Compass Checks

Now I see that the journey was never meant to lead to some new and improved version of me; that it has always been about coming home to who I already am. –Katrina Kenison

2017 was very much a year of recovery. In the few times I wrote in 2016, I struggled with feeling incredibly off balance. I stepped into 2017 hoping to recover some of that balance, to find myself again. I made strides in my business. I tried to regain the athlete I once was. But when October rolled around, I still felt less than whole and dove headfirst into old Facebook albums.

I’ve reflected on 2017 and felt slightly disappointed in the lack of progress I made, in feeling like I ended the year just as it began. I’m not sure we entirely know what we need even when we think we do. We wander blindly and might feel nudges towards one thing or another. We might suspect the direction we should take and try any number of routes only to find dead ends.

Sometimes I get frustrated with this constant circling back and wonder why I can’t be consistent, why I’ve been lost so many times. What I’ve found is that 2017 taught me there’s wisdom to be uncovered in my kind of compass-less travel. It’s easy to feel stuck when we look around and see that we’ve wandered and floated for so long. It’s easy to feel discouraged and almost abused by a lack of self-care and self-awareness. We can know intellectually that one small change can lead to another and another and become big changes as they ripple out, but those first steps back to ourselves can be terrifying. We sulk in fear and guilt and shame.

The willingness to show up changes us, It makes us a little braver each time.
― Brené Brown

2018 is about showing up and re-learning how to thrive.

What began as a potentially emotionally dangerous delve into nostalgia in the fall has rippled into something incredibly positive and productive. That plummet was a powerful compass check and redirection: an about face right back to who I know I am and who I know I need to be.

When I saw that picture of the girl I once was, I immediately knew what I needed to rebuild my courage, to rebuild myself. A hesitantly sent email to my former triathlon coach in hopes that she would still coach me was all it took. A meeting and reunion lunch a week later, and I was back in my happy place. I was back on the path that has saved me again and again. I was careful not to jump in too quickly; I’ve learned to be very aware of my impulse to make a change just for the thrill of making a change. I’m too familiar with the thrill of signing up for big and scary races yet not being ready to commit to the actual process of training for a big and scary race. Training for triathlons has always provided so much; it has been life-saving and life-creating, and I wanted this return to triathlon to be for the right reasons- not to prove myself to anyone and not to patch a hole in my heart. We began training carefully and intentionally with the goal of a spring sprint and a summer olympic and beyond that, we’d just see what will happen. After two months of consistent, happy training and feeling more like myself than I have in years, I felt ready to commit to a big, scary goal. Ironman 70.3 Ohio is now officially on the calendar for July.


Bringing this blog back to what it always was, separating my business writing from my personal writing, my business life from my personal life established the breathing room to write rambling posts like this. Posts that are a little clunky and feel rusty to write after nearly three years of not much practice, posts that provide clarity and direction and lay the groundwork for an intentional life to begin again.


Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand-and melting like a snowflake. —Francis Bacon, Sr.

I’m so grateful for this journey, this noodling and indirect path I always take towards and away from myself again and again. With each compass check, with each reset, I’ve understood what’s worth holding onto, what I need to allow to fall away, and the responsibility I have to myself. I’ve learned so very much about trusting, living intentionally, and crafting a well-lived life.

Beginning. Again.

Over the last three years, I’ve alternated between sporadic and quickly fizzled out fitness goals, to wanting to write but never being brave enough to actually begin, to hating and resenting my business to diving back into it head first. I’ve been completely out of balance, off center, and unfocused. Reading back through old posts, I think this spiral was beginning in between Raleigh 70.3 and Augusta, my last 70.3. I was burnt out on training and preoccupied by the rough beginnings of learning the art and science of photography and fitting in in an industry that isn’t always welcoming to beginners. All of the confidence I had gained in my journey towards 70.3 didn’t transfer, which was frustrating and overwhelming.

I have wondered what happened to the girl who once braved to do what felt impossible. Especially recently I’ve missed her, hard and with a dull and throbbing ache. In mid-October, I was wistfully looking through old Facebook albums and saw a post-race, happy, sweaty picture and without realizing, actually said barely above a whisper: I want to be her again.

I’ve tried over the past year to regain myself, my love of being active, and having goals. I tried a cross fit gym, tried working out at home, joined a running training team, signed up for running races, but I failed at buying into any of it fully. My sense of motivation and dedication was still flailing and when my nagging knee injury flared up at the end of the summer and derailed my fall half marathon goal, it left me in the perfect place for a plummet into old Facebook albums and wistfulness.

That post-race image of myself was when I was in the thick of triathlon training, I was surrounded by good friends, and I was working with a like-minded and dedicated coach. I was brave and showing up in my life in a way that I haven’t fully done in the last three years. I have been dedicated to my photography business, but it’s been with a veil of uncertainty and a feeling that I don’t really deserve to be in this industry. I’ve struggled with feelings of belonging, of hiding the parts of myself that thinks and writes too deeply, of being a photographer and an athlete and a writer. I have felt like a shadow of myself.

2017 began with a renewed sense of awareness and promise, and even with the posts I wrote at the end of last year while I was slowly coming to these realizations, implementing a route back has been a tedious process. Seeing that image reminded me that I still am her and can be her again. I think as the years roll on, the achievements that seemed to define us at one point fade and begin to seem hazy. That with time, they become less tremendous and almost begin to lose the meaning they held and the claim we had on them. It quickly becomes “that thing I once did, but can’t necessarily do now, this second” and so it loses its value to our ego and our minds. You feel a fraud. But what I realized in that wishful breath is that I am still all I was back then. I can choose to be that determined and brave girl every single day and do that day’s impossible feat.

We are at the ending of another year. With the winter solstice at our doorsteps this morning, another season’s cycle is beginning. I’m ready to begin.

Trails. Home.

The Timing of Dreams | Personal

Many years ago I remember telling people that I would love to know more about photography, but I didn’t really think I would be any good. I briefly considered taking a photography class somewhere, but something along the lines of fear and doubt held me back.

Three years ago, I had the quiet dream of completing a half-ironman. After successfully finishing several half-marathons and short triathlons over the years, I felt ready for a new challenge even if it terrified me. Speaking that dream aloud set into motion a path to follow, and suddenly signing up didn’t feel insurmountable. I found a coach, got a training plan, and lived and breathed triathlon for two solid years, completing three half-ironman races in twelve months.

Along that triathlon timeline, my photography dream began to take form. Maybe it was the courage and confidence conquering a seven hour, 70.3 mile race brings, maybe it was the hours of training each week, the early morning sunrise sessions on jello legs. But maybe it was just time.

I’m not certain of the timing of dreams. The doors and windows that open and close along a life’s path do not follow predictable routes, and the twists and turns and noodling seem to leave us no option but to surrender to the ride.

Seems to. But not really. Within the hazy timing of dreams and all of the curves and U-turns is an intricate tapestry, a singular thread making its way in time and space with us at the helm. We might not understand the path we are on or why a particular dream is too frightening to begin to face or even why one comes to fruition almost as soon as the words tumble from our lips. But within those moments we have the option to plot a course; we can set goals; we can grasp the dreams, put in the miles and cross the finish line. And most importantly, we can trust our life’s path.

Last October I signed up for a full ironman: 140.6 miles on a single day. This year, on October 10, 2015, I was supposed to be completing another dream– a huge, terrifying dream. One that brought tears of excitement and respect to my eyes. I knew there would be hours of training, but I believed I was ready to move towards that goal.

Life has had other plans. I’ve struggled with lower back issues since November. It waxes and wanes but still isn’t healed, and the thought of being on my bike for less than an hour, not to mention three or four or more right now is unimaginable. I haven’t been allowed to run for over a month. And while I’ve been through the injury cycle enough to not allow this to completely derail me, and while I’m trusting in where I am on my path, I’m still sad. I miss hot summer runs and long early morning bike rides. I miss racing and conquering goals. I miss that part of my identity even though I go to the gym and elliptical and strength train and swim.

But then I remember the noodling. Ironman isn’t on my life’s path this year, but my photography business is front and center. It’s time for that dream to grow, and I trust that my back issue is keeping me focused on that. I know I would not have had the time and energy to be in the middle of wedding season, second shooting more than fifteen times and having five of my own weddings, planning a successful styled shoot, taking on portrait sessions, and training fifteen or more hours a week. It just wouldn’t be feasible for my lifestyle, my personality, and my family goals.

This is the beauty of the timing of dreams, and I appreciate that I have grown enough to understand that seemingly random clockwork. I can embrace a season that is meant for this business because I see that I have been prepared for this dream over the years. In my mid-twenties when I would wonder and wish and whisper about photography, I simply wasn’t ready. Now I know that I am; the timing of my other dreams has brought me to this precipice of an amazing journey.

And I’m ready to run along this path (especially since no other running is happening right now). <3



Reset: 40 day goals | Personal

I spent a recent Saturday evening out with my closest friends and our husbands. Over several different dinner conversations, I started to really understand why I’ve felt just a little off over the last several months. I haven’t been able to pinpoint it exactly, but despite a thriving and exciting new business, despite everything seeming to be moving along quite happily, I wasn’t entirely happy. This summer really proved it. I was turning inward, holing up inside the house more often than not. I didn’t want to write; training for this weekend’s half-ironman was more of a chore than something that I once enjoyed. The kids and I didn’t do much of note this summer, and while that is okay, while I know I don’t have to entertain them constantly, I also want some memories of our summers together. Aside from a fun trip to my parents’ house, there isn’t much to mark our time. And I knew it; I could watch it happening, and despite that, I constantly longed for the end of summer to let me off of the hook.

The conversation that night that highlighted all of these feelings in an incandescent light was about hiking Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah Valley. Two of my sets of friends were talking about their experiences with this hike. I was half listening to that conversation and catching part of another, but suddenly I had the very clear realization that I was almost back to sitting on the couch, watching life go by and feeling twinges of jealousy of others’ lives. That’s been the reason for this blog all along, hasn’t it? It’s been the meat of my about page since the beginning.

I know I’m better than I was. I’m making dreams happen. I’ve taken steps in a photography career that I once thought were unachievable. I’ve completed races in distances I once believed were unmanageable. I’ve written more frequently than I’ve ever before. Life is more multi-faceted, more beautiful than it has ever been before.

But still. Something is missing, and I realized that in the life span of this online space, I’ve become less transparent about some of the more day-to-day things, some of the posts that used to be fun, light, and happy. I’ve talked about that pressure to be something, both in writing and in training for triathlons. I need a reset. Here. In training after this weekend’s big race. In the day-to-day. In our family experiences.

But back to Old Rag. In that moment, I realized I needed my 40 day goals more than ever right now. I sense that I am beginning to float again. I am anchored in photography, but everything else is becoming somewhat ethereal. Again it is coming back to balance and finding the courage, the inertia, and the strength to create more of the life I want to live rather than thinking that maybe one day I’ll hike Old Rag. Maybe one day, we will have that experience. Maybe.

I’m tired of maybes. So here are my new goals. Follow along. And maybe join me and share some of your own!

    October 3-November 12

  1. Consistently meal plan again. This has been hit and miss over the last several months. I get lazy and forget to write the grocery list until the last minute. Then we wing it for the week. Life is so much simpler with a meal plan! Going along with the meal plan, I need to eat healthier breakfasts and lunches. Lack of planning here has lead to some questionable food choices. And extra pounds!
  2. Update the photo wall. We repainted our family room this summer, and the photo wall frames are still in a pile on the mantel. I have two prints I bought that I have wanted to add to it, and I really need to order updated pictures. The most recent one of Rowan framed in our house is from when she was four months old. Yes. Four months old. She’s changed a bunch in that time. And so have my photography skills for that matter!
  3. Enjoy the breathing room that comes with finishing Ironman 70.3 Augusta on 9/28. It’s been a struggle to enjoy triathlon training, running, swimming, biking, or anything for a while. I’ve found more joy lately, but I’d love to really engage with running again. And make some improvements with being free of races and plans for several months. I’m purposely leaving this goal open-ended.
  4. Plan a family trip to the mountains. If it doesn’t actually happen in these 40 days, I want to have it planned. We’ve been talking about it since last fall. And all through the summer. Those maybes and one days got in the way of doing it.
  5. Yoga on the beach. This is another one day and maybe item I’ve talked about for over two years. Rowan is in preschool two days a week, and I have the time to make it happen before it gets too cold and windy.
  6. Bringing this one back from my second set of 40 day goals ever: Smile at and say hello to strangers whenever I’m out. This pushes me entirely out of my comfort zone. I’ve definitely gotten better at this than I used to be, but I know I can be more outgoing than I am now.
  7. Do nice things. Pay it forward. Buy a stranger coffee. Snail mail a friend a small gift. I know that I need to step outside of myself more!
  8. Explore a new place for a photography session. I’m starting to get a little too comfortable in my favorite spots. I would really like an urban setting. Anyone want to schedule one in downtown Norfolk? Richmond? How fun!
  9. Take the time and energy to explore more of this area with the kids. I get stressed thinking about traffic, length of time to get somewhere, the energy it will all consume. But that leads us to sitting around and not doing much of anything. I’ve lived here for more than twenty years, but I know there are so many things we could do together that we haven’t done yet!
  10. Breathe. Sometimes it feels so easy to get caught up in stress and miss just how beautiful life is.

Kristy is restarting her goals, too! Read about her goal to say yes more!


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!


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

Photo Sep 28, 5 06 35 PM

A Respite | Personal

It’s been about six weeks since Ironman 70.3 Raleigh. Today marks the start of training for Ironman 70.3 Augusta. Technically, training for Augusta probably wasn’t intended to have a clear starting date. It should have quietly morphed from recovery to build again. But life has a way of taking its own turns and bouncing back from Raleigh was just as hard as I thought it would be.

Within a week, I felt ready to begin again. And for a week that held true. Then school ended and the days were filled with pool time and beach visits, ice cream stops and donut mornings, evening beach cruiser bike rides and dinners outside. And I just didn’t want to swim. Or bike. Or run. And on one particularly hot Saturday morning run, the quiet pressure I had been feeling for months regarding triathlons, running, and training peaked. I cried and shuffled and walked as the realization that I had been evading for a while sunk in more deeply: I didn’t like running anymore.

That shook me deeply. Running and training for triathlons has been a very big part of my identity since I had Rowan three years ago and especially since I stopped working to be at home with her and the boys. Shortly before Raleigh I wrote about how unbalanced it became especially through training for Augusta last year. Training and racing have always given me the chance to see how strong I am, to know I can succeed, and to set goals. What I missed in that process is taking responsibility to own myself beyond that space, and in that misstep, I mistakenly began to resent all of it.

Photo Jul 05, 9 09 00 PM
Some of the gorgeous scenery from our Pennsylvania trip. #iphoneography

As frustrating as the beginning of this year has been with training, I now know it was the process of shedding those layers a bit. And after the last two week break while on vacation in Pennsylvania with very little training and many runs without my Garmin, running and I are finding a happy place again. With the beginning of training for Augusta, I am excited to travel this road over the next several weeks. And I am equally excited to step back afterwards and reduce my training volume.

Photo Jul 12, 7 43 29 AMSo there have been growing pains through the past two years that have been about finally finding the courage to own myself, to see and love who I really am, and to be confident to go for my dreams. But coming out on the other side now (I hope), I can appreciate the process especially as I feel such immense joy with beginning my photography business. Because I don’t want to exchange one crutch for another. I don’t want to simply trade labels: Heidi-the-triathlete for Heidi-the-photographer. Over the last several months I’ve come very close to letting go of triathlon all together, but luckily there was a quiet part of my heart that knew the truth of the underlying process, that knew that letting triathlon and running fall away wasn’t the solution. Instead I have had to allow my ego’s attachment to it to fall away.

And in these early and exciting days of photography, I want balance. I want to always approach it with excitement and with the sometimes teary-eyed bliss of finally knowing what I want do. But I also want to hold fast to perspective and know that if all of it were to fall away somehow, I’d still be me. That I’d still love who I am without the running shoes, bike, and camera.Photo Jul 04, 10 29 06 AM

Ironman 70.3 Raleigh Race Report

I know. The last time I talked about Raleigh here I was reporting my tough decision to back out of the race and take some much needed down time. And I did. Following that hard decision, I came down with a terrible cold that I think I had been fighting off for about two weeks. After almost two weeks of rest, I began feeling better. I slowly started back into some basic training. And it felt good. It was during the first great swim back that I started thinking that maybe Raleigh was a possibility. Maybe by letting my mind, body, and heart off of the hook for a little bit, I was able to reset and reconnect with why I choose to do these long distances in the first place.

So quietly and with the help of friends, Jon, and my coach, I decided to go. I decided to think of it as a training day and stay happy, and before I knew it race weekend was upon us, and Jon, Rowan, and I were traveling three hours to Raleigh.

All of the prerace activities were business as usual with the exception of the split transition area. Jordan Lake is thirty miles from the finish line in downtown Raleigh, so that made the entire experience different. From dropping off my bike the day before to getting up at three in the morning in order to set up T2 and board a charter bus to get to T1 in enough time.

I was incredibly lucky to finally meet a wonderful friend I’ve made on Instagram. She was returning to Raleigh for redemption, and we enjoyed a prerace dinner and all of our race morning jitters were easily shared and dismissed as we watched the pros exit the water and waited for our own swim wave, which was third from the last.

IMG_7119This was the source of most of my anxiety. With a late swim wave, we only had 1:18 minutes to exit the swim in order to continue to the bike course. Jordan Lake is fairly calm, but it lacked the friendly current of Augusta’s Savannah River, and wetsuits were a race morning decision. Luckily the water temperature stayed in our favor. As I watched wave after wave leave the beach, I gave myself permission to be confident instead of nervous. I knew I was trained enough to swim 1.2 miles. And even with the lack of open water practice this spring, I knew I was able to stay focused and not panic.

Swim 1:00:46

I planned to take the triangular swim course buoy by buoy, and for the first leg, I was fine. I breathe to my left, and even with the buoys on my right and the typical swim start melee, I was able to stay focused and calm. Once I turned and started the second and longest leg, the sun was in my face and with the buoys still on my right and my googles fogging, it was impossible to sight. I stayed with the crowd, but I was feeling winded and short of breath, so I unzipped my wetsuit. And then the calf cramps started. As soon as I started to kick, they would seize, so I was only able to pull for the rest of the swim. My mental focus was shot, and I stopped often to reset, but I knew I was making enough consistent forward progress that I would make the cut off even if most of the other blue swim caps were well ahead of me. And just to add humor to the experience, when I was twenty feet from the exit ramp, I attempted to kick, and both calves seized, so I had to flip over and float and loosen them. The officials at the exit and the spectators probably wondered why I chose to take a break when I was within feet of being able to touch the bottom! I could only laugh to myself at that one.

Transition 1 4:57

This was an easy transition, and at least this time improved from Augusta!

IMG_7123Bike 3:55:47

I knew that this course was hilly, and some had even said it was similar to Augusta’s bike course, so I felt confident that I could handle it well and hopefully come close or faster than my Augusta time of 3:23. Oh how wrong I was! Out of transition was a slow 3.5 mile climb, and that set the pace for the entire course. For every slight downhill, it seemed there were many short, steep climbs or long, gradual climbs. The few flat sections were coupled with a headwind or a crosswind. Every so often, we were graced with a nice downhill cruise, but it was immediately followed by climbing. I felt strong until mile 30. The second half of the course was a bit more challenging, and my pace slowed. The course was mostly scenic and very beautiful, but there was constant traffic passing the bikers. At one point, I had to cross in front of cars to get into a turn lane to make a turn. At another point the cars were attempting to pass bikers in front of me and were at a slow crawl, and I felt hesitant to ride with any speed next to them on the narrow roads. By the time I reached downtown again, and had to make one last climb into transition, I was exhausted. Mentally, I was frustrated, and it took an incredible amount of willpower to stay focused for the ride and not allow the intensity of the course to deteriorate my confidence.

Transition 2 6:46

My rack was near the run exit. After a long walk in bike shoes, a shoe change, and a bathroom break, I entered the run course.

10352900_684479501588856_830415184703607121_nRun 3:01:32 

As I exited transition, I tried to focus myself for 13.1 miles. I knew the run course would be hilly– rolling hills with a few gradual uphills and downhills. Because of that, I knew I had to stay very aware of my knee, so I started with a 4:1 interval. That quickly shifted to a 2:1 interval, which quickly became a walk the uphills, run the downhills. The only thing that kept me moving through the run course was Jon and Rowan. I knew I would see them during miles 3, 6, and 9 and then at the finish. Each time I passed them (and stopped to talk to them), I fed off of their energy, and as I left them for the last time at mile 9, I spotted a girl in my age group who had been walking at a quick pace. I had passed her at the beginning of the second loop, but with my last extended visit with Jon and Rowan, she had gotten ahead of me again. I began running again and considered the three miles that remained. My knee was hanging in with the hills, but it was getting achy. I knew I had two options. I could continue with a sporadic run/walk and hope my knee held on, or I could catch up with this girl and make a friend. I chose the latter. I ran up to her, said hi, and we walked quickly and chatted for the next two miles. It shifted my entire experience. Because of my late swim wave start, my calf issues, and my run up to that point, the participants on the course were sparse, the crowd support was minimal. My knee ached a bit on the uphills, but I was happy just to find another smiling face and somehow finish the race on a happy, light note versus the grueling mental game it had been up to that point. We ran part of mile 11 and all of mile 12, and I finished with a smile on my face, seeing Jon and Rowan there waiting for me.

Finish 8:09:48

I’ve had many people ask me if I’m glad I decided to race. I am. I don’t regret the experience. The course was challenging; it exposed many of my weaknesses. I never reached a dark, frustrated place, but I was also not happy and smiling like I was in Augusta. It didn’t feel like a celebration of training, a victory lap; it felt like a hard end to a hard training cycle but rewarding at the same time. Mentally I won a big battle within those 70.3 miles. For some reason, training for Raleigh never captured me. Racing it didn’t either. Instead I had to hold on to any shards of positive thought I could. I had to fight to make the race a positive experience, and I think that’s something to celebrate.

At one point during the run, I decided I was burnt out on this long course training and racing. I thought that maybe I wouldn’t do Augusta in September, and I would enjoy the summer with short, hard workouts and strength training and yoga. But after a few days, I feel invigorated for Augusta’s course. I learned so much about mentally committing to the training and the race, and I can’t wait to feel the energy there again. There is a little more than a month of time where we can focus on run training and speed work and strength before miles and hours have to pick up. I’m looking forward to a renewed sense of focus and commitment and being positive and excited about a race again.


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.


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.

training diary, v.1 (patience)

Last year, while I was training for Ironman 70.3 Augusta, I avoided writing posts that were more or less reflections on recent training days and weeks. I wrote about Augusta training, about open water fear, about races and training camps, but they were few and not so much about the training itself as about the experience, about the lessons learned. And that is good; the macro view of the journey and its applications to life are exactly why I love training so much. And writing through them, like all writing does, brought clarity.

But as I look back, I wish I had kept a more detailed log, a micro view of the journey. More of the day to day, the small frustrations that might not make for big moments but that still define the experience in small ways. These, I’ve learned, are important, too. These small moments gather together to make big moments more meaningful. Out of that realization training diaries was born. Each week or so, you’ll find this segment where I’ll pull together recent training and what it has offered by way of improvement, both physically and mentally.

To start, here is what is on my race calendar for 2014. It’s a busy year, but it will be fun!

February 15- VA is for Lovers 14k
March 15- Shamrock Half-Marathon
April 6- Cherry Blossom Ten Miler
May 3- Smith Mountain Like Sprint Triathlon
June 1- Ironman 70.3 Raleigh
September 28- Ironman 70.3 Augusta

There will probably be a mid-summer middle distance triathlon, too, but I haven’t decided which one yet. And I’m sure I’ll add a few late fall running races.

In November, I was on target to train for a sub-2 hour half marathon at the Shamrock. I was hoping to crush my ancient PR and tackle my fears of running fast. I’m learning that breathing hard does not mean I need to panic.

But life always has other plans. I’ve had knee problems, a random back issue, and then Christmas and New Years. And now it is mid-January, and we are still building back consistency and frequency to my running base.

Photo Jan 02, 2 15 27 PM

Patience. This recent training cycle is all about patience.

I’m ready to start speed work, to interval train, to tempo run, but every run that appears on my Training Peaks calendar right now is labeled “easy.” And we had to make the hard decision that Shamrock might not be a sub-2 race this year. Denise, my coach, still believes it will be a good day, but in order to hit that target, we needed to have been deep in focused speed work by now.


It’s hard to embrace this process. We’ve built weight training and Pilates into my schedule in hopes that the increased strength will keep my knees happy. And for the past three weeks, every run has happened without issue. Though, I may find it hard to go “easy.” My legs are ready for speed, my lungs aren’t quite in agreement yet, so I keep finding myself going out too quickly in the first mile or two and then having to throttle back in order to finish the run.


Instead of focusing on Shamrock as my goal running race this year, we’ve shifted our focus to the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, which I’m really excited about. My coach will actually be running the race. Many, many friends were able to get into the lottery. It’s beautiful there when the cherry blossoms are blossoming. And it’s a new race distance. I’ve never been in physical shape to do our local December ten miler. All great, great reasons to be looking forward to this race and what I can bring to it with focused training.

But Shamrock should have been my race last year, and a knee problem caused me to defer my entry. It should have been my race this year. Shamrock will always have my heart. It was my first half-marathon (and that first one in 2008 is still my PR). It is where I cried on the sidelines two years before that first race and decided to change my life.

But patience.

Photo Jan 15, 10 44 55 AM
1/15/14, with Rowan in the running stroller

I have to remember that running is not a race. It is a process: a step at a time, a run at a time, a slow evolution towards goals. One day, that sub 2 will be within reach. It might not be this year’s Shamrock. It might not be at the Shamrock at all. But it will come. With patience and perseverance, I know I will reach it.

And honestly? Sometimes it’s hard to not feel like a failure. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel left in the dust by my amazing friends who are zooming ahead of me right now. But graciously, I’ve been reminded again and again that pace does not define me. It does not begin to define amazing friendships I have forged through running. Or lifelong friendships that running has now become an integral part of.

So with patience, life and training continues on. And both will bring amazing things. Of that I am sure. And I am learning to be patient enough to wait and see.

Photo Jan 16, 10 05 13 AM