Thursday, December 29, 2022

Making Peace with Goals

*Listen to the article here.

I have been in a multi-year long process of trying to figure out how to have a meaningful relationship to goals. I've changed the way I ask my athletes to fill out their yearly goal sheets every year and still, I'm not satisfied with the structures I've prescribed. I've been trying to get underneath 2 primary problems that I find with traditional goal setting methods:

1. That when your goals aren't aligned with who you are, what you actually want (not just what you said you want) and the realities of your life, they inevitably become unmotivating and futile. 

2. That even if we can identify a meaningful goal, the path towards attainment is not a fixed trajectory. The path has to develop through time and space, and in relationship to other people with their own goals and desires, and to unplanned events, which we have very little control over.

At the beginning of 2022, I wrote a blog post proudly declaring my goallessness for the year, but it didn't feel like pride. It felt like being lost, which I'll admit is a feeling I have a lot of familiarity with but not a lot of acceptance of. Rather than cultivating skills for following directions, reading maps, or attending to street names or landmarks that may indicate which way to go, I have relied on a skill that comes much more naturally to me: endurance. Basically how this works is I just keep running or biking for as long as I need to until I find something that looks familiar and eventually leads me back to my car.  

But if I'm trying to get somewhere I haven't been before, like a destination or a goal, I've realized I might need a new set of skills. Endurance has been a useful adaptation, but it's also a coping mechanism. It's a way of avoiding rather than looking directly at reality, which I don't fault myself for because frankly, reality is terrifying. This is why a lot of us avoid meditating for so long. We say things like "I'm just not good at it," so we can continue moving along in our safely disassociated fantasy worlds and avoid being present where everything is uncertain, constantly changing, and constantly ending. So let's at least start by acknowledging that the present moment isn't some dreamlike utopia and that we all have very understandable reasons for avoiding it.

However, the characteristic trait of living in the future is commonly known as anxiety, and depression is often the experience associated with living in the past. Even if we don't meet the DSM qualifications for depression or anxiety, we are all experiencing a wide variety and varying degrees of mental health concerns, reflective of the absence of connection we have with a sense of purpose, with each other, and with our environment. The ability to consciously navigate through these challenging times is crucial for our ability to feel fulfilled, whether we achieve the goals we set out for or not. I know that if you're still reading, you too have a feeling that there must be more than the narrow band of socially approved goals and desires we've been given to choose from. 

In order to find these buried treasures, we need tools for both acceptance and wayfinding. And because wayfinding is inherently inconsistent with fixed goals or outcomes, I have unfortunately not found a neatly structured method for goal setting in 2023. I've considered just reusing the value-based goal setting prompt I used last year, which was at least on the right track. I've considered throwing it all out completely. I've considered moving to the woods and becoming a hermit, which admittedly is more of a bi-weekly consideration than a result of this particular dilemma. I've considered requiring my athletes to present intention-based dioramas. 

While that last option is still on the table, what I've settled on for now are topics and themes for contemplation - a word that I intend in its etymological form, combining the latin templum: a space for observation, and con, meaning with. You may be wondering, "with whom or with what should we carve out space for observation?" I'm glad you asked. 

Start with this advice from Adrienne Maree Brown, "Listen to strangers, listen to random invitations, listen to criticisms, listen to your body, to elders, to dreams, to creativity, to artists who inspire you, to books you're reading. The more you pay attention, the more you can see patterns, order, clear messages, and invitations in the small or seemingly random things that happen in your life." 

This way of paying attention in the present to the world around us allows us to know things about the future. We begin to recognize the patterns and follow the clues from our outer environment that correspond to experiences in our inner environment. We begin to cultivate a way of being that is both intentional and receptive to the intentions of the more-than-human world around us. And this leads us to a rhythm more than a fixed state - a way of being in time

Perhaps some of my athletes reading this are starting to think, "Is this just another elaborate ploy to trick us into meditating more?" To which I would say no. And also, now that you mention it, yes. For anyone still convinced that they're just not good at meditating, one thing that might be helpful to know is that successfully fixing your attention on an intended target or emptying your mind isn't actually the goal of meditation. It's about recognizing that there are numerous traps and distractions that will continue to divert your attention and your job, is to cultivate the muscle to bring it back. Again and again and again. And you don't beat yourself up when you get distracted. That's a distraction too. You just come back.

I don't think this is separate from the goals we have about wanting to just run a little faster. I do think that cultivating a new way of being that is in rhythm with our lives as they are unfolding and in collaboration with our environment is crucial if we are ever going to have sustained experiences of fulfillment, purpose, and connection. 

Here are some of those topics and themes for contemplation: 

1. The psychologists and founders of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), define acceptance as "not passive tolerance or resignation but an intentional behavior that alters the function of inner experiences from events to be avoided to a focus of interest, curiosity, and observation." What are you curious about?  

2. We have become conditioned to create technology and systems that optimize and strive towards efficiency but at some point, we may want to ask, optimize for what? Do we have more time back in our days due to all of this efficiency? What are we doing with it? Is it fulfilling?

3. Over the course of several years, Charles Darwin performed a series of experiments where he tracked the movement of various plants for days and weeks at a time. He found a central pattern of movement that he believed is the reason that plants have evolved and adapted to almost every environment on the planet. This motion is known as circumnutation and is characterized by a gentle upward and outward spiraling, resulting from variations in the speed of growth in different parts of the plant. Apprentice yourself to nonhuman rhythms and ways of being in time.

4. If you want to know the future, tune into as many intricacies of the present moment as possible. Challenge the assumption that goals should be big and lofty. Consider how the smallest goals can be the most revolutionary goals. Take nothing for granted.

5. The other day I was running and contemplating rhythm when I came upon a creek crossing. The crossing was about 15 feet wide and there were a number of inconsistently spaced rocks that formed a crooked trajectory to the other side. There were enough rocks that if I held my focus only on the other side and not to where I was placing my feet, I would surely fall in. But if I only placed my attention on one rock at a time, I would still have a high likelihood of falling because I would be disregarding the rhythm that is often required for balance. How does the world speak to you? How can you cultivate other ways of listening than the ones you are accustomed to?

6. Toni Morrison's definition of freedom is the ability to choose one's responsibilities. It's not the absence of responsibilities, it's choosing the ones you want. Instead of starting with goals as a list of things you'd like to have, begin instead with asking yourself, "What do I want to be responsible for?" 

7. One of my favorite things about living near the ocean is the number of people that you can find, at any given time of day, stopped and staring motionless at the ocean. How do you feel when you gaze at the ocean? How do you feel near mountains, in the desert, in the woods? Be careful not to fall into the trap of needing to understand or to explain. Making sense of a feeling acts as a barrier between you and the aesthetic moment. Contemplate with your sensory organs rather than your intellect. 

8. Consider Eco-Psychologist Bill Plotkin's idea that, "We embrace deep and real change by falling in love with things - with an idea, a meadow, a melody, a person, an endangered plant - and striving to understand what each beloved thing is at its core." What do you love that is ordinary? 

9. Acknowledging limits and boundaries may seem like a step in the wrong direction towards goals, or at least not a fun one. Perhaps this brushes up against prickly beliefs that designate working hard and pushing through obstacles as always superior to resting or playing. Take 3 deep breaths and ask, "What in me is worth protecting?" 

10. Meditate on Ursula Le Guin's thoughts on meditation. She says, "To sit and be fully aware of the air going in and out of your nose... this sounds really stupid. If you haven't tried it yet, try it. It is really stupid. There's nothing your intellect can do to help you do it. This must be why so many people for so long have used it as a way towards wisdom."  

Saturday, October 22, 2022


Usually all I have to do is wait a few days for my brain cells to regenerate after an Ironman before I know exactly how to incapsulate my experience in writing. "Process"ing, apparently, is an important part of the process.  I usually know what I felt, what impression the race left on me, and how I want to learn and grow, and build towards what's next. But here I am a few weeks after race day with just now, the beginning of some words that have become benevolently dislodged. These are not so much building words as emptying words. Please read them as such. 

I haven't felt scared of an Ironman in a long time. I don't remember the last time I didn't sleep well the night before a race and I've been thinking that this is not good. That's typically an early warning sign for me that things are going to change. One of my primary guiding life principles is to go towards the things that scare me. And by guiding principle, I don't necessarily mean a thing that I do on purpose. It's more a principle of inevitability. Anyway, I was nervous as fuck before Kona and barely slept at all. 

I've grown to love the nervous excitement before the race. As I waited in the water for the gun to go off, situated in my wave of women between the ages of 35 and 39, I remember feeling like I belonged with those women between the ages of 35 and 39, who may or may not have lives similar to mine. Who may or may not be entwined in similar layers of unfolding. Who, alongside all of our various differences, share one essential quality: that our desire to be bold and bright in this world is at least, and perhaps only, 1% higher than the entry fee of fear and heartbreak required to inhabit it.     

The swim was the swim, as it almost always is. It is the part of the race before the other part, before the run. I remember feeling like it was going well and then feeling like it was going poorly. And then, mercifully, it ended. 

I was pleasantly distracted throughout the first who-knows-how-many miles of the bike that wind through town. Ryan had resurrected the Canadian Tuxedo from Ironman Canada, which as far as I'm concerned is still his all-time best race outfit (despite the confusing mid-race moment when I had to acknowledge that my husband looks hot in cutoff's and a mullet). In-between the brief moments of people cheering, I remember feeling uncomfortably hot. Not necessarily because the air was really hot, but because my core temperature felt like it was already too high getting out of the 84 degree ocean.  

Then we headed out onto the Queen K and right away it was windy, I think. Mostly what I remember is that it felt hard. My legs weren't quite there with me on the way out to Hawi but I stayed engaged and focused on my fuel and hydration.  I actually felt like my core temperature came down after about 30-40 miles, which is about the time I noticed that my brake started making repetitive shhh noises. My shifting was a bit off from the beginning as well. I kept having to shift up twice and then down once to get it to go to the next gear up, which is not a thing that slows me down but is certainly annoying. I rode my bike a few times on the island leading up to the race and there were no signs of either of these things happening, but Pele doesn't usually send out cautionary signs. My athlete Casey passed me just before the turnaround and she recalled how she wanted to get off her bike and throw it into the lava fields back near Waikaloa. That really picked me up for a few miles. Mutual misery really is a temporary boost.  The last 30 miles of the bike course were exactly as unending as I remembered from the last time I raced here. 

When it gets dark for me in an Ironman - when I'm noticing an urge towards a way out of feeling and being in my body - I'm looking to be saved. By the finish line, by the clock, by surrender to the flow, by divine transcendence, or by whatever other options there are. And it's not that I'm looking to be saved from the pain, but by it. Or maybe more specifically, through it. The point is, I want to go further in, not to quit. 

Even though I thought about it on and off throughout the bike course, I was never going to quit. I am far too stubborn for that. And from a different angle, I am not yet free enough to be ok with that. 

My general rule of thumb, that I preach to all my athletes, is that you don't start drinking coke until the back half of the marathon because you don't want to have to experience the corresponding low that comes after a caffeine high. I tossed a water bottle and replaced it with a bottle of coke somewhere around mile 80 and never looked back. At the next aid station, I threw my aero bottle full of water off my bike for no other reason than fuck that water bottle. Another temporary boost.

~ Now please enjoy this brief intermission from the blog to appreciate Ryan's bike course performance, for which he recruited a few co-conspirators ~

Once I made it to transition, my legs felt just as heavy and terrible as they always do getting off the bike, which is never actually a sign that they'll feel bad during the marathon. Just a fun side effect of riding my bike for 112 miles. I put my bike woes behind me because the bike, in a similar way to the swim, is just the part of the race that comes after the other part that comes before the run. 

I've still never raced a marathon on it's own. I honestly don't know what the point of that would be since it feels so imperative to start the marathon in a state of exhaustion. It gets you right to the good stuff, which is exactly how it played out on this particular occasion. I had nothing in my legs on the first 8 mile out-and-back on Ali'i. I was trying as hard as I could to convince my body that it was actually fine, and that any minute now this whole no-energy thing would just go away. I told my coach that the part of the race that I was looking forward to most was the turn off Palani onto the Queen K (around mile 8). As much as I enjoy basking in the glorious distraction of the cheering and support on Ali'i, I don't come here to be distracted. I come here to be as fully present and alive as I can tolerate. That's what I understand the darkness to be. 

Around mile 10, I started to feel just a hint of lightness in my stride. I noticed that running uphill energized me and I looked forward to any slight increase in grade. I started to feel more like myself in the energy lab - that sultry wasteland part of the race with no spectators, just a parade of footsteps and the deathly silence of still air. I ran by my teammate Sarah on the way out of the energy lab who had seen me struggling back on Ali'i and she shouted a perfectly simple factual statement: "you're running." After the race, she and I discussed how only objectively truthful pronouncements of support can reliably provide positive reinforcement. Anything subjective may result in an athlete having to inadvertently attend to their suffering that they were doing a good job repressing until then. "You're doing well" or "you're looking good" is mostly false in the middle of an Ironman. Stick to unobjectionable things like, "you're doing it" or "there you are" or as Sarah's husband Brian did, just blow into your duck whistle.  

By the time I got to the hill near mile 23, I was in that beautiful state at the end of a race where everything hurts and none of it matters. I increased my speed and leaned in to my happy place for a bit. Those last few miles were the small window that I got to really enjoy doing what I love. I haven't felt that way in any of my races this year and I desperately missed it, as short-lived as it was. 

Generally speaking, it felt like the island wasn't impressed with this 2 day format, which came with an excess of people. I'm not talking about the locals not being impressed, I'm talking about the island herself. The day after the race, Casey mentioned to me that when she had asked Madame Pele for moderate weather, that Pele's response was, "No promises." Even Gustav Iden, right after winning a world championship, sat down with Mike O'Reilly and said something along the lines of "Fuck that - I'm never doing that again." Its hard to explain where this sentiment comes from because it wasn't just that it was a hard course with tough conditions. There was something more inherently demoralizing at work. 

Regardless, this race season has been disappointing. Yes, I'm grateful that I get to do this. Yes, this is a privilege. And whatever else I'm supposed to say before I elaborate on my actual feelings. After moving to California at the beginning of the year, I wasn't sure if I was going to do 70.3 Oceanside. The move turned out to be a nervous system overhaul that I was not prepared for. I jumped into group workouts as a pleasant distraction, which allowed me to lean on other people for motivation and structure. But I didn't do my build the way that I know I have to do it to be successful. I didn't start with a strength training base and I didn't build slowly and systematically. I sort of just threw myself into it, looking I suppose, to be saved by it.  

At the last minute I decided to race Oceanside, knowing I was under-prepared but wanting to feel something reminiscent of my previous life. It didn't go well. If you ever hear me say that I'm going to race "for fun" again, please punch me. 

After Oceanside, I backed off a bit, went on vacation, and then went right into the build for Ironman Alaska, which was a positive experience in so many ways that had nothing to do with how I actually raced. But I still had Kona. I still had another chance to find that elusive line between pain and pleasure that my body hungers for. But that wasn't the race I got. That wasn't the race I prepared for.

I still can't decide if I'm disappointed in myself that I couldn't show up for the part of the race that I usually pride myself on: my mental relentlessness. Usually I thrive when conditions are at their worst, but the fact is, I just didn't have the motivation for that. 

In her book, Tarot for Change, Jessica Dore interprets the 2 of wands as a benediction for engaging with emotions through aesthetics rather than morality. She says that we often stay stuck because we don't know how to cope with something not living up to a fantasy we had about it. 

I've become comfortable with diving into certain "negative" feelings. I've come a long way from the beginning of my athletic career where I relied on one of the most expertly constructed tools of a highly sensitive person: my ability to disassociate from all emotions and therefore to persevere through pain, without hardly even noticing it. But numbness comes at a high cost and slowly I learned how to invite my body into this living world so that I could renounce my estrangement from joy and pleasure. Gradually I've expanded into encompassing a few so-called "negative" emotions too - most poignantly, pain and suffering. In this world of endurance, we know at least in our minds, if not in our bodies, that suffering is generative. But there is still a long line outside the walls of my identity house for feelings like disappointment that I still feel more comfortable disassociating from. 

Jessica Dore goes on to say that when the only way you know how to deal with disappointment is to avoid it, you're at especially high risk of getting stuck because life is full of things not being what you thought they would be. 

So what do you do with disappointment as your shitty consolation prize at the end of a chapter? I hope you're not asking me. I certainly don't know the answer. But I'll tell you what I've been doing: I've been bathing in it, tasting it, breathing in its ghastly aroma. I've been running my fingers along its spine, clawing it with my fingernails, listening to it's minor key moaning and howling. Listening to Leonard Cohen. Resisting my urge to clean it up and force it to look on the bright side.  As the poet Hafiz says, "Don't surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut more deep. Let it ferment and season you, as few human or even divine ingredients can." 

I'm still here in the process of letting it cut more deep. I have no reason to rush, as it is spacious, salty, and fertile in this void. I'll stay here and continue bathing and breathing in this carnal musk until I grow tired and bored of my indulgent wallowing.  

Maybe you want to know if this helps but I don't think that whether or not it helps is a relevant or even an interesting question. Please don't rob me of this sensuous experience by asking if it helped. This is the darkness. This is the nature and the cost of learning to stay present. There is no salvation here. Just life and the painful and rapturous imperative to live it. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Ironman Alaska

Ironman #10 was humbling. It was by far my slowest, coming in at 12:23, even with the swim shortened to 1.2 miles. For reference, I finished Ironman Canada (Whistler) in 11:19, with food poisoning and about 3k extra feet of climbing on the bike course. 

This is the first year that Ironman attempted to hold a race in Juneau and there was a lot of anticipation around the logistics of the event. The race was capped at 1500 participants due to Juneau's limited capacity to host a large number of people. Accommodations were hard to come by and cars were limited since you can only arrive to Juneau by air or by sea. There are no roads in or out. 

When we landed in Juneau late Wednesday evening, waiting for us at the airport was a small group of local women who had anticipated our arrival and were ready to give us rides to wherever we needed to go. Also waiting at the airport was the local "Bike Doctor" who must have serviced hundreds of our bikes, including picking bikes up from the airport that people had shipped there. When a group of us recognized him at the airport, he joked that he had to have wider doors put in at his house to accommodate how big his head had gotten due to his recent fame. Numerous locals had joined the Ironman Alaska Facebook group in order to post what they could each offer to us and respond to requests from athletes who were in need of equipment, transport, or anything else. Through the end of the race, the locals kept up the communication with us, thanking us for coming to their town and for inspiring them. 

At the welcome ceremony, a few of the town leaders (all women) spoke of the hospitality that we had come to know so well in such a short time. When there are no roads into or out of your town, you learn to rely on each other in ways that you don't have to anywhere else. There is community here like I've never witnessed before, including the respect for the Tlingit tribe, which has occupied this land for over 10,000 years. That night at the welcome ceremony, the tribe performed some of their ceremonial dances for us, welcomed us generously to their homeland, and taught us the word for Ironman in their native language:  

Tlingit for "Ironman"

Tlingit artwork and way of life can be found all throughout Juneau, enriching this town in unimaginable ways. While it's impossible to take back the injustices that were enacted upon indigenous communities, what we do need is a template for how to move forward. Perhaps it lives here.

The Welcome Ceremony

I went for a practice swim in Auke Lake on Friday morning. It was surprisingly cold at 58 degrees but I never lost my breath and regained feeling in my feet not too long after I got out. I felt confident that my body would successfully handle the cold on race day. 

Juneau is located in a rainforest and one of the things that tends to happen quite regularly in rainforests is precipitation. But since it's Ironman, we had a special "atmospheric river" that was scheduled to roll in just in time for the race, adding to the typical amount of rainfall. I was calm heading into this one though. The energy of the land and the Alaskan people was bigger than any pre race anxiety I might have had otherwise. 


Right before the race was about to start, Mike Reilly announced that due to the water temperature being lower than we had seen all week (56 degrees), the swim would be shortened to 1.2 miles. Of all the last minute race adjustments I've dealt with through my Ironman journey, I've gotten to the point where I don't mind any of them as long as the race isn't canceled. I had absolutely zero feelings, positive or negative, about the shortened course until the minute I hit the water and lost my breath. I did my best to stay calm, worked through those initial involuntary gasps, and tried to settle into a rhythm. But about halfway out to the first turn buoy I could feel my core temperature dropping and I started feeling a little panicky. I tried kicking harder to warm myself up but I couldn't communicate to the lower half of my body. For a second, it crossed my mind that this might be dangerous enough to pull myself from the race, but I obviously wasn't going to do that so I put my head back in the water and focused on one stroke at a time until I was out. 

T1: Once I got to land, I noticed that my calves had seized up on me, making it quite difficult to run the long transition into the change tent. Once I got there, I took my sweet ass time sitting in front of the heater doing a full change before heading onto the bike. I shoved hand-warmers into my toe covers, opted for the rain jacket over the vest and took off. 


We had driven the bike course a few days before the race and although there were no big climbs, I could tell it was going to be slow. There was something about the constantly rolling hills combined with the chip-seal road surface that made it impossible to gain any momentum. 

My typical Ironman state of being is something akin to childlike joy combined with psychotic mania but the swim had shifted me temporarily into fight, flight, or freeze mode. When I let out a spontaneous giggle around mile 9, I knew I was back. 

The bike course was stunning. For a day when I had to be on my bike for longer than I have in any other Ironman, at least the scenery was nice to look at. It was windy and rained on and off for most of the ride. I followed my nutrition plan, being sure to take in enough carbs to keep my energy up in the cold. Even though I adjusted my fluid intake down a notch once I started peeing every 5-10 miles or so, I knew that my body was compensating for the fact that I couldn't sweat enough fluid. I've been here before. I added salt, drank very little, and kept up my carb intake for the remainder of the ride but I knew my sodium balance was off. Unfortunately there's not much else I can do when it's that cold and I already lose such a small amount of fluid and a high concentration of sodium. 

That bike course though... 

T2: I wasn't quite as slow in T2 as I was in T1 but I certainly wasn't fast. I had the sweetest teenage girl helping me with my run gear, who kept listing all of the things she could do for me or get for me, telling me that it was her whole job to make my day easier. By the time I was ready to head out of the change tent, it had spontaneously started pouring again and one of the volunteers was so upset about it for us. She said, "I am SO sorry, you have already been through so much today!" I did my best to calm her down, tell her it was all ok and that this was just part of racing. Then I headed out into the downpour. 


As soon as I started running, the familiar light-headed, dizzy, nauseous feelings confirmed what I knew was happening on the bike: early signs of hyponatremia. Fortunately, I know how to keep myself safe when this happens now. The downside is that while I try to keep up with my carb intake, while increasing salt and decreasing fluid, my stomach has a hard time processing anything I put in without enough fluid to wash it down. I took in 2 gels in the first few miles and puked them up shortly after. I was still nauseous at this point so I kind of assumed that might happen, but I figured I'd give it a whirl anyway.  I held onto hope that I could turn this around. A marathon is a long time and I knew anything could happen. 

Around mile 11-13, I stopped feeling nauseous but I was intensely bloated. Anything I put into my body, including water, came right back up. At that point, I gave up on calories and proceeded with the rest of the marathon on nothing but coke, salt, and the occasional cup of water, continuing to barf those things back out along the way. 

My poor Iron-team (Ryan and Gina) gets so anxious when they think I'm not feeling well so I felt horrible when I had to throw up in front of them. I was hoping I could keep that concealed so that they would continue to have a fun day (since that's what I was doing). I saw the looks of concern on their faces so I yelled back at them that just because I was puking didn't mean we had to have a bad time! Ryan's race-day costumes always unfold in stages and so far I had only seen him wearing a yellow rain jacket so I was interested to see where this was going. 

I never succumbed to the fact that I was just going to have a slow race, I kept trying to turn it on - to see if I had any chance of life in my legs - all the way through the finish. I didn't, but that wasn't the point. I got to prove to myself that no matter what happens on race day, whether I'm executing well or not, I am actually fully in control of the experience I get to have. Holding too tightly to a fading goal or expectation robs you of the opportunity to trust the path that begins at your feet. 

Do I wish that all my Ironman's could be fast and free of obstacles? Not really. I think I would have quit by now if all I was doing was chasing speed. 

In this one I learned that it's not just about "controlling the controllables" and then being the hopeless victims of the things we can't control. That which we cannot control is where the magic lives. And it is the intentionality with which we leave space for the magic to flow through that makes all the difference. 

I thought I was coming here to experience and race in the Alaskan wilderness. I didn't know I was coming here to be immersed in and carried by community in a way that I've never experienced before. As I held up my end of the bargain, taking full ownership of my attitude and my experience, the space that I left open was filled with the spirit of the Alaskan people. After the race, they continued to graciously thank us for coming to their town, talked about how privileged they felt to come to their first Ironman, and invited us to please come back next year so that they could cheer for us again. When I say this race was humbling, this is what I'm talking about. It goes so far beyond the course or my personal execution. 

In the same way that we gaze up at the stars and find a sense of awe in how small we are, I think there's a little bit more to it. It is not our smallness that amazes us but our sense of knowing ourselves in a greater context. I'm grateful to have known myself in this one.

Here are some more pics from the day:

The greatest Iron-team around.

This pic doesn't do the run course even a little bit of justice.

Shout out to my bike computer which turned on, but then wouldn't start, turn back off, or go into lock mode. It just changed all of my settings throughout the bike course.  

When we got back to the hotel, these 2 dressed up in Hawaiian shirts and presented me with a lei and a flower crown to celebrate the fact that we're going to Kona in October (based on a previous race performance).  

No explanation needed here. Just 2 people doing what they love.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Transgender Women In Sports

(Originally published at

 Listen to the article here.

On Thursday, March 17th, Lia Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA swimming championship, taking the title in the 500yd. freestyle. In so doing, her accomplishment sparked an outpouring of debate around the issue of equity in female sports: whether there are defining lines in an increasingly gender-expressive world and if so, who gets to define them. Is there a safe and fair way to distinguish what constitutes gender with regard to athletic competition? Does the basic human right to claim your own true identity have to be at odds with the necessity of female sports to be considered on their own terms?


While it is widely understood that supplementing with exogenous testosterone will lead to an asterisk next to your list of accomplishments, the research concerning endogenous testosterone (which the body makes naturally) is less definitive. Given the variability of testosterone production and availability between and amongst male and female bodies, there is no conclusive causal relationship between testosterone levels and athletic performance. 

However, according to this comprehensive article from The New Yorker titled, “The Trans Swimmer Who Won Too Much,” author Louisa Thomas highlights what we know to be true about the differences between elite male and female athletes: “People who have gone through testosterone-driven puberty have, on average, more cardiovascular capacity, greater muscle mass, higher tendon mechanical strength, and denser bones. They tend to be stronger and taller, with longer wingspans. In many sports involving timed races, men are roughly 10 – 12% faster than women.” 

In an examination of Lia Thomas’s swim times before and after testosterone suppression, researchers determined that there was only about a 5% difference in her performances, which has led to the ensuing debate over the correct place for Thomas and the wider trans community in sports. Within the world of women’s sports, athletes and organizations such as the IOC and NCAA are grappling with how to create a safe and equitable environment for competition, while prioritizing inclusion and prevention of harm. Outside of the world of women’s sports, politicians and other men are contemplating equally important dilemmas such as how would we continue to distinguish women as lesser versions of men if a woman could accomplish roughly the same feat as a man? And, who would protect women if they continued to creep dangerously close to the strength and ability of men? Frankly, it made no sense.


Speaking of the heroic efforts of those on the front lines of women-saving, to whom do we owe our debt of gratitude? 

Unfortunately, we are unable to specifically thank the parents of a group of Penn swimmers who sent a letter to the NCAA, opposing Thomas’s right to compete in women’s competitions. They sent the letter anonymously, which as everyone knows is the most brave and morally accountable way to inspire change. I only wish my own parents had had the foresight to send a letter to my college coaches, inquiring about my playing time or expressing concern for my safety as I matched up against women who were bigger and stronger than I was. 

The Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, did however feel inclined to take up the spotlight, declaring Emma Weyant (the woman who came in 2nd to Thomas) the rightful winner of the NCAA women’s 500yd freestyle. DeSantis’s authority to make this proclamation is due, of course, to Weyant being a native Floridian. 

This is akin to the 2020 election when Trump claimed to have won the votes in several states right before they were officially called for Biden. Then John Legend invited his twitter followers to also claim things they don’t have any right to, ensuring that they followed specific instructions to include the word “hereby” in order to make it legally binding. People claimed such things as a private island in the Maldives, all of the Teslas, the moon, and marriage rights to both Beyonce and Chrissy Teigan, turning what started off as some light-hearted Trump-jesting into a disturbingly accurate representation of colonialism.

Adding to the list of politicians weighing in on the issue, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson stated his disapproval of transgender women competing in women’s sports, while adding a helpful and inspiring comment about trans women being allowed in women’s bathrooms, saying, “it’s creepy.” Someone please get this guy a medal of honor. 

“Save Women’s Sports” is an organization that opposes transgender athletes competing in women’s competitions. They sum up their contribution in their own blog, which reads, “On Thursday, March 17th, Save Women’s Sports held a press conference in front of the McAuley Aquatic Center at Georgia Tech at the site of the 2022 NCAA Women’s College Swimming Championships to raise awareness of males unfairly competing as females.” While I would be more inclined to entertain an opinion on women’s sports coming from actual women, the fact that this position is centered on disallowing male participants and Lia Thomas is not a male participant, there’s really nothing to talk about here. Everyone is in agreement which thereby renders this organization completely and utterly pointless. 

The efforts of these so-called women protectors have  largely manifested as an onslaught of hateful rhetoric, which at one point led the Penn coaches to ask their swimmers not to wear their school gear to a meet in order to not be recognized as targets. So at what point must we ask ourselves if we are truly invested in protecting women, or if we are really just committed to perpetuating the cultural construct of women, at the expense of actual people?

Erica Sullivan, who won the silver medal in the 1500m freestyle this past summer in the Tokyo Olympics points out, “As a woman in sports, I can tell you that I know what the real threats to women’s sports are: sexual abuse and harassment, unequal pay and resources, and a lack of women in leadership.” 


As a cisgender woman who has spent the vast majority of my life participating in a variety of sports at an elite level, I can only speak from my own perspective. On countless teams of women, through the highs and lows, wins and losses, ecstasies and disappointments, this underlying thread has remained constant: our inherent greatness is amplified only to the extent that we are willing to prioritize inclusion and collaboration. 

In every team locker room that I’ve been a part of, women have felt more free to challenge outdated gender norms than in most other places in our lives. In pursuit of a common goal, bodies and identities which challenge the limited structure of the idealized feminine are the exact mechanisms through which women come to understand the vastness of our power. 

In 2014, Jason Collins, the Brooklyn Nets center, became the first openly gay male athlete to play a game in any of the United States’ 4 major professional sports leagues. It wasn’t until 2021 that the  first openly gay male football player, Carl Nassib, played in an NFL game. For anyone counting, that was 1 year ago. Meanwhile, openly gay women have been participating in sports for as long as women have been deemed capable enough to participate in sports, what with our frail bodies and reproductive defects. 

Before 1967 when Katherine Switzer disguised her gender in order to enter, compete in, and successively become the first woman to run an official marathon, women were thought of as too weak to be able to run 26 miles. Who knew what could happen to us out there at a time when medical research had only been conducted on and designed for male bodies. Would our uteruses fall out? What if we got our periods and bled all over the race course? 

In another depressingly late advancement in gender equality,  just last year the IOC added the 1500m freestyle to the Olympic games, an event which was previously only available to men, with Katy Ledecky winning the inaugural crown. Interestingly, Ledecky’s time in the event was less than 10% slower of the winner of the men’s race and therefore begs the inevitable question: is Katy Ledecky a man? 


So what do we do with this poor, sad, less biologically capable half of all humans? Well for starters, we could categorize them, put them in their own container that says “you are only allowed to be up to 90% as good as the other half.” Then, if perchance one of the members inches closer to something like 95%, they will have to be recategorized as something like “lesser male” in order to keep the fragile humans safe and appropriately contained for the purposes of maintaining the power discrepancy. 

Then when that plan inevitably fails, we can turn to the way that we’ve always proceeded through history: forward. And here’s the best part: we don’t have to have the answers in order to move forward. In fact, moving forward without the answers is the only way to elicit progress because it puts us into a conversation with reality as it is, rather than what we wish it was. And history, consequently, is happening all around us. It is found in the continuously unfolding exchange between the present ground beneath our feet and the distant horizon towards which we are walking. 


Clinging to the belief that trans women are taking away opportunities from cis women is an agreement to a world in which we are victims to the scarcity upon which capitalsm sustains itself. When we say, “she took what is rightfully mine,” we are saying, “my own validation is dependent upon the failure of others.” And what’s worse, the ensuing path is an imprisonment of our own making, to a world of preconstructed hierarchies. Unless we can be faithful enough to allow the path to unfold without answers, we will continue to be victims of one of the most basic human delusions – believing that we have any control over the outcome. 

If I am going to contribute to the unfolding of history, I will have wanted to be sure that I helped open doors instead of close them – that I said “yes” and “what if” far more often than I said “no” or “impossible.” 

What I know from a lifetime of being a woman in sports is that whenever a new woman comes into our woman-club who can show us what more looks like, often my first response can be impulsive, enveloped in fear, and I may question whether my own qualities measure up. But underneath the fear, as I borrow her lens to sort through the layers of the roles that have been imposed upon me, I find new courage to let go of the ones that are too narrow for the light to come through. In other words, thank God this new woman is here to show us all how to become just a little bit more free.


If you’re a man who loves a woman, whether she be your wife, or your daughter, or someone else who you would literally do anything for, I understand your desire to protect her from the potential evils of the world. I know that this comes from a good place. But please consider an even greater compliment to her spirit and to her capacity to be successful in this world. By showing her that she does not need your protection, you are affirming her implicit, boundless self efficacy. 

If you’re a man who believes that your opinion is welcomed and appreciated in any room you enter and/or find yourself hereby declaring ownership of things you actually have no rights to, I genuinely hope you continue to explore your newfound interest in women’s sports. But if in fact you can’t be bothered to tune in to a WNBA game or be inspired by dominance of the US National Women’s Soccer Team then please, for the love of God, fuck off. 

Monday, April 4, 2022

70.3 Oceanside Race Report

I raced 70.3 Oceanside in 2019, and I wrote in that race report that I couldn't wait to come back and do it again the following year, but that I wanted to road trip out from Colorado and bring my dogs. I did sign up for it again, but with the race being canceled in 2020 and 2021, I am just now getting around to using up that race entry. Oh and I did end up road tripping with my dogs out here. We just never went back to Colorado.  

After we made the move to SoCal at the beginning of the year, I was pretty sure I didn't want my season to start in April. Everything about settling in seemed to be happening in slow-motion. And besides that, my race season is back-loaded. I have Ironman Alaska in August, Kona in October, then maybe Ironman Arizona in November if I'm still standing. (I deferred my California registration to Arizona.) I know my yearly energy allotment well enough by now to know that I can't be race ready April through November. 

But I kept saying "yes" anytime anyone invited me to do a workout. I told myself I wanted to learn the area. God knows I'd still be getting lost out there on my bike if I were riding by myself. Then it turned into doing some long hard bike rides for NYX Camp recon... which I'm just now thinking that maybe Julie was just tricking me into training for Ironman St. George with her? Either way, I had spent enough time with my ass in the saddle that about a month out from Oceanside, I figured I might as well do something with it, and I committed to race. 

I also thought it would be fun to participate in my new hometown race, with my new friends and training partners. I somehow walked right into a built-in community here, and everyone has made me feel so at home so quickly that it was honestly a little overwhelming at first. For someone who practices introversion as an extreme sport, I didn't want anyone to think I wasn't incredibly appreciative of my new friendships while I took my own time to let all the new changes sink in. 

So that all being said, doing lots of "camp recon" rides, and wanting to race with new friends are not my typical reasons for committing to a race. Usually there's a bit more strategy involved. And there's always a bit more running involved. But I don't want to only be able to race when I'm fully invested. I want to be able to have periods of life where it is not my #1 priority and still make space for it. And I can only do that if I build up enough courage and humility to not need to see certain numbers or come in certain places to be fulfilled. 

But before we get into it, let's back up for a second. It's important to me that I don't give off the impression that I'm trying to make an excuse for my performance. I'm proud of my race. I took the training that I had under my belt and I did the best I could have done with it. If I had any doubt of that, it is reinforced by the fact that I feel worse than I've ever felt after a 70.3. I've finished Ironmans and had more ability to walk around like a normal human than I do right now. 

Swim: 33:03

Leading up to the race, I took part in a few practice swims, learned some better skills for how to navigate the waves, and then used exactly zero of those skills on race day. I spent my fair share of time swimming in place on the old ocean-treadmill and didn't dive under an on-coming wave in time to get completely pummeled by it. Oddly, this is the sort of thing that makes me giggle - and not in a type 2 fun / retrospect kind of way. It makes me giggle while I'm under water getting tossed around. So we were off to a great start. 

Bike: 2:52

Bike fitness was the one thing I had under my belt heading into race day. I knew that I could rely on my bike legs to be there for me, so I trusted them to do their thing. A few miles in, I had the brilliant idea that I should maybe hold back a bit on the bike in order to try to give myself a better chance to run well and make up for my lack of run training. I biked 5 minutes faster than I did in 2019 and got off the bike feeling fresh. 

Run: 1:40

I didn't get more than a few miles into the run before it became painfully obvious that you actually need to have run fitness in order to run well. I had been going to track workouts, and then doing 1 other hour-ish run per week. I had also run off the bike exactly 2 times leading up to the race so we'll just say my preparation was sub par. 

But that was really all irrelevant because I was in the middle of the race and I wasn't about to let anything I did before the race determine what my experience was going to be. There was never a moment in the race where in response to my lackluster fitness I dialed it back, settled on my effort, and/or phoned it in. I took what I had and I squeezed every last morsel of life out of it. 

Also, between the NYX Mob and all of my new training partners, I felt like I had someone cheering my name the entire run course. I was right about how awesome that part was going to be. 

My effort was good enough for 9th in my age group - not exactly anything to write home about, but still 3 minutes faster than my overall time in 2019 (despite a few minutes slower run this year). 

I was realistic about the training that I did but not to the extent that I was going to let myself off the hook. Self belief is a conscious choice we make over and over and over. If you tell yourself you're tired or not prepared enough or not good enough or any other version of that going into the race, you've already written your result. I gave myself a chance to make the most of my fitness and I'm happy with my execution. 

I did, however, learn that racing with strategy and actual race fitness is really far more enjoyable than racing without it, even if you do earn yourself a donut eating spree afterwards. 

But enough about me...

Ryan had a spectacular sherpa performance on his new hometown course, complete with a karaoke machine in the basket of his e-bike. 

Also one of the best things about being a coach is that you don't even have to race that well to have a good day. My athletes were spectacular, with 2 of them hitting their goals in their FIRST TRIATHLON, 1 of those 2 landing herself a spot on the podium, and the other snagged a podium spot as well as a World Championship qualification. And they did all of this with big smiles on their faces:

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

NYX Camp, and Dissolution

Julie, Alison, and I were a bit nervous heading into our first ever triathlon camp. Aside from the logistics, we wanted to be able to provide value for all of our athletes, who cover a full spectrum of fitness, speed, endurance, and experience. Ever since the 3 of us originally came together to form NYX, we've been focused on weaving together the unique ways in which we coach, race, and embrace the darkness. 

Camp Day 1: Arrival day started off with a quick welcome-to-camp intro, followed by an open water swim and a shake-out run. For 2 of our athletes, it was the first time putting on a wetsuit and getting in open water, complete with that panicky breathless feeling to round out the experience. Since the coaches can't be everywhere at once, other campers gave them pointers, calmed their nerves, and helped them through. 

I asked the athletes to be intentional about what they each bring to the table and to share it. Whether you bring drive, intensity, lightness, joy, beginner's mind, or anything else, we want all of it. Then at the same time, be open to what your teammates are bringing to the table and see where you can create space to integrate something new. 

One of our athletes brought a NYX colored pompom and it was quickly evident that I was the coach who identified most with the pompom. 

Each coach was staying in a house with our own athletes and dinner that night was in each of our respective houses. At my house, we talked about what we wanted to get out of camp and started to build bridges. (My athletes knew that convo was coming.)  

It has been 2 months since I moved to southern California and I imagine it will be much longer until I feel completely settled in here. I'm still floundering around without specific goals for this upcoming season. My old methods and foundations for setting goals have decomposed and the new ones have not yet emerged from the compost pile. I was hoping that I'd find something at camp, with my people, that I could grab ahold of. 

Camp Day 2: We split into 3 bike groups to arrange for a 4ish hour ride with some elevation, followed by a 30 minute run off the bike. Unfortunately midway through the ride, one of my athletes went down on his bike and one of our SAG vehicles took him to the hospital for what he already seemed to know was a broken collar bone. True to triathlete form, he completely protected his bike with his body and the bike is completely in tact. 🙌

Since I was responsible for a group of athletes, I finished the ride with them before heading to the hospital. After stopping by our house to bring him some food, I found each of my other athletes piling themselves into my car. I didn't ask them to come to the hospital with me and they didn't ask for my permission to come. This is just what we do. 

We made it back from the hospital in time to see the sunset on the beach.

Camp Day 3: Day 3 would obviously be the best day of camp because we had our strength training session! The first session of the day was a 90 minute swim, where each coach took turns pulling athletes out of the workout to get some individual stroke instruction. 

This is a pic of me being a totally normal sized human.

Showing athletes how strength training can be doable and FUN is one of my most spirited life goals. Our bodies are the amazing vehicles through which we get to do this sport that we love... blah blah blah. If you know me, you've heard the rant. 

This session was the moment of truth where I got to find out whether my athletes had or hadn't been doing their strength training workouts. I'm happy to report that their technique was indicative of their compliance. (Also their lack of injuries is indicative of their compliance.)

This is how you recover from a meniscus injury in record time and dominate the 70.3 WC with only 1 run under your belt. 

And since this is camp after all, we finished the strength workout with some bear crawl relays where this competitive crew launched themselves through the grass as quickly as their arms and legs would carry them. 

After lunch, we got back on our bikes for either a 3 hour hilly ride, or a ride down the coast to work on bike handling skills.  

Camp Day 4: Palomar Mountain is one of the iconic rides of San Diego. It's 12 miles of relentless incline, climbing from the base to over 5k feet. One of the bike groups rode a little bit longer so that we could all get in about 5 hours, followed by another run off the bike. Going into the day, I encouraged my athletes to find an edge and to be curious about what goes on there. There's a threshold somewhere between "can I hold on" and "do I have more" which is begging for exploration. Camp is the perfect environment to get up close and personal with the voices that pop up on that threshold, trying to convince you that you can't do what you've never done before. And at the same time there's the feedback from your body, which if you take away your fearful interpretations, is simply providing you with information. If you listen closely and objectively, your body is almost always telling you that it's ok - that you got this.

Not that it's a competition, but I'm pretty sure my athletes won this workout (in addition to everyone else also winning). My injured athlete got up early and came out with us to ride in the SAG vehicle and cheer us on all day. The 2 in the longer ride group absolutely flew up Palomar, complete with a showing on the Strava top 10 list. But I was most impressed with my athlete in the back of the group who knew he might be the slowest one up the climb and heading into the day, was unsure of his ability to make it. Since I was riding with the back group that day, I spent time going back and forth from one athlete to another, and every time I checked on him, I couldn't even sense a hint of quitting. He was clear on his mission - all the way to the top. 

At camp and as a coach in general, I am trying to carve out spaces for my athletes to pursue endurance in their own specific way. The athletes I work with are compelled to find another level in themselves. They understand that not everything that has gotten them this far will be what gets them to where they are going next. But the path through these waters is dark and irrational and can only be navigated through the senses. No one has ever been on your path before and therefore you must learn to trust your own ability to see, feel, and know in the darkness.    

Camp Day 5: We finished out the last day of camp with a long run along the coast. The light came up over the ocean and we collapsed onto the grass of the park before we said our goodbyes. 

It has been 2 months since I moved to southern California and I've spent most of it in what has felt like a hazy dream. I've wondered if my goals have been eluding me because I've all but melted into California's tan muscular arms - and not the kind of muscle that comes from doing bicep curls in the mirror at the gym, but the kind that comes from carrying surfboards around and possibly using their spare time to advocate for rescue dogs or pick up trash on the beach - but you know, heavy trash.

In much the same way that I try to create containers for my athletes to navigate the depths of their undoing - which by the way is a process we go through continually, whether we choose to engage with it or not - community is what holds the foundation for me as I stretch further into my dissolution: losing myself in order to find myself. By the end of camp, I still don't have goals for this season. All I can find is a familiar call to keep dancing along the edges: between holding on and letting go, between pushing and allowing myself to be overtaken; knowing that the path to radical wholeness weaves through the murky undisturbed wetlands of radical emptiness.   

In case you've been living under a rock for the past 2 years, the world has not been an easy place to inhabit. As the camp bubble of support and camaraderie was about to burst and disperse us back into the world, I wanted to make sure we left with as clear of an intention as we came in with. The campers had each brought and shared a piece of themselves, as I had invited them to do on day 1. Now it was time to bring what we cultivated at camp back into the world. We come together, we fill up. We disperse, we give out.

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 ...