Saturday, November 29, 2014

Healing From The Inside Out

I've spent the past 4-5 weeks post-ironman indulging in unstructured training, which has meant minimal training and maximal couch time, nothing forced and 100% turning my brain off from all (okay, most) things triathlon. I haven't worn a watch in 5 weeks which that in itself has been wonderful! I knew I needed some deep rest following this ironman, and it's been great to truly step WAY back from training to let my body heal from the inside out. November has been about regaining some of the many things that I deeply sacrificed during training. I didn't realize until yesterday, but this has likely been my longest break in over 2 years, since the summer of 2012 when I took a good 8 weeks off (unintentionally, but much needed). Since then, I've raced 3x 50k's, a 50 miler, 2 marathons, an Ironman and a half Ironman. Yes, it's been a MUCH needed, much deserved break, and it's been fun to turn off that training brain for a while and focus on other things in life.

Here's a summary of what I've been up to the past 5 weeks:

Week 1

Kristen = Useless. I returned to work on Wednesday, stuttered my way through a lecture on Thursday and then I was saying TGIF! My "workouts" included a yoga + dinner date with good friends, an extra long (read: slow) walk on campus, and a few low key miles running while crewing the hubby in the MMTR 50 miler. Otherwise, I spent that day hiding out in the car napping and staying warm while he ran. And after he finished it was back to the car for another long nap.

It was nice to slow down and take in the beauty of fall on the VT campus.
Good food, good friends = ideal recovery!

Week 2

Work, work and more work. I had a lot to catch up on after two weeks of not being overly focused. Instead of working out, I napped. I think I ran about 10 miles total that week.

Week 3

Probably the week I felt worst, and I think the husband dragged me out of bed most days to send me to work. The weekend was spent in Richmond watching my dad & sister run the Richmond marathon (sister's first!). I did my own run too, a whole 80 minutes, and finally had a fair amount of pep in my step!

Week 4

It was a chaotic week with a mid-week trip to Pittsburgh for a work training and to see family. One night I enjoyed a short but run around town with Miss Speedie Edie, followed by good food and watching the Kona IM World Championships on TV. That got me back into thinking about "training" again and that I do maybe miss my workouts! Friday I bounced my way through a 4 mile run, which I took as a good sign in terms of recovery. Though Saturday the exhaustion must've caught up with me: I attended the Crooked Road 24 hr Run with my husband and proceeded to sleep 16 hrs of 24 while he ran 78 miles. I ran a total of 3 miles hehe.

Nothing like a Saturday spent hammocking in the (cold) sun!

Week 5

I am definitely feeling like I turned a page in terms of overall energy levels and motivation in the past week. The week started with a gorgeous 20 mile ride in our mini heat wave (mid-60's!). Otherwise, I set my bike up on the trainer, FINALLY made it to the pool for a very short splash session, and have done some low-key running and cross training. I know I am "bouncing" back nicely though because the skip has returned in my step and I have been dancing or jumping around A LOT. I nailed down an approximate racing schedule for 2015, set some new goals, signed up for the Shamrock Half Marathon in March (which my dad and sister will also be running!), bought a new tri-suit for next season's racing, bought a new swim suit (thanks black friday online sales!), spent about 2 hrs cleaning my bike... Yea, all good signs that I am feeling ready to start thinking about this training thing again !

My ride included a little off-road fun (which is why I spent two hours cleaning it afterwards)
Quality family time on Thanksgiving.
My only workout on Thanksgiving: a low-key family walk.

The rest, relaxation and rejuvenation are all part of keeping it in perspective and balance, I know that, but this is likely one of the first times I've successfully put it into practice without being forced to rest. It's been neat witnessing my body heal from the inside out. While I know it's taken time for my muscles to fully heal and recover, things like my metabolism, enzymes, appetite, sleep cycle, hormones, immune system, mood, etc have also taken a hard hit from the compounding stresses of the past year (I will be the first to admit I do A LOT) and have also been rejuvenating. It's pretty neat that I am sleeping better than I have in months and that I have a lot more "bounce" than I've seen in quite a while. I have a bit too much free energy to expend but I like it!!

Cheers to rest... balance... rejuvenation... and slightly warmer temperatures today!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Race Report: Beach 2 Battleship Full

Ironman training has a way of bringing out the best, and on some days the worst, in an athlete. At least that has been MY experience. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions type of season, but one that I look back on with joy, a sense of accomplishment and much thankfulness. The training or “journey” itself has been a test of my will to compete in this race and has served as a platform to helped me to mature as an athlete. With that being said, I went into this race at peace with what was to come and that I was in the right place. Much of that peace I owe to my coach, who was the driving force behind my training and successfully got me to the starting line feeling not only well prepared, but also motivated and excited. That is quite an accomplishment in itself! The rest came from faith, the belief that I was meant to compete in this race for a reason and that God would provide me with the strength to endure to the finish line, and the comfort of knowing my husband and family would be there throughout the entire process.


We arrived in Wilmington mid-day Friday. I checked in and picked up my necessary items, made a quick run through of the expo and then got out of there. Honestly, I didn't feel as if I fit in with the crowd of triathletes around me, but that could also be me being the introverted and slightly claustrophobic person I am :) I was more interested in a nap more than anything, and luckily we checked into our hotel about 3 hrs early and promptly fell asleep. Afterward I organized my 5 different race bags and drove out to T1 at Wrightsville Beach to drop off my bike. It was a gorgeous day and, while taking my bike for a quick spin, I took some time to capture a few gorgeous scenic pictures.

Pre-race shenanigans: organizing my gear bags (L); gear shot (top R); Being silly & fueling up (homemade orzo) @ dinner Thursday night (at Burger King :)
Pre-race "photo shoot." If you look close enough at the boat (top right), it has my name on it!

After returning to the hotel, I ate my dinner (orzo pasta with tomatoes and chickpeas packed from home) and dropped off my T2 bag at the convention center. My family went out to dinner, but I stayed behind to rest and was able to watch the vibrant sunset just outside my hotel room while visualizing and reflecting on the challenging day that was ahead of me. To me, it was a sign of good things to come.

Overlooking the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington, NC

Race Morning

Moments after arriving in T1 to check on my bike and make a few final adjustments, I heard the announcer state “final call” for all FULL athletes to load the bus to the swim start. Looking at my watch, it was only 6:30am, and being the rebel that I am, I quickly just shrugged it off. But then the hubby was yelling at me to hurry up (ok, ok!), so I ran over to get body marked and then ran half dressed onto the bus (last on board but hey I made it!)

That being said, I was feeling relaxed and ready. All felt good in my world and I was excited to see what this distance and race had in store for me. After waiting in line for a final potty break, with a few minutes to go before the start, I suited up in my wetsuit and excitedly ran onto the beach. Nope, not a bit nervous, and probably the only athlete out there running in circles wasting precious energy just prior to a long day of racing :)

Suiting up!
Deep thought pre-race? Probably not.
"Let's do this!"
Exhibit A: Kristen running in circles. At least I was smiling and happy.
Exhibit B: Oh wait, there's a race about to happen. Better line up for the swim start!

The Swim

 (2.4 miles…. In fast forward)

The swim began and was over in what felt like a flash. It was not quite as chaotic as I had pictured, and I was quickly able to establish my own little bubble of space. I didn’t truly notice the quick current the current until I watched a buoy as it seemingly flew past me. I looked at my watch once after 10 minutes, then the next thing I knew there was one humongous mountain of an orange buoy in front of me cuing me to turn left. With little effort, I drifted right under the tip of the buoy and began swimming towards the west (my left) for the final stretch of the swim. I located Mr. Wigglyman and within a few moments I was climbing onto the dock and running down the rows of boats towards T1. I glanced at my watch as I crossed the swim mat: 49:54. Faster than the fastest male swimmer at Kona, AND I didn’t get eaten by a shark… I call that a successful swim ☺

The Bike

(112 miles of straight, flat, more straight & eating!)

I made my transition from the swim simple by just planning to put my jersey on over my sports bra, pockets already filled with necessary items. I slathered on the sunscreen (it was REALLY sunny) but could not find my chamois butter to prevent chafing. I took my time to get my helmet on correctly (also very important) and hit the road with my bike, not really knowing what to expect.

T1 at Wrightsville Beach

The first 50 miles of the bike were all about staying comfortable and fueling. As I stated in my training log, “just me riding straight... and more straight... and eating... and more straight.” Literally the first 50 miles was SO straight. I was relaxed and happy and waved to just about anyone I saw. I still had QUITE a long day ahead, why rush now?? At one point, my husband drove up next to me with brother/sister-in-law also on board. Paparazzi-style they snapped pictures and, of course, I smiled and waved before they drove off to meet me at the special needs aid station.

Happy vibes early in the bike :)

Shortly thereafter, a peloton of men overcame me, which was a bit frustrating. I sat behind for a few minutes watching them all drafting off one another and flip flop back in forth, yet they were sitting RIGHT in front of me and going no where. I either had the choice to back off even more or expend a little extra energy and pass. I choose the latter, and entered this game of zooming in and out, backing off, passing again, etc until the group eventually spread out some.

Love this COOL pic (courtesy of Josh).

At mile 52, I stopped at the special needs station and hit up the port-o-pot. Here the husband and my crew were waiting and took good care of me! I ate up my concoction of sweet potato and banana, refilled my bottles, got other areas situated and hit the road again.

Fueling up (sweet potato and banana in a hotel cup) 
& taking care of other special needs at mile 52.

The 2nd half was not nearly as fun as the first. By about mile 70, I felt myself fighting off sleep, which is the strangest sensation while riding a bike. I literally wanted to get off the bike and take a nap in the grass... but instead I pushed calories and electrolytes. What I REALLY needed was caffeine and tums, and I stopping at the next two aid stations seeking out both (with no luck). I eventually bounced out of that low around mile 95, and by that point, I wad counting down the miles until I was DONE with that bike. 112 miles is a long ways to go!!

Rolling into T2

The Run

(26.2 Miles & where the REAL fun begins)

Coming off the bike, I was still feeling pretty iffy, but I was GLAD to be back in Wilmington and back on my feet. I hopped off and ran into T2… It was my first experience of having an indoor transition area where someone took my bike. Talk about feeling spoiled. I grabbed my T2 bag and ran into the changing area, and what was intended to be a quick T2 took me almost 10 minutes… can I say oops? Lesson learned: Simplify.

The thought of running a marathon after 112 miles of bike is without a doubt very overwhelming. In training, my longest bike - run brick was 95 miles biking  + 4 miles running. Yet, somehow I had confidence going into this run, knowing that by breaking down the miles, fueling right and with the help of a bit of "race day magic" I would fair just fine. I gave my dad a high-five in exiting T2 before making my way over to the special needs area. I made an executive decision to pull out some fuel from my special needs bag (intended for lap 2, but I knew I needed it stat). I grabbed my flask of mountain dew, something I never touch on a normal day, but during races, it works well for me! Somewhere within the first mile, I saw my husband, who handed me some of those much sought after tums before telling me to get moving!

Start of the marathon.

I found my legs pretty quickly and the first 12 miles rolled along without a hitch. I was hovering right around 9 min pace with a pretty low perceived level of exertion yet unwilling to push beyond that point quite yet. Patience: I kept reminding myself of this, even after now 8+ hours of racing, as I wanted to be able to run the 2nd half of this marathon! When I saw the hubby for the 2nd time at mile 11, I gave a thumbs up to show I was feeling strong and happy.

First half-marathon and feeling great!

Perhaps I spoke too soon, because just after mile 12 I felt a strong twinge in my hip flexor that almost immediately brought me to a standstill. At the same time, my energy seemed to drop off and the next 3 miles were a fuzzy blur and my pace dropped way off. Lucky for me, I had expected this to happen and had a plan. I pushed calories, fluids and electrolytes. I took in some quality caffeine. I didn’t feel like eating, but I knew I needed to keep on getting in those precious calories. I thought about the announcer's comments of the Kona IM World Champion Miranda Carfrae as she made her way to the finish line just last month. Even with a few miles to go, they noted how she took care of the “little details” (of fueling, etc) to make sure she made it to the finish successfully. I thought about all of the times before that these low moments hit yet I managed to work through them. I kept moving and waited for it to pass, and within a few miles I was moving a little more swiftly again. Apparently with enough spunk to make a bunch of sassy remarks about the "sun being too bright" and the "music being too loud," etc to the hubby when I saw him around mile 16 :)

Miles 16-20 dragged on, BUT I was moving. All I wanted was to reach that final turn around, see my husband one more time and start making my way to the finish line. Oh… for that bright SUN to go down!!! I took advantage of just about every aid station, either to refill my hand bottle, drink coke, take some endurolytes or put ice down my race shirt to cool off.

Approaching mile 20.5 (turn-around) looking a bit frazzled.

I turned around at mile 20.5 after seeing Jordan and Josh one final time. He calculated that I had roughly 1:10 to complete the final stretch of the course to finish sub-12hrs. At this point, my energy levels were bouncing back and my legs still had plenty of life in them. To me, it was one of those “anything can happen” type moments. There was no longer any reason to hold back. It was me against time and a matter of “how much I wanted it.”

The final 6 miles of the run was one of the greatest racing moments I’ve had, if not the greatest! I have no pictures to capture the moment, only wonderful memories. Here’s what I quoted in my training log regarding those last few miles:

"Really, it's just a feeling that cannot be replicated any other way and I just keep replaying it in my head over and over again. I was flying past people like they were standing still and all smiles. I didn't look at my watch those final miles and had no clue what pace I was running, but I knew I was on a mission to get to that finish line ASAP!
The last mile was just simply incredible coach... I mean really!!! I don't recall a race that I have ever felt so much joy at the end and was just grinning ear to ear. The lights downtown and crowd support and hearing my husband screaming and also knowing how excited you would be too... so so SO cool. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the clock either. 11:40????!! What a way to finish out an AWESOME day."

I crossed the line in disbelief and threw out a few air punches with excitement. I just finished an IRONMAN!!!

Official finisher's pic (SO MUCH happiness!!) 
Finish from a different angle (courtesy of the hubby).

Don't mind the obsessive hearts... I just like to embarrass him

So why race an Ironman?

It's a question I have contemplated all season and since I signed the dotted line to enter B2B. Why did I feel so compelled to race this ironman? I am a big proponent of following my gut, and am trying to do a better job in following through with it. I have come to learn, mainly by the example by husband sets, that life can be lived watching from the sidelines wondering what we are capable of, or we can take leaps of faith. I am learning that living life passionately and purposefully means pushing beyond the limits of our self-imposed comfort zones, taking chances, making and learning from mistakes, and taking time recognize and appreciate the beauty of the journey.

Sometimes we push forward, not always knowing where we are going or what the outcome might be. After 11+ hrs of racing, months of training for this race and having endured the roller coaster of emotions along the way, I confirmed the answer to my question in the last mile of my race. In crossing the finish line of my first ironman, an event that I once said was “definitely not for me,” it is definitely now feeling like the perfect fit. What that means for the future, I do not know, but my gut tells me that this "finish line" was really the starting line of a new chapter, with pages yet to be written, and only God truly knows what will come of it all.

Words of Appreciation & Final Thoughts

Thank you to my brother-in-law for the original idea of racing an ironman last summer. Making the decision to re-enter the triathlon world after a few year hiatus was a leap of faith. Thank you for initiating the flame, for the hours you (and sister!) traveled to share in the experience with me, for run-walking 20+ miles on race day and for all the stellar pictures!!!

Myself with the hubby, Brother-in-law Josh, Sister-in-law Marissa!

Thank you coach Jim for believing in me from the get-go, thinking back to last summer (2013) when I was too afraid to even admit that this was my goal! Yes, the training schedules have undoubtedly contributed to my success this season, but your faith in my abilities, advice and inspiring passion for the sport are what truly made a difference in my race day success!

To the guy more affectionately known as "hubby darling dearest": Everyone calls you amazing, and I am beyond blessed to be your crazy mess of a wife. Thank you for taking such great care of me on my best and worst days, for your patience this season and not allowing me to give up, and for inspiring me to pursue my dreams! (For the record, this guy deserves a gold star, especially for all the care he provided me in the week following his 100 miler when I probably should have been taking care of him...).

With Battleship North Carolina in the background.

To my family: Hopefully you now have a better understanding of all that an ironman entails (especially grandma?). Thank you for traveling to be there with me on race day, for all the cheers, and for leaving the hotel light on :) Thank you mom for instilling in me a strong work ethic and a drive for excellence, to dad for italian genes (aka stubbornness) that it takes to successfully complete such endeavors, and to grandma, who still spoils me after all these years.

♡ Family 

To the overwhelming number of friends that have shared kind words of encouragement and congrats: the experience means nothing without wonderful people to share it with, and I am blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful and inspiring individuals! Keep on being the awesome people that you are!

And for those of you with aspiring athletic (or life) goals and dreams, all I have to say is GO FOR IT! There is no time for the present, and no time that will ever be "perfect." Why stand on the sidelines and settle for less? Stepping outside of that comfort zone is never easy. In fact, it can get quite messy. Seek out mentorship, surround yourself with supportive individuals, initiate the process and you never know where you might end up... There will always be ups and down, moments filled with elation and moments filled with tears... strive for excellence but at the end of the day, remember to be joyful for the precious gift that is simply living, breathing, loving.

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