Augusta 70.3 Ironman Race Report | Personal

Photo Sep 29, 2 55 29 PMThis was such a huge, huge weekend for me! I hardly know where to start. I really have so many thoughts and feelings to reflect on; this race, maybe even more than the first one last year, has been life-changing!

It’s been no secret that I’ve struggled with training this year. I nearly dropped Raleigh at the last minute, and even at many, many times this summer Augusta was always a shaky reality. The thought of long training days and hard workouts constantly felt overwhelming. Somewhere along the way I had lost my love of the sport, and I know that signing up for two 70.3 distance races this year was impulsive, post-race anxiety and completely fear based. That’s another post altogether, though!

After a great training weekend in North Carolina with a great friend I met on Instagram, I felt ready. We put in 65 hilly biking miles, ten total running miles, and over a mile of swimming in Jordan Lake. I was confident that Augusta would happen. It might not be faster than last year, but I knew I was as ready as I could be.

Jon, Rowan, and I left a few days before the race and stopped in Columbia, SC, for the night. We visited the zoo and some outlets and took our time getting to Georgia. I had managed to stay mostly calm on the way down, but as soon as we crossed the Savannah River and into Georgia, I was incredibly anxious. We made it to the expo and packet pick up. I bought my traditional t-shirt, we had dinner, and checked into the hotel. I was reaching internal meltdown mode. I felt like a fraud for being there because I hadn’t trained as long or as hard as I had last summer. I knew I needed to calm down, so I found the fitness center and the treadmill. Two, sweaty miles later I felt much better!

Photo Sep 27, 10 44 01 AMOn Saturday we had to check my bike in at transition. We checked out the river and stopped over at Aiken, SC, for a fun lunch. That afternoon, I was going to do a practice swim. I arrived at the dock and found my friend, Olivia, whom I had met last year at the race. We made our way down the river together, and I am so glad I did. It was much colder than last year, and between the first two buoys, the river grass was so thick that it almost wrapped around my arms as I stroked. I may have panicked just a bit then, but it ended up being a strong swim.

Photo Sep 27, 10 50 19 AMWe had a quiet dinner in our room, and I slept really well through the night. We were up early and found our way to the race site. I spent the morning with Jon and Rowan enjoying the nervous anticipation of all the racers, the gorgeous sunrise, the sky divers, and the beautiful sky. I kissed them goodbye, and found my swim wave. I was ready to see what the day would bring! My only goal was to smile all day. I knew Augusta held magic for me last year, and I wanted to find it again.

Photo Sep 28, 7 32 30 AMPhoto Sep 28, 7 26 16 AMSwim 34:51

The corps of engineers had released water from the dam upriver overnight, so the water temperature was even colder than it had been the day before. For the first 200 meters or so, I could not get into a breathing rhythm. My exhale was shallow in the water, and it left me feeling like I was gasping on my inhale. I started to get frustrated, and for a brief moment, I even flipped on my back to backstroke. But I immediately stopped myself. Backstroke is a go-to when absolutely necessary, but I knew I was stronger and more focused than that right then. I knew I could figure out what the problem was without panicking. I unzipped my wetsuit halfway, and that was all it took. I could inhale more deeply and exhale fully. Suddenly, I was swimming strongly, and the rest of the swim was uneventful. My arms felt fatigued from the swim less than 24 hours before, but I was so glad I had done that to prepare my mind for the river grass, the water temperatures, and the feeling of my wetsuit, which I hadn’t put on since June. And for the beginning of the swim breathing issues, I still made it out of the water faster than last year! And smiling!

Photo Oct 01, 5 27 19 PMTransition 1: 5:58

I spotted Jon and Rowan along the swim exit. I cheered, skilled, waved, and made the long, winding way to my bike towards the back of transition. A slightly faster transition than last year, too!

Bike: 3:32:48

I was ready for this bike course. The 65 miles that Erin and I biked in early September were much hillier and harder than I knew this course would be. My legs felt tired, and it took at least five miles to loosen up and find a good pedal stroke. There was a stiff headwind on the way out and it was fairly consistent for most of the ride until the end. I still kept a good average for the first twenty miles. We pass by the Savannah River Site, and the road surface is extremely bumpy and can get frustrating and that is also the area where you find the first climbs of the course. On the second big climb, I too hastily shifted into my small chain ring in the front, and my chain came off. I managed to unclip from my pedals before falling over and spent a few minutes getting the chain back on the rings. Thankfully, that was the most frustrating part of the entire 56 miles. I kept an eye on my time, and I knew that with the wind and the chain issue, I would come in slower than I did last year by about ten minutes. But that was okay with me. I really enjoyed the ride, and it made me love my new bike even more. And still smiling!

bikeTransition 2: 6:39

As much as I enjoyed the ride, I was ready to find the dismount line and park my bike. The most important part of long races is to stay present with what’s immediately in front of you, but I was looking forward to the run leg all day. It is definitely hard at that point, but I knew the energy along the course would be great, and I knew Jon and Rowan would find me several times. I’m not sure what I did differently, but this transition was two minutes faster than last year.

Run: 2:49:05

I completed all of my long training runs at a 4:1 interval. I knew from last year that it was the most effective and focused way to finish for where my running is right now. I felt really good for the first two miles. I saw Jon and Rowan at the end of the first mile, and after that I began to feel a little dizzy and my stomach felt off. I knew that I needed to check in with my body to see what it needed. Fortunately, I took in all of the nutrition and fluid I should have on the bike. During the run, you eat and drink what your body demands. I mentally ran through what the aid stations have– chips, cookies, pretzels, bananas, oranges, water, sports drink, and Coke. I knew for sure I wanted oranges and some Coke. I did that at the next station and immediately felt better. I alternated between water and coke and oranges for the rest of the race. It worked perfectly! Jon and Rowan also gave me the Honey Stinger chews I had them pack each time I saw them.

The Augusta run course is fantastic. There is enough crowd support that the energy is always up, but there are also times when you are alone with other racers, and that is really when you have to test yourself mentally. I stayed focused on my 4:1 and kept it fairly consistent except when an aid station came up, when I stopped very, very briefly to see Jon and Rowan, or when I just felt I needed an extra minute to walk.

My knee started to hurt around mile seven. I know this issue so well after all these years, and I can tell when it is a superficial problem or when it will become something big. I had a feeling it would be big if I didn’t adjust somehow. And really after all of these years, I’m still not sure exactly what causes it, but something told me to straighten up and lead with my chest. As soon as I did that the pain completely dissipated. This is a huge breakthrough for this issue! It hurt again at mile ten, and I readjusted and again it was gone.

This was at mile 12. All smiles!

run

Otherwise, the run was great. I was happy and focused. I was ready to see the finish line and really the thirteen miles were over before I knew it. Time becomes a funny thing during these long races. You are completely unaware of time of day and overall passing time in a larger sense, but very focused on it in a micro way. I turned the corner to run back onto Broad Street and could see the finish line several hundred feet away. Jon and Rowan caught me just into the finish chute, and I finished my third 70.3 in twelve months smiling and happy. The same way I finished the first one. My run time was exactly the same (within seconds) as last year’s!

Finish time: 7:09:21

finish3 finish2I have so many thoughts about this last year. I found so many dark spaces in training and racing, and almost gave up on this sport all together. Augusta will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first 70.3, but also because it became about redemption through the struggle this past weekend.

I finished six minutes slower than last year on training that was hit and miss this summer. I realized that I am much stronger than I think once again– both physically and mentally. And surprisingly, I returned home from this race reenergized rather than depleted, which is such a huge difference from last year and especially this year at Raleigh. I feel ready to take on newer, maybe bigger, challenges, which is such a nice feeling after dreading every run, swim, and ride for most of the summer.

Mostly I’m overwhelmed and grateful. I’m overwhelmed that I was able to find the focus to follow through with both 70.3 races this year. I’m overwhelmed and grateful that my body can do things I never thought possible and that I have built such a huge amount of mental strength. Whenever I think of the numbers– that I can run 13.1 miles at the end of all of the miles of the first two legs, I am still amazed.

And most importantly, I am endlessly grateful to my wonderful husband who has stuck through all of my crazy ups and downs this year. My proclamations of being done with running, with dropping this race or that one. He has encouraged me and challenged me to see it through but gently and lovingly has helped me to that point. I know I am capable of being strong on my own, but with him, I am able to shine even more brightly.Photo Sep 28, 8 10 21 AM

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What if I am not strong enough?

 

Photo May 03, 10 56 19 AMIn yoga, Bakasana, or crow pose is one that I’ve never been able to do. In crow pose, your hands are flat on the ground, your knees are tucked neatly into your armpits, and the goal is to lift both feet off of the ground and use your core and arm strength to hold yourself up.

The thought that seeps in just before I try is what if I’m not strong enough? So I usually use modifications such as baby crow (one foot still on the ground) or double baby crow (both feet on the ground) because I simply do not trust in my strength.

Ironman 70.3 Raleigh is less than four weeks away, and to be honest this training cycle has been challenging. Mentally I waver between feeling incapable and uncommitted most of the time. I know that is mostly fear nagging at the edges of my confidence. Physically, I feel like I’m tiptoeing around injury. From my right calf that had been a constant problem since January to my old knee issue that has recently cropped back up, I feel like I’m running and training scared. I’m worried about hanging in with training through Ironman 70.3 Augusta in September.

And on top of that, I’m struggling with an intense fatigue, a bone tired, beyond training exhaustion that has always been a part of my day to day, but within the last few months has become much more intense. I have a preliminary diagnosis of Fibromyalgia that I’ve been mostly ignoring for a few years. I think I might have to deal with it more directly at this point.

All of that mental and physical static is enough to have my focus blurry at best. I have been able to stay on track until the last two weeks. The weekend training has picked up in both distance and intensity, and it is taking many more days than it did last summer to recover enough to feel ready to dive into the next week.

I’ve considered my options. I know I don’t have to race any race. But my ego has been getting in the way of rational thought. After Augusta last year, after such a feat that I never believed I could do, my ego informed me that I needed to do more. Training and racing had suddenly or maybe gradually become less about proving my own strength to myself. Instead it became the only way I was able to see myself as strong and capable. A hefty race schedule of three half ironman races in twelve months reignited my ego; it became what defined me.

On Monday I met with my coach and after she had considered my many text messages of the weeks before, she suggested dropping Raleigh, which at first seemed odd since it’s close and Augusta is several months away. Her reasoning rang true: my heart is in Augusta. The original purpose for doing a long distance race remains at that finish line. At that race there was no ego; it was me proving to myself that I was strong. Not using the race as a support for my strength.

In struggling to make a decision over the last few days, the question at the heart of bakasana remains: What if I’m not strong enough to hold myself up?

Without distance?
Without this race or that race?
Or long training days?

What if I am not enough for myself when all of that is stripped away?

On Tuesday, I stopped a swim workout short after kicking aggravated my knee. I decided as I walked to the car that Raleigh was out; I needed to take care of my body to race the way I wanted to in Augusta. I realized that Raleigh has held my ego, but Augusta has my heart.

I came home and unrolled my mat and put on Blissology’s Monday yoga. The house was empty and quiet, and as I breathed and moved through poses, the agitation and uncertainty of the last several weeks finally began to fall away. Towards the end of the practice was crow pose, bakasana.

And again I wondered, what if I’m not strong enough?

But the question didn’t linger very long. I spread my fingers and rooted my hands on the mat. I softly tucked my legs and tentatively lifted one foot and held baby crow for several breaths. Then it just seemed to be time. With a strong core and a focused mind, I lifted the other foot from the safety of the mat and shakily held my first bakasana for several breaths.Photo May 08, 1 34 27 PM

With the release of the heaviness of my ego’s grip, I felt light. I was able to soar in bakasana using my heart’s strength. Crow pose has not become yet another defining label, like triathlete or runner or half ironman. Instead it has released me from all of those labels and given me spacious freedom to fly. And that is what I’ll do again in Augusta in September. Stripped free of self-imposed standards of success and worthiness, there is only me.

The me who no longer looks in the mirror with such a critical eye. The me who is finding more answers than questions. The me who runs and swims and bikes and practices yoga. And the me who is strong enough to stand with or without them.

Perspective

Photo Mar 23, 11 34 22 AMYesterday I was scrolling through Training Peaks, the app my coach uses to schedule my workouts, and I saw that next to the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile race for next Sunday was a note that Ironman 70.3 Raleigh was eight weeks away. And my coach, who already knows me so well, also left a comment that the note was intended to excite me and not freak me out.

My impulse was to freak out, and though I almost choked on my coffee, I wasn’t settling in that that anxious place. I’ve been anxious plenty of times about Raleigh. I’ve questioned whether it was a race I wanted to train for or if I really wanted to race it at all. I’ve allowed insecurities to creep in and mangle my confidence to shreds leaving me to gather up the pieces and, with the support of friends, move forward.

But suddenly, I’m realizing it doesn’t feel quite so huge and looming as training for Augusta did last year, and a friend reminded me that my mental space was occupied for that September race in January of last year. For nine months nothing else mattered but September 29, 2013. My world, my thoughts, my time revolved around that ultimate goal and all of the hours and days required to get there.

And maybe that’s what you need to do to get through something so colossal the first time, but looking back, I’m still not sure all of what I was trying to prove (or to whom). It almost felt like a race getting to the race, and I know I was trying to prove to myself that I had it in me to do something big. I know that confidence (or lack of it) was the driving force. And I don’t regret that part. I don’t regret the changes it brought, and the sense of accomplishment I have.

Photo Mar 26, 2 22 05 PMThis spring is about balance, and with it half ironman training is finally falling into a proportional place. It is no longer a defining label I cling to; it is now simply something I love to do. It is part of the whole of me instead of the only thing I held onto in an attempt to find a deeper understanding of myself and my perspective of the world. Because when we cling to one hyper-focused thing, we eliminate so many other factors. We eliminate friends and family; we eliminate other activities we love. I built a wall around myself using the race and training as an excuse, which allowed me to sink back into old protective habits and thought processes. I might have made great strides physically, but in many other ways, life was not about growth last year. It was stunted, and looking back, I wonder if I even felt alive. Did I ever exhale or did I live holding my breath simply hoping I’d find the end of that 70.3 mile course and cross the finish line? Sometimes I’m afraid to look for the answer to that question, but I’d imagine a glance at my Instagram feed from last year would clear it up.

That tension is in stark contrast to this year that has felt alive and pulses with a beating heart and deep, cleansing breaths. It has been organically filled with friends and date nights and girl nights and family time. What felt taxing or too involved or too scary last year has naturally fallen into place. My friend Kristy is focusing on finding breathing room this year, and that is the best way to describe what is happening. There is breathing room and it is not just seeping in around the edges of training and thinking about a race. It cushions me and generates a kinetic energy that flows and connects.

This breathing room gives me the space to add ironman training in to my life as part of the whole. Instead of being the sole thread that bound the days and weeks of last year, the most important keystone that anchored me to myself, it is now something less and more. It is one of the many variegated parts that are coming together to create the brilliant mosaic that is this life. It enhances who I am and provides me with a place to test myself and grow in many ways, but it it is not the only litmus test for growth.

Instead the litmus test for growth is the happy moments that exist alongside and in front of the hard training. It culminates in the date nights and girl nights, the social trail runs and chatty family bike rides. It is noticing that race day is about nine weeks away, choking a little on my coffee, and then smiling and moving on with my day.

Ironman 70.3 Augusta Race Report

I’ve somewhat gotten away from doing typical race reports. But I think this one deserves its very own report. I don’t want to forget any of the amazing details. I also foresee some more meaningful thoughts beyond these, too.

Photo Sep 28, 7 27 32 PM

Pre-Race

We arrived in Augusta on Friday evening with just enough time to eat a great dinner at Macaroni Grill. Rowan had a really bad cold, so rather than trying to get to the expo or any other spots, we tucked in to the hotel and got some rest. The long car ride had pushed us all to our limits of sanity. Plus, we had a busy Saturday.

I was meeting up with Tri Coach Georgia’s coaches and athletes for a practice swim in the river at  8:30. I was really excited to see them again because their camp was so amazing in July. They are the nicest, most hospitable group of people. I even made a few new friends before we drove up to the swim start, and they both happen to also be a part of Moms Run this Town– my favorite running group. There’s something about these sports that instantly connect us.

The practice swim went really well. My goggles fogged up quite a bit, so I stopped many times to deal with that issue because I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for at the end. And the current. Oh the lovely current! I finished the 1.2 mile swim somewhere around 33:00. That never happens! It took me a few minutes to get into a consistent rhythm, but I did not panic. This is huge! And I really believe it was the best decision. It calmed my nerves almost entirely about the race the next day.

We hit packet pick-up next and then the expo where I splurged on the M-dot shirt with the racers’ names and a spiffy new transition bag. Then I promptly hid them away until after the race, so I didn’t jinx myself! Rowan was being a bit of a handful at that point, so we didn’t get to spend too much more time there before taking my bike to transition for check in, which was a mile or so down the road, and we had to walk it into the riverfront area because cars weren’t allowed to park. It was a bit confusing and hectic, but it was amazing to see such a vast area for transition. I have never participated in such a huge event, but it was really interesting to never feel lost in a sea of unknown people. I have gone to races close to home and felt lonely and lost. I went to a race seven hours away, and I felt like I had so many people I knew and loved. It’s pretty amazing. I owe quite a bit of that to being brave enough to go to the camp in July and also connecting with a wonderful Facebook group of triathletes who were training for Augusta, too.

Race Day

My friend Virginia and her husband picked me up at 6:00 on Sunday to give me a ride to transition, so Rowan could sleep in. She totally didn’t sleep in, but at least Jon didn’t have to drag her down into the madness. We arrived at transition, and it was unsettling to be setting up my space in the dark. They had bright spotlights, but I felt scattered. I tried to regroup and organize my space as best as I could. I pumped up my tires, helped Virginia pump up hers, and we were ready to get body marked and take the shuttle to the swim start. I am so glad we caught up with each other again; race morning was so much less stressful with a friend to talk to and laugh with! We made it to the swim start and the sun was finally coming up. It was so festive and had such a great energy. There were skydivers to celebrate the race beginning! We checked our morning bags, squeezed into our wetsuits, and made our way to line up. We said goodbye at this point since my wave was ahead of hers and just as I felt alone and nervous, I found my new MRTT friend, Olivia. We gave each other a big hug and chattered excitedly about what was about to commence. Before I knew it, it was 8:30, we were lined up on the dock and hearing a countdown to our wave to begin the swim.

Swim: 35:05

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My leg was shaking as we stood in line, and I kept calm by reminding myself that I had just done this swim the morning before. It would be no different. And in order to stay focused on the task at hand, I considered it nothing more than another open water training swim. The gun went off, I slid in the water, found an open space, and swam. I swam and swam. Evenly and calmly. My breathing never got out of control. My arms never got tired. I realized I was finally prepared for a race swim. All of those long hours in the pool were paying off. With only one brief stop mid-swim (I desperately had to pee and couldn’t multitask!), I finished with a huge smile on my face. I had crushed my biggest fear of the day thanks to the great current and a steady swim. And thanks to a great chat with my friend Rachael about not giving myself enough swimming credit. That was a huge component in this great swim!

Transition 1: 6:34

I saw Jon and Rowan as I left the swim, and I was so happy that he had made it into the madness with her for me. I wasn’t sure if they would wait until the run or try to see me out of the swim. He even saw my wave leave from the dock. I am incredibly grateful for such an amazingly supportive husband. He has been by me every step of the way. I got to my bike, dried off, and got ready to ride. The only thing I forgot was sunscreen. I realized it as I was riding through the crowd, and it was impossible to turn back. I shook it off and hoped for the best.

Bike: 3:23:59

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I was prepared for the bike course thanks to the training camp in July. I knew where the climbs would be, and I remembered to go easier on the first 15 miles than I thought I needed to to conserve my legs. I remembered completely fizzling by mile 40 of the training ride, and though I had put in hundreds of miles since that weekend, I was trying to be conservative. About twenty minutes in Virginia caught me on the bike. It was great to see a friendly face! Other than a side stitch and back stitch plaguing me for the entire ride, it was mostly uneventful. I had a nutrition and hydration plan and stuck to it almost exactly. Because Virginia Beach is completely flat, downhills feel very frightening, but I put aside some of that fear to take advantage of the free speed. I used my brakes a little, but not as much as I did in July. Most importantly, I enjoyed the ride. I paid attention to my time and speed for what it was, but I didn’t get ahead of myself. I knew I had over three hours on the bike. And I knew I wanted to be there for all of them. Not stuck in how long it was taking. Or how much my back hurt. Or the fact that my shoulders were tight, and I couldn’t stay in aero as much as I wanted. I came in and out of my aerobars when I felt I needed to. I took the climbs easy in the small ring. In short, I just went moment by moment and didn’t focus on the big picture too much- other than being aware that I had thirteen miles to run after the bike and needed my legs to do it. At mile 50, I knew the hills were over. I took that opportunity to power through and probably passed around twenty people. I had gotten passed by many, many strong and fast riders for the whole ride. I passed a good number myself, but it did wonders for my confidence to fly through those last five miles at a strong speed. I was expecting to get frustrated at the length of time or the distance. I never did. I felt strong. Capable. I was looking forward to riding through a beautiful, shady section of tall pine trees towards the end. I was ready to battle frustration and dark places, and I was expecting them to surface out there on those lonely hills. But I was simply happy with the ride as it was. And I came in under my goal of 3:30.

Transition 2: 8:42

I’m not really sure what I was doing for almost nine minutes! I walked in with my bike. Racked my bike. Changed my shoes. Applied sunscreen (finally). Grabbed my visor. Hit the porta-potty. And ran out of the run start. I knew that thirteen miles wouldn’t fly by, but I had a plan for my run and was ready to stay with it.

Run: 2:49:19

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I felt surprisingly great, but I took a Gu within the first few minutes just to be sure. I was energetic and ready to run. My legs didn’t even feel like jelly too much, but that could be because my transition was nice and long. I was sticking to a 4:1 run/walk interval because I was worried about my knee issue that flared up two weeks before the race. I didn’t want to stop running after that first four minutes, but I knew I needed to be conservative. The run course is two loops through downtown Augusta. The crowd support is amazing even though the straightaways are very long. I stopped at every water station and drank. Finally at mile 3.8, I saw Jon and Rowan (who had just fallen asleep). It was the very best moment, and I stopped to say hi, but didn’t linger too long. My friend Gisela came by, slapped my backside, and told me I looked great. I caught her and chatted for a moment, but she is a beast and was on her second lap at mile ten. Just like I was on the bike, I was waiting for darkness to set in. I had a hard time believing that I was over five hours in and I hadn’t gotten frustrated or panicked or decided I hated it. I was happy and loving it. And the run was almost out of body. I just went. I know I was tired, but I don’t remember ever feeling exhausted, and I realized that all of those long training days and weeks had really prepared me for what I was doing. I finished the first loop at mile 7 and headed around for the second. Other than seeing Jon and Rowan no less than four times, I was so lucky to be wearing a Tri Coach Georgia triathlon kit. I had many, many people cheering for me, and one of the coaches saw me about four times and each time had something encouraging to say. Even if it was, “Do you think this is a show? Get moving!” as I walked through a water stop. I got moving and quickly! He also found me on Greene Street, which is the loneliest street and ran with me for a minute and chatted. I was confident and so happy to be running. And my left knee stayed happy. My right knee decided to be cranky. By mile eleven it was hurting pretty badly. I made it to mile 12 consistently using my run/walk and that is where it fell apart a bit. I ran until it hurt too badly and then walked. I rounded the last corner and a saintly women had taken it upon herself to run with many weary athletes for that last block. She pumped me up as I turned the very last corner and saw the finish chute in the distance. I ran through the pain at that point. I gave high fives to the crowd. I cried. And ran through the finish with my arms raised and a huge smile on my face.

I got my medal, my hat, a bottle of water, and turned to see my dear friend Virginia and her husband right there. I gave her a huge hug and sobbed on her shoulder. It was so amazing to know she waited there for me to finish. Jon and Rowan found me right afterwards, and we grabbed some of the post-race food before packing up my bike and heading back to the hotel.

Finish time: 7:03:39

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My ultimate goal was to finish in under seven hours. I came close, and looking back, I really don’t have any regrets about my race. I wasn’t sure what to expect with a race this long, but I promised myself before I went to sleep on Saturday night that no matter what I’d enjoy the day and race with grace and gratitude because the journey here has been so meaningful. To meltdown, to proclaim to myself that I hated triathlons, to believe for a second that I didn’t belong would be to negate all of the hours and hard work I had done. And I wasn’t about to do that. I’ve made too many sacrifices to get here. My family has sacrificed for me. I held all of that closely as I raced. I smiled at all of the volunteers and all of the crowd. I threw a million thumbs up (thumb ups?). I knew the day would really be over quickly, and I didn’t want to miss a second being absorbed in negativity.

It was glorious. Every second.

And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

For some more post-Augusta thoughts, read this.

Slow Dissolve

IMG_9590Last week I sat down and took a look at some numbers. Miles. Hours. Time I’ve spent away from my family and alone swimming, biking, and running since June when half-ironman training officially began.

Here’s how it shakes out (more or less):

Biking: 660 miles

Running: 165 miles

Swimming: 24 miles

I started to tally the total hours, but quickly decided that it wasn’t really important. All that I need to recognize is that I’ve spent approximately 10-15 hours a week training over 16 or so weeks. Enough hours to get me here today.

And I sit here with a compression sleeve on my angry knee. Icing several times a day. Hoping. Praying. Working harder than I’ve worked during any training over the last four months just to stay mentally calm and focused. And after a moment of tears and panic the other day that I’d never cross the finish line, I had to consider that the training means nothing if I try to sink the ship before race day has even arrived.

Whatever the miles and hours add up to, it’s overwhelming to consider. And I remembered that it isn’t really about the numbers at all. It’s not about the miles, the hours, the laps. It isn’t even about 70.3 miles on race day. Not really.

No, it’s the countless things I can’t really tally that add up. The supportive comments and unexpected utterances from friends and family. The countless moments I questioned my ability and right to be on this journey. And those countless moments of doubt are all supported by countless times I’ve carried on, pushed forward. One more step. One more stroke. One more pedal. One more hill. It might have been half-heartedly at times. I might not have really believed in myself all that much, but something pushed me forward. Whether it was a friend, a vision of the finish line, a faint glimmer of possibility. I have never given up on this dream or my ability to achieve it. And now, sitting here, one week away from race day eve, and I am amazed at how quickly all of those hours, those miles, those laps, and steps have transpired. I want to freeze time just a little and marinate in these moments a while longer. There is nothing like the build to this first big race, this first seemingly impossible accomplishment. I don’t want it to be over too quickly. I’m not ready to be on the other side of race day, reliving each of the 70.3 miles. Even the hard ones. Because I know I will find myself in some dark places that day. But darkness, in a slow dissolve, is always followed by, bolstered by light.

And it’s all been a slow dissolve. Not just over the last four months, but over a journey of many years. From a slow trudge, a run a block-walk a block to numb the pain of divorce, to the bubbles on the side of the pool, to a then seemingly impossible feat: my first sprint triathlon. From open water paralysis to confidence. From a niggling idea a year ago to almost reality now.

I am here, so close to what has been building for so long. And I am overwhelmed by it all. I find myself teary at random times. At the friendships I’ve built because of this journey. Of those that have been strengthened. At my goal of being connected this year and finding that it has propelled me through to such amazing places and people. And probably most surprisingly to myself. Through all of the miles and hours, the doubt and belief, the strength and weakness, I have found that I am enough. I have the ability to do what I set out to do. To follow through. To push hard and face fears and create a new reality. To slowly dissolve into someone stronger, happier, and more amazing than I ever believed possible. A shadow of what I once was.

And when I cross that finish line (and I will), that is the message I hope I have sent through sharing this journey at home and here and on Facebook and Instagram. No matter the goal, we are all capable of amazing. Of new heights and reach and limits. Of pushing beyond the paralysis that so often plagues us at the onset of something new. And slowly, sometimes even imperceptibly, we dissolve from what we once were into a new life humming with the energy of limitless potential.

Home

Photo Jul 13, 11 36 03 AMThe first time I traveled by myself to a new place was New Year’s weekend of 2005. I packed up my leaky Jeep Wrangler and headed through the rain to a Buddhist retreat in the mountains of western North Carolina. Six hours into my eight hour trek, I stopped at a rest stop and with my finger, traced my path along a map on the wall. Seeing the distance, I felt very small and alone, so far from home. But simmering just below the murky surface of fear was a sense of adventure and courage for making this trip to a new place, to a different perspective.

That familiar fear and adventure and courage reverberated against the tightly sealed windows of my Volkswagen Passat a few weeks ago as I again headed west to an unknown place filled with unknown people. But this time to Georgia: to a training camp geared towards the Augusta 70.3 race. Eight years of time and distance and growth and change brought me to this new journey, but suddenly that quiet retreat in a hillside cabin felt quite familiar: the ringing of the morning bell, the trickle of the creek, the fresh smell of rainy, mountain air, and the sense that I was doing something quite important.

It was in that small cabin standing in my room that I examined myself in the oval mirror. I was saturated with steam and sweat, wilted from head to toe. My body tingled and felt alive from the purifying steam hut. My hair clung to my forehead, and after three days of tai chi, meditation, and dharma talks and many silent tears as I journaled through forgiveness, I finally recognized a softness and happiness in my eyes that I hadn’t seen in many years. Coming on the heels of a tumultuous marriage and multiple separations and heading quickly towards divorce, this escape from life but into myself and through the fear of the unknown finally brought me home.

And home was exactly where I wanted to be as the misty rain started to fall in heavy lines, and I finally found cover in the chilly and hollow shelter of an underpass on a unknown road in South Carolina. I unclipped from my pedals, and my body, saturated this time with sweat and rain and depleted from fifty miles of hills, managed to conjure silent tears that merged into determined rivulets down my cheek bones and over my nose.

Without a mirror with which to regard myself, I had only the reflection of my thoughts that were chiding me for being so foolhardy and believing that I was capable of a half-ironman. Such a monumental feat suddenly seemed reserved for others, stronger ones who didn’t find themselves crying under a bridge. My only option was to keep moving forward, so I gathered enough resolve to continue through the rain and the last six miles to the car. I loaded my bike, collapsed into the seat and cried hard, raw tears. For finally making it back. For allowing myself to doubt my ability and my dream. For the journey, the change that can happen even in three short hours. And when I returned to the hotel room and studied my saturated, wilted reflection in the mirror, I recognized the look in my eyes.

What I learned in the comfort of that retreat and was given the chance to remember on a rainy ride through Georgia and South Carolina was we are never far from our true home: our starting point. When we summon the courage to return to that place, when we push through the murky fear and steamy huts and rainy roads, and we glimpse our reflection, wilted and saturated, all doubt and anxiety washed and scrubbed away, we see who we really are. At the purest level and with a huge heart and a wide smile. Then we can walk away and continue on stronger, determined, and ready for all that is to come.

100 Days

augusta70.3There are now less than 100 days to Ironman 70.3 Augusta. Somehow in 100 days, I will find the strength to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles. In quick succession. Right now, from my warm blanket cocoon on the couch, it doesn’t seem real. And yet, the faint smell of chlorine is still recognizable from last night’s swim, and I know these double digit days will lead me there.

I don’t remember the exact moment I believed I was capable of something so grand. I do remember sitting in this same place, with this same blanket cocoon last summer and decidedly telling Jon that I would never do something so big. I confessed that I didn’t have the focus, the determination to train so much and so hard. And I lacked the confidence that I knew I needed to push me through.

Funny how things change and with those road block statements, life puts you in the position to break through them. They hung in the air around me, heavy, weighty, and niggling at me to do something about them. For the next several months, I tossed around the idea of such an event, feeling the taste of it in my mouth, testing my reaction to it. And finally determined to prove myself wrong, I signed up for an Olympic distance and for Ironman 70.3 Augusta.

I had never raced longer than a sprint distance, and my first longer race was Jamestown International a few weeks ago. A .9 mile swim, 24.4 mile bike, and 6.2 mile run was a good taste of what a half ironman could feel like. It was incredibly hard: harder than I expected. In a sprint I can tolerate and push the brief distances until they are over; the international offers none of that comfort. The swim was very hard (details here), but the bike, my strongest leg, was fast and enjoyable. By the run, I was tired and discouraged. And I allowed my mental state to trickle into my performance. The idea of a six mile run at that point felt too overwhelming. I never settled into a good rhythm; I questioned why I do these races; I wondered how I would ever survive the half.

I crossed the finish line somewhere around 3:37. Instead of feeling accomplished and happy, I was disappointed. I’m not sure if I even smiled. The disastrous swim and the mentally clumsy run had gotten the best of me. Simply finishing had been my ultimate goal, but there was something lacking in that finish. I had not left everything on the course that day, and I realized that I had not come close to mentally preparing for the distance.

What I realized in the next few days is how easy it is to get jaded. Once you reach a certain level of athletic performance, it becomes easy to dismiss what once felt amazing as something insignificant. At one point, not too long ago, a six mile run was a very big feat. Because of hard work and focus, it isn’t such an accomplishment anymore. Several years ago, a 24 mile bike seemed so far, but after many rides, it is the average. And what I failed to remember was that even though these distances are easy to me now in isolation, putting them together into the longest event I’ve ever completed would still be a challenge. So as I crossed the finish line it seemed to me that I should have done better; it should have been an easier experience, this “short” race. It wasn’t until I shared my reflections and hinted at my post-race disappointment that so many of my supporters reset my perspective. What I remembered is triathlon, and especially these longer races aren’t the norm. What feels like old hat to me, six years after I completed my first sprint distance, is still a big accomplishment.

I researched and found that only 1% of the population will ever do an Olympic distance triathlon. And I say that not to brag or to bolster my accomplishment compared to what others do, but to remind myself that the mere thought of completing an Olympic triathlon and especially a half-ironman is substantial. Committing to a training plan and completing the weeks and hours of training is amazing. And actually making it to the races is the victory. Course times, botched swims, runs that turn into run-walks, at the end of the day and across the finish line, none of that matters.

This journey has always held meaning for me, always being as much about the mental transformation as the physical. As I embark on these next 100 days of training (that will also include a mile ocean swim race and a weekend long training camp and course preview in Augusta), I want to hold the wonder and amazement at what I am capable of doing. I want to cross finish lines smiling, fulfilled, and grateful. For the opportunity, for the support I have welcomed along the way, and for the body and mind that brought me there.

Perfectly Imperfect

I was treading water about 200 meters into the race last weekend. Despite an edge of confidence from a good warmup, suddenly my breathing was shallow, raspy. I was flailing and had to fight not to raise my hand and wave to the lifeguard a short distance away. Holding back the tears and swallowing the lump in my throat, the frustration that this unwanted panic was consuming me again bubbled and seethed. In that moment, I desperately wished for a pause button, a reprieve to gather myself before trying to continue.

But that isn’t the way. In a race, in life there are no pause buttons, and while we can take reprieves and gather ourselves, life carries on along side of us, charging ahead, forging a path. And so does the race. So you are left with two decisions: attempt to compose yourself and carry on or give up.

I struggled through the longest open water swim to date and found myself flying freely on my bike. The quiet open road, the serene wooded landscape, the lack of other bikers due to my long swim time provided the perfect place to think, even mid-race.

Frustrated by my very imperfect swim, I thought about my very imperfect life, and the imperfect life I’ve created for my boys. Parenting is an eternal question mark, a flurry of wonderings. I wonder about the life I’ve given them. Is it enough? I often long for a pause button or even more a reset button to be able to go back and make right some of choices I’ve made or paths we’ve taken.

I often think back to the week a few years ago that I converted old home videos to a digital format, spending quite a bit of time immersed in my and the boys’ pasts. Much of our family history was invisible to the camera. As I watched, I quietly relived the backchannel story of anger and grief, the hopelessness and despair, the separations, the screaming matches, the multiple moves and homes. Instead what I saw on the camera was our love for the boys. We laughed at them and with them and experiencing our fragile and sometimes volatile family as a third party, I realized what a blended family lacks.

It’s the deep history that is absent. Our tapestry’s thread does not include those endearing toddler moments, those mutual looks of exasperation over the top of a curly head. We entered into this new family at the cusp of the boys’ childhoods when they were just old enough to be slightly out of reach. Where the balance of discipline and bonding was very delicate and sometimes discipline won out. I reflect on those early days and wish I could pause time now and fix what needs fixing, adjust the color, the contrast, the gaps. I shoulder the burden because sometimes it was easier to move forward separately but equally. Looking back, I see the failings, the missteps. I sometimes see a mother who was too focused on a new relationship and not focused enough on the family.

So at times it seems there will always be a divide, a rift that keeps us from truly connecting as a family. I straddle both sides. Playing a clumsy game of limbo as I attempt to make us feel cohesive and also remain connected to the smaller, newer family we have created together. And when Pacey told me once again that he wishes that all four of us could still live together, so he could see me and his dad all the time, there is a stark pang of regret. Not for the choice I made because it was necessary, and not for the life we have now because it is wonderful despite the learning curve we are always on. But for the very heavy realization that we will always be impacted by that choice. The boys have ultimately lost something and will experience that loss daily. I looked down at his head in my lap, at those intense hazel eyes, and recognized a strength in him, a kindred spirit. The irony of divorce is that in order for me (and by extension them) to be happy, I had to make a choice that would always make them sad. And in a very odd way, me too if I am being completely honest with myself.

I wish I could pause and reset and organize what sometimes seems to be a mess into something handsomer and appealing. But there are no do overs, no resets, no second chances. Life, the race carries on. Whether I am struggling in a swim or in the midst of family tension, there are always those two choices available to me. And just as I have always continued on in a race and crossed the finish lines, sometimes frustrated, tearful, and exhausted, I will continue forging the path for this family, trying to learn from our past choices, rather than doubting them. Creating a new tapestry of this family’s history that might lack those endearing toddler moments but is still tightly woven from our starting point.

This piece has been asking to be written for a while, and it just so happens that it corresponds with this month’s Project: Underblog’s monthly link-up about family. Won’t you share your story? The linky will be open for a while still!

Ill-equipped

I once read this memoir: Ill-equipped for a Life of Sex. I remember the day I bought it, wandering through the bookstore; its black and white, graphically designed cover caught my eye. The contents haven’t stayed with me; I’m not sure I gleaned any eternal truths from it, but I think of the title often and the idea of being ill-equipped: of not knowing, of not doing, of not performing.

And in my head the title and the memoir sometimes sound more like this:

Ill-equipped for a Life of Motherhood

Raising children is hard. It’s a constant state of a precarious balance of confidence and complete disaster. It’s waking up expecting an average day and then encountering another parent with a story that is hard to hear. About your kid. It is finding the inner guidance and compass to respond with compassion and grace when what you really would like to do is yell, cry, yell some more, and then hide under the covers. And maybe at first, you do yell. And maybe that has to be okay. Because maybe our kids need to see an honest, guttural, response to a poor decision they made. And after that response, they need to see that despite our anger, embarrassment, and frustration, we still love them.

Ill-equipped for a Life of Writing

Writing is hard. It is what I love to do more than anything else, yet I hide from it. I sit on the couch, ready, laptop waiting, but brain shut down. The pressure from an internal critic and editor telling me I am not enough. But I know that with writing comes levity, comes truth. With writing comes an inner focus and peace that when I’m finished, leaves me depleted, yet energized. Empty, yet full. Such a conundrum, a paradoxical finish line in a race that is never really complete. I am stuck in a place of not knowing, but knowing. Not knowing what I really want to write about here in this space, but knowing what it is that will fuel my writing. And being afraid to take that leap.

Ill-equipped for a Life of Triathlons

At the end of a thirty mile bike ride a few weeks ago, I got frightened. Frightened from feeling tired and depleted and knowing that eventually after a much longer bike ride, I will have a very long run to complete. It’s in those moments that I question my claim to athleticism. I wonder: who am I to think I am capable of something so monumental? Who am I, the once chubby girl who could not run or play sports well, to consider a seven hour race?

And after all of these beginnings of memoirs jostle around my mind, after I question and question and wonder, I conclude that I am ill-equipped; oh yes. But not in the way I have imagined myself to be.

Ill-equipped for a Life of Perfection

I am ill-equipped for a life of perfection. To expect a journey, straight and narrow. To unearth the answers easily. To have the shiny pearls and the pressed apron. No, that is not me and not this life. It is messy and uneven. My dreams at times seem scattered and unclear. I question my parenting philosophy. And worry. And question some more. My sweaty triathlon plans are a scrabble of fast runs, painfully long bikes, easy swims, hard runs, side stitches, asthma attacks, knee pain, windy rides. My writing is intermittent on the page.

But in my head? In my head I am noticing. I am writing and allowing sentences to fall away. I am drafting and redrafting and editing and revising and learning to trust this process that also overflows into every other aspect of my life. I am finding the words, finding the courage to gracefully parent boys growing into tweens and teens, finding the strength to run hard, ride strong, and swim fast.

And finding that I am not so ill-equipped for this life after all.

A Dream (Race) Deferred

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What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

-Langston Hughes

I watched runner after runner go by today during the Shamrock Marathon, and I pushed back tears. I was overwhelmed with each emotion that I knew these runners were feeling: joy, excitement, pride, exhaustion, frustration. I also couldn’t get Langston Hughes’ poem out of my head. I couldn’t help but consider- what happens to a dream deferred?

I could barely contain myself as I watched for my friend, Kristy. This was her first marathon, but not the first she trained for. Sidelined two years ago by a stress fracture and then again by a new baby, she was finally realizing her dream deferred. Her dream was becoming reality; her hard work, her dedication and determination had lead to celebrating this victory lap of 26.2. Finally, I spotted her and a big hug, a big cheer, and a big wave later, and she was off for her final seven miles.

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What does happen to a dream deferred? Today was the day of many dreams for me. First it held my marathon dreams, then a new PR for the half-marathon. Instead, it found me on the side of the race course, still on a running break, still in PT, cheering many unknown runners and finally my good friend. And I know some of the tears I shed while standing in the cold, breezy weather were for me.

Tears for a dream deferred, a race deferred. Tears that so many runners’ bodies were able to carry them to their dreams, and today, mine was not. And as I watched, as I contemplated what will happen to my deferred dreams and races, I knew they will not fester, they will not dry up, they will not sag.

No, they will explode. Explode with goodness and joy and pride and drive and determination. They will send me to new places of patience, of happiness, of accomplishment. They will all be realized one day, of that I am certain. Until then, I will be patient with my body until it is ready.

Ironman 70.3 training officially begins tomorrow. In 196 days, in Augusta, Georgia, a new dream realized.

The journey begins. I’m ready.