There was also a small part of him that wanted to see if he could do it. And there was a BIG part of him that wanted to spend the whole rest of the day eating carbs.

The first 3 segments were pretty easy on my body, and I was starting to feel like I was coming out of the depths of quarantine and back into my life as an athlete who competes in actual athletic events. Myself and the other D3 coaches who were part of this event (Julie & Alison) had the idea for Mike Reilly, THE voice of Ironman, to hop on a Zoom call with our athletes before starting the second half of the day. Julie reached out to him and he actually said yes! We told the athletes we'd have a surprise guest and it was unbelievable to see the looks on their faces when they saw who the guest was. Mike is the guy who coined the phrase "You are an Ironman!" and pronounces it to all the athletes that cross the Ironman finish lines of the events that are lucky enough to have him. "You are an Ironman" is a declaration of transformation. It's the signification that you are now a new kind of person: the kind of person who doesn't take no for an answer; one who fails over and over again until they succeed; one who may have excuses and hardships, but never lets those things stand in the way of their goals.

For me, Ironman is the arena in which I prove to myself that I am that kind of person. Hearing Mike's voice on our Zoom call caused the deep void I've been feeling without Ironman to surface. I was teary-eyed on the call but I was focused on soaking in every single word he said and listening intently to his voice. Then when the call ended, I completely lost it.

The last 3 segments were both fun and challenging. If I'm being honest, the running part was easier than I thought it would be. The difficult part was waiting 4 hours between each and trying to figure out how much to eat and how to fit in sleep and rest. I didn't love when my alarm went off before starting the final segment, which started at 1:00am, but my legs handled it like the badasses they are.

I got so much more out of 5/4/24 than I anticipated. I truly love training and I love the process, but I miss racing. This event filled a little piece of that void for me. It gave me the community suffering that comes along with races- the extra strength that you get from pushing yourself alongside other people and not just on your own.

But it also made me acutely aware of what I've been missing. Whenever we are finally able to race again, these are some of the things I'll never again take for granted:

  • pre-race nerves
  • getting kicked and pulled and swam on top of in the water
  • the palpable love and support from the volunteers
  • setting up transition so that everything is just right
  • completing the second half of the bike course and all of the run course in shorts soaked in my own urine
  • words of encouragement from random strangers: both spectators and other racers
  • aid stations
  • sitting my bare ass onto the porta-pot seat in the middle of the race because that seems like a better option than using my quads to squat over top of it

And more than anything else: finish lines.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Lessons from Endurance

I recently got the results back from an athletic-based DNA test, where my genetic expressions of "gifted" traits, pointed to high potential in sports like power lifting, body building, or being a "linebacker." (Seriously.) Based on my athletic background, and the sports and skills that have always come most easily to me, I could have predicted this. If I wanted to capitalize on my natural physical abilities, I would have never found my way to endurance sports. But instead, I've always chosen to follow my intuition and my heart, and that is exactly how I found Ironman.

Up to this point in my Ironman career, I've been able to tally up the lessons that I've learned through pushing the limits of my endurance. I've continued to sign up for race after race because even though the lessons have been challenging and uncomfortable, they've been my platform for growth and resilience as both an athlete and a person. Each one has given me a new perspective on what I have control over, what I don't have control over, where I need to improve, and when I have to let go.

I firmly believe that Ironman has strengthened my armor and built my character. And now that it has been put on pause, it's time to turn the tables and use this challenging time in life to build upon my foundation. Coming out stronger on the other side of this pandemic is as much, if not more, a feat of endurance as any race I've ever done. It took me a little while to recognize it as such, but thanks to triathlon, I know that I am trained for this.

I've been intently focused on improving my speed at the Ironman distance for a few years now, so it has been a while since my goals have been related to conquering a new distance. And I think I forgot that the first thing you have to do when stepping up to a new distance is to slow down.

It has to be about survival and expansion before it can be about speed.
There's a learning curve and there's a whole lot of failing that comes before mastery.

I still feel myself oscillating between acceptance and resistance. I go through phases where I feel restless and I just want everything to go back to normal. Sometimes in the middle of a long race, I go through phases where I just want the pain to stop and I get caught up in that feeling. Comfort is so easy. Normal is easy. What's known is easy. And sometimes you convince yourself that those things are what makes you happy. But in order to get myself through those phases, I remember that resisting the low points doesn't make them go away, and letting them have control over me is never worth settling for. So I've learned to surrender to the process and embrace the deep discomfort that comes with growth.

I love this quote attributed to an anonymous Navy Seal: "Under pressure, you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That's why we train so hard."

As endurance athletes, we know this truth too well. We know that without putting ourselves through the fire, we would miss the opportunity to learn what we're made of and what we've trained for. We also know that sometimes by putting ourselves out there, we may find out that we didn't train hard enough or prepare well enough. But it is simply the courageous act of stepping into the arena where we have to face our shortcomings, that we learn exactly what they are and how to conquer them next time.

So right now we might feel a little lost because we're missing our arena. Races are canceled and we don't know when they'll be back. But I'm going to challenge myself to see this pandemic as our current arena. It looks different on the surface, but this is all about endurance. I love that my sport has gotten me to this point: where I'm far from handling things perfectly, but my gratitude and appreciation for a challenge is what keeps driving me forward.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020: My Year of Embracing Failure

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."
- Robert F. Kennedy

When I asked my athletes to fill out their post-season reviews from 2019, I asked them where they failed or came up short in the past year. And along with this, how did their failures reflect their courage and enthusiasm?

Reviewing my own triathlon season made me realize that while I have a lot to be proud of, I've come up short in reaching my goals year after year. This is not reflective of my personality. I've set and reached goals my entire life. Even as a kid, I was always driven and goal-oriented. And I set really high goals too, not just easy things to check off the list. So what is it about triathlon that inspires me to aim for something that's just a little bit further out of reach? And why do I keep coming back for more?

I qualified for the Ironman World Championship in 2016 kind of by a fluke. I came in 3rd in my age group in Ironman Boulder earlier that year. My age group was supposed to only get 1 spot to Kona, but at the last minute an extra spot rolled down from one of the older age groups who didn't use it. So 1st place took her spot, and for some reason 2nd place was nowhere to be found when they called her name for the 2nd spot. Maybe she heard that we were only getting 1 spot and went home. I didn't even have a good race in Boulder. This was before I figured out my sweat concentration and I was bordering on hyponatremia in every Ironman I raced. I was bloated, dizzy, and walked a lot of the marathon.

After having the magical experience of racing in Kona that year, I competed in Ironman Lake Placid, Ironman Los Cabos, Ironman Texas, Ironman Chattanooga, Ironman Canada, and Ironman Louisville. I failed to qualify for Kona every single time. And in each consecutive attempt, I grew less and less discouraged.

You learn so much more from failure than you do from success. I learned how important it was to appreciate each and every race for the unique experience that each offered. I learned how persistent (stubborn?) I am when I'm pursuing a goal that I feel like genuinely adds value to my life. I've learned countless ways to get more out of myself: physically, mentally, and emotionally. And I learned that if endurance is the goal, in both my sport and in my life, then the failures that add up along the way are just part of the journey instead of stopping points.

So in 2020, I'm going to dream up as many innovative, creative, enthusiastic, daring ways to fail as I can. As long as I continue to learn and grow from each experience, I'm excited to find out how much I can evolve this year. And on the off-chance that I set a perceived out-of-reach goal where I end up succeeding, that will be a win that I couldn't have attained without this mindset.

I can't end this blog post without acknowledging that my husband is probably reading this thinking that this is going to be a really "fun" year for him. There may be some messes that I create that he'll inevitably have to help me clean up. So starting here, I'll make sure I remind him often how much I appreciate that I wouldn't be able to take as big of risks without him unconditionally having my back.

Before Ironman Canada this year, he gave me a printed and framed quote by Teddy Roosevelt, in which he changed all the male pronouns to female pronouns. The "man in the arena" became the "woman in the arena." I was doubting myself heading into that race because it was my first Ironman that I had coached myself for. I was so afraid to fail as both an athlete and a coach. With that gesture, Ryan showed me that not only would I never be alone in my pursuits, but that just showing up and continuing to put myself out there is the real win. If you know the story of how that race went down for me (IM Canada Race Report), you'll understand how the quote guided my performance that day:

"It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong woman stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs; who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions; who spends herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

New Bio, who dis?

As I've witnessed myself shift and change, I've been experimenting with some new coaching strategies. Most of my athletes know that ...