Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Not Searching for Happiness

 "When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it's over, I don't want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular and real. I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full or argument. I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."

- Mary Oliver, from her poem: When Death Comes

For so long, safety and stability have been the organizing structures of my life. Even as I pursue far-reaching goals and generative experiences, I've relied upon the ground beneath my feet to be unchanging. But lately, as the world around us appears to mirror the uncertainty of plans and the inevitability of change, I've noticed a new longing emerging at my roots. There is a part of me that yearns to feel untethered. 

11 years ago, I asked my boyfriend (Ryan) if he was interested in moving to Colorado with me. Fortunately he too felt the magnetism of the mountains and we began a new adventure together. Fresh out of college with mountains of student loans, we spent our first 3 years in a tiny basement studio apartment, and we paid more attention to what we did have than what we didn't. The wide open spaces encouraged us to breath more deeply. We felt both softened by the beauty of the land, and hardened as we carved out the edges of who we were, in particular. 

This past August, I went to San Diego to stay with Julie and train for the Ironman World Championship. Partway through our training camp, when we heard the news that the race was canceled, I recognized that I was there for a different reason. I changed my flight and stayed 2 extra days by myself, with the ocean. I asked the universe for clarity and I knew the answer in my body almost immediately, but I didn't know it in my mind until I returned home. Back in Colorado, the distance between my heart and the ocean had become explicit.  

I never used to "ask the Universe" for anything. Ever since I emerged from the soul-imprisonment of 9 years in Catholic School, I relied on nothing but my own will and determination to create the life of my dreams. I needed to prove to myself that I didn't need a guiding light - for lack of a better way to describe it. And I did that. I did the proving. The harder part was knowing when it was over and putting down my defenses.

What I've taught myself to do is to create a bridge between an old way of being and a new one with habits and practices that fill my cup and keep me afloat while the bridge is under construction. I write. I journal. I ask questions and I leave them open ended. I give myself space to put the most raw truth on paper so I can get it out of my body and it doesn't try to trick me into believing that it's scarier than it really is. It's this practice of excavating truth that has led me to my heart: the wisdom keeper. 

Every day, I renew my vow to my heart that I will pay attention to the edges. I vow to resist the devastatingly seductive urge to push away the messages that I don't feel equipped to handle or the ones that I know will lead to some sort of open-ended change. My agreement is only to pay attention. I can handle knowing about the rough edges because I've committed myself to knowing the soft ones too. 

In return for my listening, my heart teaches me about what is most true in each moment. It speaks over any conditioning which might try to fool me into believing that comfort is a higher priority than truth. 

I am happy in Colorado. Happy enough, perhaps. But while I was in California and I asked the universe for clarity, I knew that I would have to uphold my end of the bargain and truly be open to clarity - not just clarity that lives inside a box of how much change I've predetermined that I'm willing to make. That's not how it works with hearts. Shortly after, I wrote in my journal that I'm ready to live near the ocean.

When I told Ryan, he took a deep breath the way he always does when he recognizes that I'm speaking from my heart, and he started making the plans. He has never been afraid of my most raw truths and he has never shied away from their potential implications. I don't know how rare this is but I do know how special it is. 

We (Ryan) planned a 2+ week road trip, starting with Ironman California. It went a little something like this:

10/19: 11ish hour drive to Elko, Nevada, which is a town that has a dog-friendly Marriott and a gas station and is more than halfway to Sacramento. When the excited women at the front desk asked us what brought us to Elko, we didn't know what to say.

Ralph is a road trip pro.

10/20: 6ish hour drive to Sacramento for Ironman California. 

10/20 - 10/23: The days that precede an Ironman are all the exact same day meshed into one where basically nothing happens except for the relentless waiting for the gun to go off.

10/24: There was a bomb cyclone in Sacramento and the gun never actually went off. See this blog post. I ran a marathon instead. It was sad and slow.

10/25: 6ish hour drive from Sacramento to Pismo Beach, where we had planned to recover for a few days post Ironman. Along the drive, we kept our minds and our hearts open for a new place to be from. We stopped in Santa Cruz, fell in love with Carmel-by-the-Sea, and were mesmerized by the stunning radiance of Big Sur. In a temporary moment of cell service, we accepted an offer on our house in Colorado while driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. We felt the rush of being untethered, the reality that the countdown to our homelessness had just begun, and the safety of relying on nothing but each other.

Pismo Beach was the first time our dogs had ever experienced the ocean. It was the place that held our transition between belonging to Colorado and belonging to a new place. While we were there, we belonged only to ourselves. 

10/27: Another amount of hours drive from Pismo Beach to North County, San Diego. At first, we mostly felt fear and discomfort. But I've been speaking to my heart for long enough to know that those signs are my guideposts. As far as I know, discomfort is the only path to growth. 

One thing that I've learned about hearts is that they are the first to speak - before thoughts, before judgment, before analysis or rationality. It is tempting to dismiss the message because it gets covered up so quickly. That's why I write it down. Otherwise it gets lost in fear and rationality and I am tempted to convince myself that what I felt wasn't real.

We spent a few days looking at houses and we took a break to cheer on our NYX Endurance teammates at 70.3 Oceanside. We felt hopeful.  

Luna settled right into her cheering spot at 70.3 Oceanside.


10/31: We put in an offer on a house that we loved and we drove 7 hours to Sedona. We crossed our fingers and wanted to believe that it would be this easy. But underneath our hope was something stronger and more lasting. We believed that it would work out the way it was supposed to, not necessarily the way we had envisioned. And we trusted more in the uncertainty than we did in our plans. 

11/1: We didn't get that house. More importantly, it was our 7 year wedding anniversary and we were in one of our favorite places in the world. 

The desert is where I remember. Not the kind of remembering that lives inside thoughts and comes attached to stories, but the kind that is stored inside my bones. I remember nothing specific but everything essential. I remember why I am searching, and that I am searching. I feel the connection to the thing that is searching for me too - searching through me, with me, for me when I'm tired, for me when I forget. It is all so clear in the desert.  

I knew I wouldn't be able to put an offer down on another house without seeing it in person, and we both acknowledged the uncertainty of what would happen next. Old stories tried to convince us that listening to our hearts and taking risks was a bad idea, but we were already too fiercely committed to the flow and to taking the world in our arms.

11/2: We made the last long 12+ hour drive back to Colorado. Back to a home that no longer belonged to us. The tension in my body was forcing me to acknowledge that I had put us in this situation, forcing me to answer: Why do I think I'm worthy of pursuing more than happiness? I should be grateful. I can't even provide a rational explanation for why I led us here. 

My heart doesn't privy me to the explanations. It simply sends a message and asks me if I'm brave enough to listen. Brave enough to step into the unknown for a feeling I can't make sense of. But when I don't listen, my life becomes more and more out of alignment. Everything starts to feel forced. The colors begin to dull. And worst of all, if I don't listen, my heart will slowly stop speaking to me. What good is a voice without an ear to receive it?

I'm not leaving Colorado because there is something lacking for me here. As far as I can tell, grass is always green; unless of course, it's dying. 

It was easy to leave the east coast, we knew there was nothing for us there. But Colorado is the place where we became a family of 2 humans and 2 dogs. We got married here. Built our lives together here. We learned from the mountains that stillness can be just as powerful as movement.   

Moving on is not an escape but an inevitability; everything changes. Making space for change also requires making space for grief. That's why so few of us choose it. But I am not searching for happiness, so I have room in my heart for grief. 

I want to know what exists at the bottom of the well. I want to carve away everything that isn't the essence of me. I am a digger. What I'm searching for is underneath, not above. I want to know what is under the surface. I am willing to hold my breath for long enough to witness something under the surface that may not have appeared a moment earlier - something that needed me to prove that I wanted it more than I wanted air to breath. I'm searching for something simple. The revelations that take my breath away are always the ones that I knew all along, that we all knew, but have forgotten - things we may have even known in our thoughts but have forgotten in our hearts. 

11/3: We remembered that there was another house that we had liked while we were in San Diego, so we put an offer down without expecting anything to happen. Later that evening, our offer was accepted. 

Flow cannot happen when we resist change. We resist because we think only about the bad things. What could go wrong? Too often we forget to ask, what could go right? When I take action in alignment with my heart, I feel the saltwater of my body start to flow more freely. I feel my skin begin to vibrate in a new way - in an old way, that I think I might vaguely remember. When I listen to my heart, I know I won't end up simply having visited this world. 

Do You Have The Right Goals?

Many athletes are familiar with a postseason assessment and know that there is tremendous value in assessing whether or not you reached your goals. Then digging into what went right and what went wrong along the way will help you chart a better path forward for the upcoming season. 

But we might be missing a step. Before assessing whether or not you were successful at accomplishing your season goals, it's important to determine whether you set the right goals to begin with. It is tempting to select numbers/paces/outcomes that are simply the next logical step in your triathlon development, rather than asking yourself why you care and whether or not your goals are in alignment with how much sacrifice you are both willing and able to make.

When you read the line above: how much sacrifice you are willing and able to make, did you get excited because you identify as the kind of athlete who is willing to make all of the sacrifices? Or did you feel a twinge of self defeat because you think you may be unable to make enough sacrifices? The invitation here is to look at it from a different angle and investigate the nuances that will lead to your most aligned goals. 

Why Is This Important?

When your goals align with what truly matters to you, they inspire you to uphold the process. The key is that the goals are the vehicle, not the destination. Ideally, you will find something that you're so wildly passionate about that it inspires you to get up every morning and do the work. Striving towards mastery requires intentionality. There is no accidental success.

How To Investigate:

Asking why your goals matter can be a hard question to answer. The part of our brain that influences behavior and decisions does not have the capacity for language. So what's most important is to take an honest look at our goals and notice if we feel something come alive within us when we think about the pursuit. Don't answer, just notice. Your body / emotional response will come first, quickly followed by a stream of judgment and over-analysis. Pay attention to the first part. 

The Questions:

1. When you close your eyes and think about your goals, what do you see? Do you see the outcome, the glorious achievement? Or do you see the process, the relentless grind; do you see yourself doing the work that others aren't willing to do? And more importantly, how do you feel when you visualize your goals? Are you proud of yourself? Do you feel joy or relief? 

Pursuing any worthy goal will require you to get uncomfortable. Pursuing a goal that aligns with your values and desires will keep you motivated to push through the grind. It is wonderful to hold the outcome as your vision, as long as you are also in it for the process, learning opportunities, and growth that will be inevitable along the way.

2. Are your goals realistic within the context of your life? How were you able to balance the pursuit of your goals with the rest of your life? Did you prioritize mental health? Did you approach burnout and feel emptied out during the season or did you allow training to fill your mental and emotional tank?

The purpose here is not to compromise your goals. There is a way to allow your goals and your life to feed each other that is completely unique to you. Allow these questions to inspire you to think of creative solutions to any potential problems that come up. Maybe there's a more efficient way to fit your workouts in. Maybe you need to adjust the timeline of your goals. Perhaps you need to communicate more effectively with your partner/friends/boss about how to make this work for everyone.

3. What story do your goals tell about your life? Have they inspired new habits and/or thought patterns? Are they a tribute to your ambition, your perseverance, your grit? Or do your goals come from a scarcity mindset or sense of unworthiness (i.e. I'll be a real athlete when I break this time barrier; I'll be able to rationalize the time/money/energy I spend pursuing my goals if I can just accomplish this goal or validate myself with this result)?

The key here is that aligned goals will speak to who you are right now rather than who you will be when you achieve them. Tell the most inspiring story you can imagine.

Now What?

It's possible that some of these realizations will make you uncomfortable and uncertain about how to proceed. Start with acceptance. Be radically honest about where you are right now, even if it's hard to acknowledge the gap between your current reality and your bold new goals. 

In a sport where so few of us "win" in a conventional way, my invitation through this process is to redefine what winning means to you. As you reflect on some of the bigger questions, ideally you will gain a more intimate understanding of why you, specifically, are drawn to triathlon. Maybe you only have a few hours a week to dedicate to training, and winning becomes the pursuit of total immersive presence in those few hours, which leads to total immersive presence in other areas of your life. Maybe winning is less about a race result and more about how well you learn to deal with adversity. Maybe you realize that just showing up for yourself every day and making more room for the things that bring you joy is as radical and worthy of celebration as any podium placement.

Acknowledge The Journey:

Once you've settled on your goals and feel ready to begin the process towards next season, keep in mind that you will not be able to predict how this will all play out. Your why will only light the path a few feet in front of you at a time. You'll have to rely on your habits and trust that the path will not be linear. You will not get to choose the specific type of adversity that you'll face along your journey. You will have to be open, flexible, an accepting - especially when it's hard. But when you are armed with the right goals for you, anything is possible.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Ironman California

What is dying?

Over the past few weeks, this question has been presenting itself in my journal entries, interrupting the flow between my thoughts and my fingers. For a while, I just kept writing it, allowing it to be there - not as a question to be answered but simply as a new lens through which to perceive my life. 

As Ironman California drew closer and I began to integrate this new lens, I found my first response. It read: 

There has always been proving and searching, but proving is dying now.

I have never raced an Ironman when I had already earned a ticket to Kona. Qualifying for Kona has been my goal in so many races and I was about to have an opportunity to race without that goal to fulfill. Alongside a new sense of pride, there was also a noticeable void. What would I put in that hole? What would I strive for? 

Maybe I'd like to see if I could finish in under 10 hours. The course was perfect for it, and it was at least something. But I knew I didn't want that in the same way that I had wanted to qualify for Kona. It was a size too small to fill the hole, so I thought about something bigger. I wanted to prove the next thing. 

Luna proved that she can hold her pee for well over 24 hours if it's raining outside. Ralph proved that he can shit on a sidewalk if it means getting out of the rain faster.

Maybe I wanted to win a race. The familiar pangs of uncertainty mixed with fear mixed with imposter syndrome rushed towards me and I noticed how strangely seductive those feelings were. Proving myself against my own doubts and fears is the drug I get the most high off of. 

It lures me in because it doesn't sound so bad. I can't even count the number of times I've said some version of: "I have an addictive personality so I choose to be addicted to healthy things like exercise (and to neutral things like chapstick)" in order to occupy my obsessive mind from something less healthy. Ironman has filled that hole too. 

But then what? What will come after I prove I can win a race?

More holes, and more needing to fill them. I don't want to operate from this space anymore. I want to allow something new to exist inside that space - something that grows out of wholeness, rather than scarcity.

Holding up the #10 for Ironman #10

Questions that I've been asking for so much of my life are tired now. Questions like "how fast can I be?" have become too shallow to hold water. There are new questions waiting to fill the space. Questions like, "what do I most deeply seek?" 

Meanwhile, there was something called a "bomb cyclone" going on outside causing flooding and 45 mph gusts of wind. There were so many little moments leading up to the race where my heart sunk in anticipation of it being canceled.  Any text or email I received about a race update, I thought for sure was going to bring bad news. I debated packing my "The Swim is Canceled" shirt for this trip but I didn't want to jinx it, so I left it at home. (Nailed that.)

My alarm went off at 4am on race day. I woke up to the news that the bike course had been cut in half. Not a full Ironman, but still an Ironman. We drove out to transition. I cautiously removed the plastic bags from my bike, as if the rain weren't going to soak through every last ounce of lube before the race even started. Tires pumped, bottles filled, I walked back to our car to sit in the heat for a few more minutes before getting on a shuttle to swim start. The quiet moments before the race are so magical; they are the last moments of my old self. This race was going to be uncomfortable, and that is exactly why I was there. I breathed deeply and prepared for the long day ahead of me that was going to provide me with an opportunity to leave proving behind. 

Right before I got out of the car, I saw the message that the race was canceled. 

And then I simply went back out into the rain to collect my things. 

Observing my reactions has always been more interesting to me than inhabiting them. Of course I was upset. My heart still hovers low inside my chest about a missed opportunity to see how I respond to adversity - an opportunity to let the race show me how and what to let go of. 

In all 9 of my Ironman races, there is always a turning point. There is always a moment where the weight of what is dying becomes too oppressive. I become overwhelmed with old thought patterns telling me I that can't persevere, that I have to slow down, that I have never done this particular thing before and that means that I can't do it right now. The moment asks, How will you respond? Will you choose to allow the pain, the discomfort, the old thought patterns to persist or will you choose growth? 

Even though there was no race to show me how and what to let go of, there was still the turning point. There was still the moment when I was about to get out of my car and head down to the swim start, followed closely by the news of the race cancelation, followed closely by a space which asked, how will you respond?

And what I witnessed was my new self, putting one foot in front of the other, just like I've done for the past 11 years that I've been a triathlete. But this time without anything to prove. Without anywhere to prove it.

It never works out how I imagine it will, although I love to imagine anyway. I should have known that allowing proving to die would require me to walk through a different fire than I could have envisioned. The hard lessons never go smoothly into the night.

So here I find myself sitting in an uncomfortable pile of unexpressed fitness, and energy, and creation. I feel like the outstretched rubber band of a slingshot, which instead of being released all at once, is slowly escorted back to its starting point: full and desperate for release.

My beautiful sister brought me a lei back from Hawaii that she had planned on giving me after IMCA, in honor of Kona being canceled. 

What you don't see is how long it took to stretch that rubber band as far back as it had been stretched. There were months and years of fine-tuning the elastic, stretching it out right to the edge, then recovering to refortify and integrate the new length. Then stretching out to the new edge, then recovering. And again and again. 

Even without a release, there is still transformation. 

Proving may be dying but I'll hold onto searching because I know, like we all instinctively know, that what we're seeking cannot be found in the broad daylight of our everyday existence. If we were going to find the thing that we are most deeply seeking in the light, we would have found it by now. 

There are so many different ways to search. Ironman has become an important portal for me. The seemingly endless reckoning between what we are willing to sacrifice and what is important not to sacrifice; between how dedicated we can be while still allowing the right amount of space for living. It's the perfect single day container to experience the suffering and joy of what it means to endure. It's the high of everything firing on all cylinders and then the sudden abrupt absence of firing all together, and putting one foot in front of the other anyway.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

A Unifying Theme

Recently, I realized that I've been studying flow for at least as long as this year. 

I've been searching for it for much longer. 

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi (we'll call him MC) is the psychologist who first coined the term flow and has done the most extensive research on the topic. He describes flow as an optimal experience in which we may become so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. The key to flow is to pursue an activity for its own sake, not for the rewards it brings. 

Interestingly, the Bhagavad Gita also points us in this direction: "You have the right to work, but for the work's sake only. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive." 

MC has found that one of the key characteristics of a flow state is that there must be a unifying theme

Without completely understanding why, I've felt the urgent necessity of cultivating a theme before each of my Ironman races. I find it in my journals. As I read back through the preceding months of growth and struggle, I often find myself moving increasingly closer to a new state of being. Something is ready to evolve, and equally, something is ready to die in order to make space for the evolution. My conscious mind is not privy to what will come next or how it will play out. There are no guarantees about where this will lead me, but I feel the responsibility to clear the space, and Ironman is the ritual altar upon which I make my sacrifice.   

The underlying thread of truth in everything in my life that has come to its natural ending is weaved through the desire to belong. In earlier iterations, I had to let go of various cultural identifications of belonging. I had to unlearn the destructive misconceptions that 1.) I needed to obtain a certain measurable outcome in order to feel acceptance, and 2.) that belonging is synonymous with conformity; that it is our sameness that links us together. 

Through shedding the skins of these maladaptive ways of being in the world, I initiated momentum towards expanding into a quest to belong first to myself. I began the process of distinguishing between which thoughts, voices and ideas are mine, and which ones I've collected from media or other outside influences, which were more interested in maintaining a status quo than serving the growth of my soul. I began to listen even more closely to my inner knowing. 

It is in the letting go that I am able to merge with the universal current. The flow carries me towards a set of experiences which are exponentially more rewarding than any outcome that I could have set as a goal in the state of consciousness that preceded the flow experience. 

In their book, Stealing Fire, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal explain the phenomenology of flow through the following characteristics:

Selflessness: There is a loss of self-consciousness where action and awareness merge.

Timelessness: Time passes strangely; you feel as if time slows down or speeds up.

Effortlessness: Every action feels as though it is automatic; leading from one action to the next in spontaneous creative fashion.

Richness: Your mind feels as though it has access to a vast database of information.

Research demonstrates that flow is the single highest predictor of life satisfaction and meaningfulness. The people who experience the most flow understand how to leverage the flow cycle to explore the upper possibilities of human potential. It is integral for peak performance and wellbeing. In a flow state, you have access to:

  • 500% boost in productivity (research from McKinsey & Company)
  • 430% boost in creativity (research from University of Sydney)
  • 490% increase in skill acquisition (research from Advanced Brain Monitoring & DARPA)
  • improved decision making
  • increased endurance
  • increased efficiency
  • consistent motivation
  • enhanced wellbeing
I've seen many of my athletes have breakthroughs when they have moments of tapping into flow. Others are on the verge. What keeps flow just out of reach is when there's too much identification with an outcome. Achieving a certain result is attached to a perceived identity: 

I'll be a real athlete when I break this time barrier. 

I'll be able to rationalize the time/money/energy I spend pursuing my goals if I can just accomplish this goal; if I can validate myself with this result. 

I am not enough until I can prove that I belong in this category. 

The sad, although predictable outcome is that it just doesn't work that way. And many of us, myself included, go through painful battles against self, fighting relentlessly for these concepts to be true, until we become too exhausted or disheartened to continue. Then within that moment of defeat, we either give up and hang up our shoes, or we give up fighting ourselves and agree to pursue our goals in a new way.

There are 2 distinct ways we pursue endurance: we either allow it to be generative and life-giving, or we hold it too tightly and allow it to drain the life out of us. I've experienced both. 

Holding too tightly is the primary antagonist of flow. They cannot coexist.  

For so long you thought that if you just controlled everything that you could control, then it would all work out how you envisioned it. But the way that you envisioned it is what's stopping you now. When you once envisioned the glorious retrieval of your goals, you did so from a limited perspective. You couldn't see a bigger picture so you zoomed in on one that you could grab ahold of - something tangible and known. 

In order to experience flow, you'll need to set that aside now. Whatever it is, it is too heavy to bring with you. Flow requires you to be light, to not keep yourself tethered to the shore of that which you can see. 

In our modern society, without ritual rites of passage, I have come to believe that there's a group of us who choose triathlon as our way of proving ourselves, to ourselves. It is the embodiment of a new state of being which is the final step towards making it real in the world. We have a deep, soul understanding of the need for ceremony. 

In the preceding steps, we had to prepare ourselves: physically, mentally, emotionally. Then in the race, the new you that you've been growing and feeding is waiting to show you what else you can do. 

Let it show you. Allow it to be revealed to you. And know that the most challenging moments are the ones in which you'll find your new self. Obstacles are the hurdles that get us into flow. 

Here's how I experience flow, in my athletic pursuits, in my writing, and in my communion with the natural world, the spirit world, and myself:

I am in total alignment: mind, body, spirit. There is no process of thinking of an action before doing it. There is only doing as a result of alignment. I understand that my body has needs in order to maintain the flow, but I don't feel the weight of those needs; I have no corresponding feelings about them. They just are.   

I am outside of time. 

I am more the essence of myself than the solidity of it. 

I receive answers at the moment of questioning. I receive questions so that I may know the answers to that which I have been unknowingly searching for. 

It is the only experience in my entire life in which there is no underlying feeling of longing. 

I have an elevated knowing of the interconnectedness of things. 

I am on the edge. Balancing both carefully and effortlessly as to not fall off. 

One of the greatest gifts of my life is my connection to my intuition. Admittedly, my journey towards parsing out the differences between the voices of cultural conditioning and the one of my inner knowing was simply about bringing consciousness to my thought patterns. My intuition has been loud and unrelenting in its decision-making for as long as I can remember. I recognize it naturally. The hard part for me was about convincing myself that I would be safe, and still loved, if I let go of everything else. 

And if you too decide to embark on this journey, you'll learn as I did, that when you build a bridge of alignment with your inner guide, the natural flow that results is so inexplicably rewarding that the fear of not belonging begins to fall away on its own. 

So now, I find myself ready to embark on the part of the journey that comes after I've cultivated belonging within myself: to expand into the unique way in which I belong to the world, in community. As you may have guessed if you know me, or after making it this far down the page, I feel the most at home inside myself. My inner world is my comfort zone. I delight in spending hours writing, creating, and feeling deep connection with nature. I've built a beautiful home inside my psyche. 

But lately there's been a persistent tugging - something telling me that I can't stay inside forever - telling me that there is great connection that can be cultivated out in the world. Although I'm not exactly sure where to start, I'm hoping that sharing my experience of flow and intuition will help open some doors. 

In a timeline I once believed would be mine, today would have been the Ironman World Championship, the goal that I've been working towards securing for the past 5 years, since I raced there last. It was hard for me to understand why that wouldn't become my path. All of the signs seemed to align. I've finally come to understand that this other timeline that my soul chose for me will become more meaningful, in many ways that I know, but am not ready to share, and in many more ways that have yet to be revealed.  

But still I wonder, what will this next Ironman be about? Usually by the time I begin to taper, the unifying theme has begun to reveal itself. This time, all I have is the gentle insistence on setting the search aside, urging me to find peace in the not-knowing. All I receive in return for my inquiring is a softness, which says:

It's ok to not know. 
There's a gift in the not-knowing. 
Be courageous enough to walk into the fire with nothing but your unknowing. 
Be willing to allow the burning to decide what stays and what goes.           

So as I prepare to step into my next container of becoming, at Ironman California, I plan on bringing nothing but myself, ready to be transformed, willing to allow the next phase of myself to be revealed to me only when it's ready, open to the flow which has always guided me, to take over completely. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2021 Race Report

There are race towns that kinda/sorta care about the fact that they have an Ironman in their town, and then there's Coeur d'Alene. With the record-setting heat on race day leading to a 27% DNF rate, I can't even imagine how much higher the DNF rate would have been if we weren't in CDA amongst people who supported, cheered, lifted, inspired, hosed us down, and pulled us all the way through the race. This was my 9th Ironman (in 9 different locations) and I've never experienced anything like it. 

Ryan's best race costume yet?! 

My mantra going into this race was: acceptance, ease, trust. I knew that there were going to be variables outside of my control (mostly the heat) and I know from lots of experience resisting the uncontrollables in the past, that I wouldn't have time or energy to waste being upset about anything. 

My mantra gave me a strategy:

1. Acceptance: Anytime something not ideal came up, I was going to practice acceptance rather than resistance. The key point here is acknowledging exactly what the situation is instead of adding my own subjective interpretation on top of it. In the middle of an Ironman, my subjective interpretation can't always be trusted. 

For example, I knew the high was going to be over 100 degrees. Objectively I knew how I would need to adjust my hydration plan. I made a plan to keep my core temperature as low as I could. And I knew what signs I was going to look for in my body to make continuous adjustments throughout the race. In the race, when I started to feel those signs, I kept my composure, made the necessary adjustments, and didn't worry about anything else. 

2. Ease: It's easy to focus on all the things that hurt in an Ironman. There are usually a plethora to choose from and a few of them need attention so that adjustments can be made. With this piece of my mantra, I was going to remember to focus on where I could find ease in my body. I didn't anticipate how this would play out ahead of time, but in the race it always started with taking fuller deeper breaths, then lowering my shoulders. I needed to keep tension in my core and my legs were doing their thing, but there were always other body parts that I could focus on to either find or allow ease.

3. Trust: This was about trusting myself, my body, my training, my plan, my ability to make adjustments to my plan, and my willingness to suffer. Trust is buoyancy. It has taken me years of dedication to unearthing my demons to cultivate this level of trust in myself, and the most frustrating and beautiful thing that I've learned is that it was always there waiting for me. 


The most significant thing that I'll have to figure out as I'm preparing for my next race is that I didn't feel well starting Friday and all the way through race day. I felt a little nauseous on Friday, but I took a long nap and that feeling didn't last much longer. Mostly I just had very little energy. Usually before an Ironman, I'm bouncing off the walls in the few days leading up to the race. I don't think I was sick but something was off. 

I felt the same low energy on race morning, but I wasn't worried about it. I practiced acceptance and got ready to do my thing.


I felt pretty terrible the whole swim. I couldn't find any energy or strength to get myself up to my normal speed. I was painfully aware of how slow I was swimming so I didn't look at my watch. I just got out of the water, promptly tripped over the sand and face-planted in the perfect location to get a good laugh with my husband, then moved onto the bike.


I have felt stronger on the bike during this training cycle than I ever have. I have both trained and believed myself into being a cyclist and I was really looking forward to executing that on race day. But as Ironman goes, sometimes you just don't have it. I kept looking at my power and being unable to decide if my power meter was off or my legs were off. It was about 20+ watts lower than it should have been. I'm grateful that I race by feel because if I had tried to push the extra 20 watts to stick to my race plan, I wouldn't have survived the run. 


I focused on executing my nutrition and hydration plan as close to perfectly as possible to give myself the best chance to turn this around. 

The highway was hot, especially on the 2nd lap of the bike course. Someone said they got a reading off the asphalt at 150 degrees. I don't know if that's really what it was but it sounds about right for how it felt. I could feel my core temperature rising and I tuned in to the beginning of a headache and other heat-related issues that would have started to develop rapidly if I didn't take back control, ease up on my power, and make adjustments to my cooling and hydration plan on the fly. 


I finally started to feel like myself around mile 95. 


The 3 loop run course was a perfect way to break down my strategy: I'd stay conservative the whole 1st loop, maintain or pick it up slightly on loop 2 if the heat wasn't destroying my soul, then go all in on loop 3. As I made the turn at mile 9 to start my 2nd loop, I felt like I could maintain my pace all day. I knew I had a ton of ground to make up on the women in front of me, but I also knew that it would be a war of attrition. If I could just not slow down, I would move myself up the leaderboard. 

The NYX athletes and sherpas all over the run course made it even easier to stay positive. I only got to see my athlete Erin (who was doing her 1st ever IM!!) once on the run course but she looked so strong and had a big smile on. Seeing her owning it gave me energy. 

My potato husband was a welcomed momentary relief. For just a moment, I was laughing too hard to think about anything that could have been interpreted as painful - which is his whole goal.

I didn't know exactly where my competition was but I knew I was right on the verge of a Kona spot. I poured my soul into the last lap of that run course. The result was nowhere near my fastest marathon but it was everything I had on that day. Kona spot or not, that's really what my Ironman goals are about: to surrender to the darkness and find a way to dig deeper than I even knew was possible.


As it turned out, my age group was allotted 7 spots and I made the final pass into 7th place right at the 25.5 mile run split. 

I qualified for Kona at Ironman Boulder in 2016. It has been 5 years of trying and failing to qualify over and over again. Each failure made me more resilient. Each one taught me something about myself and motivated me to keep going, keep digging, keep asking myself why and how I'm holding myself back - 

How my protective mechanisms were well-intentioned but ultimately destructive - 

How the walls that I've built to keep out the heartbreak have also kept out joy and celebration - 

How the way I talk about myself defines my reality and needs to be reckoned with on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis to make sure I'm not creating a limit where I don't need one. 

This shit is not easy. In fact I'd say that digging up these demons is significantly harder than training for an Ironman. I don't think I would have stuck with it if I didn't know what it was like to race on the big island on the 2nd Saturday in October. And now I have the opportunity to do it again.

About a week before the race, I realized that I hadn't allowed myself to dream about Kona because I was afraid of how much more it would hurt if I didn't qualify. But I was also unknowingly creating the reality where it was ok not to go for it. I was keeping myself safe. The day before the race I wrote myself this note:

Dear Laura,

You are ready. 

You have stayed true to your body - what works best for you, not being influenced by what other people are doing.

You have stayed true to your heart - saving time for rest and regeneration - building self love and compassion. 

You have built yourself up instead of torn yourself down. 

It was harder to choose this path but you were relentless

Tomorrow, you'll walk up to the start line more whole, more integrated, more ready to surrender than you ever have been. The outcome is not yours to decide. It never has been. Yours is the experience - the openness and willingness to embrace whatever the day brings you. 

You deserve every second of joy and pain that you'll feel tomorrow. 

Soak it in. 

Become it.

Then let it go. 

I am so proud of you. You have become the person we always needed to guide us through the darkness. 

You'll know what to do tomorrow. You always do. 

Trust your knowing. It will be the part of you that won't be tired or broken down. It will be the soft gentle voice that transcends time 

and space 

and everything.

You got this.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Ironman Feels

The taper for Ironman Coeur d'Alene has begun and in order to mitigate my pre race nerves/doubts/obsessive vacuuming, I'm choosing to focus on the feelings I have while I'm racing. Without this, my brain will default to focusing on what I'm nervous about. I wrote this for myself, both from past race experience and for future manifestation, and I'm hoping that you'll get something out of it too. 

Race morning, all I can think about is the gun going off. My anxiety is in my throat. I can taste it. Please just let the gun go off so I can stop thinking and start doing.


We're doing it! We're in an Ironman! Everyone is frantic all around me. I love the frantic energy and I indulge for a bit. Then I retreat back into the stillness inside me. I fill back up. Drop my shoulders. Remember to breath. I am doing an Ironman!

It's so exciting that I go back into the anxious energy with my people. They are so me. These are the people who reflect my own energy back to me the clearest. It is flawed and it is beautiful and it has brought us all here together. 

That is so special.

I go back in. I think about the video of Alistair Brownlee dunking his competitor (too soon?) and I think I'd really like to do that to the guy next to me. You're ruining our special moment, guy! Get out of my personal space.

I am always so excited to see the blurry large shadowy thing that is definitely not the sky and definitely is the finishing arch. The swim is fun but get me the F out of here and onto the bike where people get penalties for being in my personal space.


The stillness is easiest to find on the bike. Simple powerful movements create force and speed. I can feel my center. The contrast between the stillness of my core and the strength of my legs magnifies the opposites.

I am in the energy and the energy is in me. It is hot, sticky, windy, and whatever else has been reserved for race day. The only option is to merge with it. It is too big to resist. I become the heat, the wind, the elements that surround me. It is hard for my body to integrate this energy. I have to remember to be compassionate with my body. To give it the nutrients it needs to sustain integration.

If I am out here forever, will I become the elements
Or will they destroy me
Or both?

I am scared and I am curious.


The run is where truth finds me.
It's where I find truth.

I've spent the whole day being stripped down. I am raw and I have no defenses. Right away, I can feel that my impending question will be how willing I am to be out of control. All I can do as that question gets louder and louder is continue to give my body the tools that it needs to rise to the occasion.

And then at a time
That seems outside of time
There is a shift.

My body answers the question for me. It allows itself to be overtaken.

This exact moment in time
That is outside of time
Is why I came here.

This is the surrendering.

It has become too hard to exist in a state of resistance. I am completely out of energy to worry or even be curious about what lies ahead. The worry is too heavy. I have to let it go. 
I fill up on belief and I become lighter.

In one dimension, I wish I could be here forever. I'm on the edge of living and dying and again, it's the contrast that brings depth and luminosity to its opposites. I am more alive, more in bliss.

And in another dimension, I feel my body disintegrating. Breaking down. Giving of itself so that I can experience this high of living. 

This feeling is fear.

I acknowledge it and I try not to stay there for too long. Both feelings are getting stronger, together. I have to make sure I'm attuning to each feeling equally. That is the key. It's what I have to maintain until the finish line.


Only at the last possible second do I allow myself to acknowledge that there is an ending. If I allow stopping into my consciousness too early, I won't be able to maintain my expansion.

When I acknowledge it, I am desperate for it.

The finish line is triumph. It is release and pain and celebration and grief and joy on the most profound level. For this moment, I have no reason to doubt myself, to think little of myself, to believe any of the hurtful lies I've ever told myself about not being deserving of this, and it is overwhelming.

There is not enough room in my body for all of this joy and gratitude and it pours out of me. I want to be able to contain it. It feels shameful to let it out, but it is bigger than me. It has always been bigger than me.
It's ok.

Let it out.
Soak it in.
Share it.

You created this. You lived inside your dreams.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

70.3 St. George

Of the overwhelming number of things that I missed about racing, what I missed the most is how painful it is. Really. That's my actual favorite part. That's why I look like a smiling lunatic the whole time. I would have quit this sport a long time ago if it only hurt a little bit. 

But it's not just pain for the sake of pain. It's the acceptance, management, and gratitude for the sensation, without labeling it as bad or scary or trying to distract myself from it.

It's choosing to lean in and feel the nuances rather than be overwhelmed by the broad interpretation.

It's about suffering and being compassionate for my body rather than mad at it for not achieving some unattainable output.

It's the delicate balancing act of engaging with my body's needs and choosing what it can survive without until the finish line. 

About a week or so out from the race, I sorted through the entire participant list to find all of the fast women in my age group. As tedious of a process as this was, it was not hard to find an ABUNDANCE of fast women in my age group. Now, here's the thing: I have made an immeasurable amount of progress towards honoring my self worth, doing less comparing of my journey to other people's journeys, blah blah blah. None of that stopped me from spiraling into a tornado of doubt. 

But it did help me pull my shit together and regroup rather quickly. As soon as I felt the spiraling coming on, I got out my journal and positive-self-talked myself right out of that shit storm.

"Exhale fear, inhale gratitude." 

"Choose growth."

"I am not my thoughts."

"This is just the full moon in Scorpio fucking with your emotions, you totally got this."

Thankfully, this all ended before we headed out to St. George. By the time we pulled into town, I was buzzing with excitement. I had completely stopped thinking about the competition and I could not believe I was actually going to get to race and do all of the race things: the start line, the hills, the heat, peeing myself, dumping ice down my shorts, celebrating the 1st ever NYX team race, more hills, seeing my athletes and teammates on the course, seeing so many people that I only kind of know and only see at races, and crossing a REAL, LIVE, FINISH LINE. 

Swim: 32:06

The swim was relatively smooth. 32 minutes is not a great time for me, but it's not bad. I'm confident that once I can get in some open water training this season, I'll drop that back down. 

Bike: 2:47:15

This was my biggest area of improvement. The last time I raced in St. George, I biked exactly 3 hours. Dropping 13 minutes is not what I was expecting, but then again, I intentionally did not make any specific time-based expectations for this race. I usually do, but I had different goals for this one. As I was putting together my race plan, I realized that the story I had been telling myself in all of my past races is that I need to conserve energy on the bike so that I can use my run as my strength. There are not many things I love more than passing people in the back half of the run and I was afraid to not be able to rely on that. 

But I realized that having any part of my race plan be based on fear or scarcity would not allow me to get the best out of myself. So my goal for the bike was to actually race the course, looking for opportunities to go harder, not easier. I am not in peak fitness by any means but I wanted to race as well as I could with the training I had under my belt, and then trust that my run would be there for me. Accomplishing that goal was my biggest win on the day.

Run: 1:45:16

I've raced this course twice before and the 1st 3 miles of the run course going straight uphill did not get any less brutal. But again, brutal is what I show up for. I didn't want to know what place I was in coming off the bike. Sometimes it's farther back than I'd like it to be, and I've let that get in my head in the past. Then about 1 mile in, when someone inevitably shouted out what place I was in, I just shrugged it off. I had already made the decision that nothing was going to bother me, so I just dug in. Exactly as I would have otherwise. 

The 1 thing I messed up was not a small thing to mess up. I didn't take in any calories in the 1st 5ish miles of the run. I don't even have a good excuse for why that happened. I forgot? It's my first triathlon? I went too hard with the mantras and thought I was invincible? 

So while this is a decent time for me on a course with about 1k feet of climbing, it wasn't the best I could do. 

I finished the race in 5:11:52, good enough for 11th in my age group. As much progress as I've made with not allowing my outcome goals to define my day, I don't love finishing outside the top 10. It certainly doesn't define my day, but I'm not thrilled about it. Overall though, I'm happy with my performance, which is the part that I have more control over. In terms of fitness and strategy, this was a good stepping stone as the first race of the season. 

What really made this race special though, was that it was the 1st ever NYX Endurance team race. We had 15 racers, and 10 people on the Sherpa Squad who came to cheer, volunteer, and be part of the magic. Our tent made its race debut a little over a mile out from the finish line so we could provide support all day long. We were the last cheerers on the course, even after the run course sponsor took their signs down. 

I had 4 athletes racing with me and they each have their own inspiring story to tell. A race is a check-in with how you've been progressing physically. It's easy to convince ourselves that we're doing everything we can to improve without an actual test to suggest anything different. It's also a check-in with how you've grown as a human, measured not by your results, but by how whole and integrated you feel when the dust settles. 

Did you hit your outcome goal and realize that there's still a pervasive sense of emptiness? Do you convince yourself that it's fine because the next milestone will make you feel worthy? Do you feel balanced, knowing that you've found the intersection of spending enough time on training and family/friends/work? Are you proud of yourself?

Here are a couple quotes from my athletes' race reports. These are the reflections of their dedication to the practice of choosing growth:

  • "I never realized how much I self sabotaged in my early life, and how much of a factor mental toughness is in training. Every time things got tough, I used my mantras. Actually I used my mantras during the whole race. I used motivating, kind statements. I gave myself grace. I was my biggest cheerleader out there. I used to need external motivation to get through tough races. This time I used my internal motivation to get me through and it was far more effective and satisfying. It was a big breakthrough for me."
  • "I was going to go out and PUSH- but push because it made me happy, not because it was going to help me beat others. This was my goal for the race. Go into it without fear, and know that my abilities are limitless. I can do anything if I just let go. This season for me will be about letting go: letting go of control, letting go of fear. It's my time."
  • "The emotions I felt afterwards were about so much more than racing. This race meant a lot to me personally and this is the most accomplished I have ever felt from a race. It was a breakthrough race for me and that had nothing to do with time or speed."

Bringing NYX Endurance to life with Julie and Alison has been so rewarding. The experiences of our athletes are validation that our creation is beginning to align with its mission. 

Usually I have more challenges to overcome on a race course, but I was honestly just so grateful to be out there that I never had a single moment of doubt or insecurity. I'm excited to see where this mindset takes me.

Here are some more pics of the celebration:

The Sherpa of all Sherpas: my husband (and Ralph Dog) ❤️

Cheering on my athlete, Erin, as she breaks out some dance moves 💃

Coach Julie on her way to an AG win, as Coach Alison tells her how big her margin is

#sherpasquad getting after it

Photo cred: My tiny beautiful sister, Gina. 

    IG: @ginamaria_photography

Tuesday, March 9, 2021


My dog Ralph is a rule-follower. At first Ryan and I thought we were probably just naturally-inclined dog trainers (until we got the husky, which proved otherwise) because Ralph learned quickly and easily. Operating within a system gives him a sense of control over his environment. But if you allow him to break a rule just one time, he concludes that the rule must not have any substantial merit behind it and he will never again obey any requests to return to the previous mode of operation. Once he has seen the light, he's not going back.

I am decidedly not a rule-follower. 

For the majority of my life I have operated from my narcissistic theory that any rules regarding my behavior must be out to get me, specifically. There seemed to be inexplicable rewards for self diminishment and for creating the most elaborate displays of having your shit together and at first, I wanted nothing to do with it. 

Then inevitably the rewards became shinier and more distracting. My strategy of fighting against something of which I couldn't exactly pinpoint had shown little positive results so I changed my strategy to playing the game with the intention to win. I thought I could "beat" the system. I theorized that I could put myself in a position where I would be so successful and productive that no one would be able to tell me what to do and then I would be free. 

Whatever that means.

Now, as we approach the 1 year anniversary of societal shutdown, I'm beginning to see my life separate into 2 distinct parts: the pre 2020 hamster wheel of productivity and self abandonment and the post 2020 conscious unfolding and feeling, rather than forcing, my way forward. 

And now it's time to integrate. 

The world has begun to spin again and I want to make sure that I am deliberate about incorporating everything that I uncovered from the stillness of 2020, into a self that can exist more intentionally within the spinning. I'm grateful that the timeout gave me space to let go of some of the habits and attachments that I wouldn't have known how to get myself out of otherwise. What I'm most grateful for though, was the timeout from the pieces of my life that I still love, but needed to reimagine. 

The potential of being able to race again fills me with purpose. I've always seen triathlon as the perfect reward system for my most natural inclinations: discipline and consistency. It has provided me with an excuse (albeit, an incredibly enjoyable one) to put my head down and work my ass off. But, like Ralph, now that I've picked my head up I know there is more and I'm not going back. I know I can be fast and have stillness. I can reach my goals without filling every extra hour of my day with productivity. And not only that, I think this may be the only way to get there.

There is a way to integrate everything into a new, balanced, more complex version of myself, and my current task is to imagine it, then integrate it. 

Moving forward, I will need to create my own space. I don't want to have to wait for the next global pandemic to break me of my addiction to an ever-increasing pace. Unfortunately what the laws of physics dictate, as much as laws sound like rules I'd like to break, is that all the energy that currently exists in the universe can only be recycled and repurposed; it cannot be created or destroyed. So begrudgingly I accept that in order to make space in my life, I must first let something go.  

In my negotiations with the universe / higher self / any other implied higher power about what I will consider surrendering, I remember that balance is the universal truth that I can't outrun. I want to work hard, be productive, and achieve great things, but I also recognize that I need and want (which is the harder word) adequate rest and space for growth. 

So I offer up my rigidity, my need to be right or seen as smart, or like I have it all figured out. Like I have anything figured out. But I don't offer it up easily... or maybe at all because that seems fucking scary. Mostly I just write it down, both in my journal and here, because I know that when I write something down it becomes real on its own. 

The latin root of integration is integrare, which means to make whole, or to renew.

When I give myself space to prioritize feeling rather than doing, I give myself permission to renew myself instead of clinging to past behaviors or labels, which once gave me a sense of belonging but since, have hardened into walls that keep belonging out. I can change directions as soon as I've slowed down enough to realize when a particular thought pattern has run its course. 

My sensitivity has always been a strength.

Which is something that I'll continue to tell myself until it finally sinks in. 

Carl Jung said that "Only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life," that "The paradox reflects a higher level of intellect and, by not forcibly representing the unknowable as known, gives a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs." 

In the space, I integrate the complexity of my feeling. Even when one feeling is loud and seemingly overbearing, I listen for the timid, often paradoxical ones, which are simultaneously present and contain their own source of wisdom. 

There are always layers and there is always balance. 

Here's a picture of the husky (for balance).

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 ...