Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wildflower 2013

This year I have had the wonderful opportunity to coach the TNT summer triathlon team- for the Wildflower Olympic triathlon  as well as the Vineman 70.3 (half-Ironman distance). At Wildflower this year I was coaching, and spectating, as well as doing a little relay race of my own.

The weather up at Lake San Antonio can make or break your day on the wildflower course. Most years it is hot and sometimes windy, and usually very very dry. The weather reports this year leading up to the race were showing no exception to this trend. Forecasts were in the high 80's and low 90's for the weekend. We told our team to hydrate, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

After reports like that, and the fact that every time I had been to Wildflower before (training, or racing) I had spent the weekend in my car or in a tent, I was even more delighted that this year I had decided to join some other friends and teammates in renting an RV. Best. Decision. Ever. Our RV turned out to be an enormous palace on wheels with AC, refrigerator, freezer, satellite TV, and washer/dryer. Not to mention beds that were not yoga mats on top of rocks. Definitely a great idea.
I arrived late late Thursday night so I'd time to acclimate and get logistics figured out all day Friday before the races on Saturday and Sunday. I spent Friday checking in my participants at the campsite, answering questions and trying to acclimate to the hot and dry weather (and drinking about a gallon of diluted Gatorade in the process to keep myself hydrated). I had decided to run the 13.1 mile long course run course as part of a relay with Sara D, and Kevin- my current and former teammates. Our team name was "Turn Around Bright Eyes/Total Eclipse of the Heart", and for some reason it was my big idea to do the relay and for me to do the run- which had certainly done a number on me last year.
Team "Turn Around Bright Eyes"
Saturday, while Kevin was swimming and Sara was biking I was able to get a little more sleep than my super speedy relay teammates since I had the last leg of our race, so I had some time to get my nutrition dialed in and continue to hydrate hydrate hydrate. When it came time for the run it was certainly hot. I got to transition in just enough time to get situated and ready to go before Sara D came flying in off the bike course; I grabbed the timing chip from her ankle and took off onto the run course.

It only took until mile 3 for me to start to feel some signs of heat exhaustion. I've gotten pretty good now at recognizing the early warning signs. so I definitely felt it coming. When I got my first "chill" I knew it was time to slow it down. Through frequent walk breaks, and bottles of water dumped on my head, I was able to regulate my temperature and stay cool enough to get it done.
On the run, high-fiving away the heat stroke
I even pulled it together well enough to run through camp where lots of spectators cheer for the runners coming through before "the pit". At one point I saw Carlos cheering with the Square One crowd (offering up bourbon and bacon to the athletes going by)- he ran with me for a moment and cheered me on my way- "can't stop, won't stop!"  The runner next to me asked as we passed: "family?" to which I replied without hesitation- "Yes, Iron-family." It was great to see my tri-teammates (who should have been in their tents and out of the sun!) as I ran through camp, and a bunch of Ironteam people in "the pit" as we all struggled up, then down, then up again, before the final downhill to the finish line. All in all, it wasn't the fastest 13.1 miles I've ever done, but I'll take it!

Olympic Swim Start- Purple TNT wave!
On Sunday the weather decided to throw everyone for a loop. Instead of hot and dry and sunny, we got cold and dark and windy! I personally took it as a gift from the triathlon gods, because as mentioned above, I know what it's like to race in the heat- and I'd choose cold and windy over hot and sunny for myself and my participants any day of the week! There was excitement in the air for our team as they made their way to the start line - many of them for their first triathlon ever!  I stayed up at the top of Lynch Hill while the other coaches went down to help everyone through the start process.

Captain Monica cheering in her (somewhat creepy) sock monkey costume
As our people made it out of the water and into transition my fellow coaches and I kept track of everyone with our very effective and official-looking 2-way radios, so I was ready for everyone as they came up Lynch Hill- arguably their hardest climb of the day- right out the gate from transition. Tushar (dressed in his trusty banana costume) and I encouraged our teammates and everyone else with cheers of "Go Team!" "Good Work!" and "This hill is bananas!" Our team did a wonderful job despite the windy bike course- and everyone made it in before the cutoff!

From Lynch Hill I was able to see everyone come back in from the bike and await our runners for their last mile of the race. Although the run course is a challenging 6.2 miles, mostly on trails, all our people were in great shape and smiling ear to ear when they got to the top of Lynch for the last time- possibly because they knew they only had one mile to go- all downhill- to victory at the finish line! I was still bundled up in my parka with my backpack and radio when Maya came through with Marjorie and I started running with them to the finish line. Lucky for me, Maya stuck to her intervals all the way down the hill and they finished the race strong and looking great!
Everyone on our team had a great day despite the crazy weather and everyone finished the race with time to spare!

Two other friends of mine also did the Olympic race that day- Becca and Mike. Becca had been talking about doing Wildflower for years, so I know it was a big deal for her. They both had great race and a great day- which was made even more incredible when Mike proposed at the finish line!
Becca and Mike at the finish line- she said Yes!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Turning Tables/From Whence I Came

Stage 1 of putting on a wetsuit

Since the start of 2013 I have been coaching the TNT Summer Triathlon team. After 2 years with Ironteam I
decided I wanted to take a breather from the 140.6 distance for myself- and share what I have learned about the sport with some new participants.

Returning to the Tri team after being on Ironteam was definitely an adjustment- but it also takes me back (albeit only 3 years) to my very first season with TNT, which feels like a lifetime ago. It is really fun to be able to help those who are new to the sport, starting from square-one with equipment, technique, and in many cases fitness in general. I remember how I felt leading up to and after my first triathlon race- confused, nervous, excited, and ultimately on top of the world after it was all said and done. I want that for my participants (hopefully though with less of the confusion part).

Explaining our Sunday morning run route 
After about 6 weeks of base fitness training, we have had a couple of build cycles under our belts and the team is starting to really come together. This past weekend a large portion of the team traveled up to Lake San Antonio for Wildflower Training Weekend. Just about every triathlon chapter of TNT from California was there for the weekend, camping and training on the course in preparation for the Wildflower races coming up at the beginning of May.

All in all it was a great weekend- no rain at all (thank goodness!), not too hot, not too cold, and everyone really gave it their all. I think our team learned a lot in the process- whether through positive outcomes or through not so positive outcomes to their workouts. As I said to my team throughout the weekend - you rarely learn much from the good days- you learn the most from the bad days. Issues with nutrition,  hydration, equipment functionality, temperature issues, mental blocks, all come out on those bad training days and force you to address them. The sooner you can realize what is going wrong for you, the sooner you'll be able to fix it.

Chubby Bunny
Aside from all the swimming, biking, and running we did over the weekend, we also had lots of fun spending time as a team and sitting around the campfire. There had been a battle arranged between myself and Pai from Ironteam for chubby bunny- to see who could fit the most marshmallows in their mouth. Pai and I are tied in holding the known record of 17 marshmallows at once (and still being able to say "chubby bunny" after each marshmallow is added). We decided to settle the score and see who could fit the most marshmallows, and who could get to 18 and break the record. With my team rooting me on, and Tushar officiating, we duked it out. Unfortunately, it turns out I am not in the chubby bunny shape I was 2 years ago when I PR'ed chubby bunny- and it turns out neither is Pai, because I topped out at 10 marshmallows, and Pai only got to 13. We decided we will have a rematch at Wildflower on race weekend.
At least we were able to entertain the team for a good 15 minutes!

Our next big milestone is Wildflower-which is event weekend for a number of our participants- and then onto Vineman 70.3. I am very excited for, and confident in our team- they are a lean mean bunch of cancer-fighting warriors. I can't wait to see what they can do!

Ironman Canada, What It Means To Be An Ironman

It has been over 7 months since I participated in Ironman Canada. Since then, a lot has happened personally for me, and for the race too- the race lost its charter from the Ironman brand and will now be known as Challenge Penticton- same course, same distance, just without the Ironman name. "Ironman Canada" will now be held in Whistler, BC.

Ironman Canada 2012 was held in Penticton, BC. Canada- which is lovely. I had actually never been to Canada before this race, and I had heard great things about the city, so I was excited to visit. A group of us flew up to Seattle, and rented a big SUV to drive 6 hours across the boarder to our destination.

I love a good road trip, and the scenery up there was beautiful.

Once we got up there we had a day or two to get acclimated, scope out the Ironman merch tent, go to packet pick-up, a swim in the lake to get used to it, and of course our team's inspiration dinner.

On race morning, I was pumping up the jamz on the bus that took our team to transition- nothing like Jock Jamz to start the day! We got there with all our transition gear and went straight to the bodymarking area.

We got ourselves together, dropped off out T-1 and T-2 bags to the volunteers, handed off our packs to our spectating teammates and got ready to swim.
It was a mass swim start- so Amy, Johnny and I made our way to the left side of the beach, up toward the back of the front of the pack. Before we knew it, it was GO TIME!

The water felt great- though of course the water was a bit crowded. If I had been swimming in the lake by myself I might have had a much better swim time. I got pushed off course and hit in the face several time- but I suppose that is the luck of the draw in a race like this. The buoys were extremely hard to see in my opinion- they were not very bright, and near the turnaround it was difficult to tell exactly what to aim for. On the way back- i tried to aim for the "Peach on the Beach" - a giant metal peach sculpture near the swim in/out area- as best I could. It wasn't my best swim ever, but I'll take it.

Then into the transition area. For many Ironman events you don't have a set transition area- you have all your gear in 2 bags- T1 and T2, that the volunteers hand off to you as you come in to transition each time (all marked with your race number of course). You run in from the swim- and into the changing tent where a volunteer hands you your stuff.
I was told that there would likely be volunteers around helping people get their wetsuits off, put their socks on, etc., but in my case they must have been otherwise occupied, so I dumped out my bag of gear onto the soggy ground and got out of there as fast as I could- avoiding the tub of public Vaseline for those who must have forgotten their body glide (gross).
Heading out of T1
I headed off on the bike- my new darling Trek Madone named Necco- and got into the swing of it. The first part of the course is relatively flat, with one moderate but brief limb in the middle- and I knew I wanted to take advantage of this first part of the course as much as possible before I got to the climbs at Richter Pass.

The climb at Richter Pass is a climb with about 1300 ft of elevation gain over about 5 miles starting at mile 41 of the ride. Just before starting the climb- I saw our amazing cheer squad dressed as fairies and unicorns at the base of the hill- perfect timing! With a shout of good luck from my teammates I started my climb. Luckily it was not too hot yet at that point in the day, so while it was of course a challenging climb- I imagine it could have been worse. There was an aid station part of the way up, and spectators lining the sides of the road cheering for all us crazy cyclists.
After Richter Pass, you get a breathtaking view of mountains and forest, and a fabulous downhill break- before you get to what some call "the seven bitches"- seven "smaller" climbs and downhills that could definitely be a bit soul crushing if you're not expecting them. I was ready for them and made sure to make the most of every downhill to pick up as much speed as possible to make it up and over the next hill.

I was leap-frogging with some other racers including my teammate Luke (usually passing them on the downhills, and being passed on the up-hills as one might expect), as we made our way over those seven hills. After that, the course starts to level out somewhat for the next wile up until the Special Needs aid station.

When my carpool buddies and I had driven the bike course the day before the race, we had made a wrong turn and ended up not seeing the out and back part of the course that takes you to special needs. Little did we know that that portion of the course as been described in some publications as "mind numbing". And mind numbing it was! This area was not flat, had several random turns, lower-quality roads, and at that point in the day, the weather had started to heat up.

Also at that point in the ride, my "seat" was getting very uncomfortable and my feet were in quite a bit of pain from being numb for so long. While I did not spend that much time stopping at the special needs station (where Riz and H-Sizzle were waiting and cheering in their fairy costumes), I probably should have gotten back on the bike a bit quicker. standing there allowed some blood flow to return to my more numb areas- making them absolutely excruciating once I started up again.

Flashback again to driving the course the day before- the last big climb at Yellow Lake- while in a car- was nearly undetectable- it seemed like some moderate inclines, but nothing big. On the bike- a completely different story. Between the heat of the day, the thinning out of the pack, and my excruciating feat and nether-regions, it was not a fun experience. Luckily i did not overheat, and I was on top of my nutrition, so that was not an issue- just the pain. I like to think that I have a respectable tolerance for pain (I did train for 2 Ironman-distance races after all) but I can easily say I have not felt that kind of pain before. After a while, my hands joined in the fun and started spasm-ing on occasion and going very numb as well. It was great fun.

After climbing Yellow Lake, you get some truly amazing views and some almost-made-the-climb-seem-worth-it downhills as a reward. I took those downhills like my life depended on it. I think I made it up to around 45 mph at one point on the way down- I was not messing around. Then came the seemingly never-ending ride back into Penticton- some minor ups and downs, past another mythical-creature-themed cheer squad, and then back into transition.

Despite the pain and the climbing and everything else, I PR'ed the bike course! Despite the thousands of feet of climbing, I rode that 112 miles faster than I ever rode 112 miles before. I made it into transition and saw Coach Brad who said: "What are you doing here?!" I was ecstatic at my bike time, and even more ecstatic to be off of the bike!

I made my way through transition, grabbed my bags, went into the (now sparsely occupied) changing tent, and put my running shoes on. I came out of transition- ready for anything, gave Brad a high-five and went out on the run.

When I was coming in on the bike, I saw Luke out near the start of the run. I assumed he would be well ahead of me by the time I got out there, but I actually caught up to him pretty quickly somewhere around mile 4 or so. I was feeling great. Some spectators were pumping music out of cars or small businesses by the side of the road and I was even singing along. I felt like I could run forever, so when I came upon Luke- who was feeling pretty rough at that point I just sang some oldies at him, tried to be encouraging, and went on my way.
It wasn't until mile 6 or so that things started to get a little rough. I started to feel a little yucky in terms of my nutrition, so I slowed down a bit, cooled off as much as possible, stopped consuming, and shook it off. I was pretty thrilled that I was able to knock out that issue before it became a problem (heat stroke will teach you a thing or two after a while!). Unfortunately after that, the proverbial wheels started to fall off.

Looking back now, I can hypothesize about what caused my feet to then start to feel like they were catching on fire. I would imagine that the lack of blood flow for several hours on the bike contributed to the searing pain that felt like my feet were covered in giant blisters- once I got feeling back in them.  At the time, I thought I must have blisters all over the bottoms of my feet, and so I started walking more than I would have liked. This was extremely frustrating because I felt great (as great as one can feel after multiple hours and over 120 miles can feel) and I really wanted to be running- I could have kept running if it didn't feel like my feet were doused in lighter fluid and set ablaze.

I eventually made it to the mile 13 turnaround where coach Rob and another cheer squad were waiting.  I grabbed my run special needs bag where I had stashed some extra socks just in case- and sat for a moment to change my socks out. I was amazed that when I took my sock off I saw not one blister in sight. Bewildered, I put my new socks on, shoes back on, and started swearing my way back toward the finish line.

I tried running as much as I could, telling myself that it's just pain- there are no blisters- it just hurts and there is no reason why I shouldn't try to run. I decided to focus on the gorgeous colors in the sky as the sun set to try and get my mind off my feet. I was very frustrated and in a lot of pain when I came across Riz again - now in the dark in her light-up fairy costume- probably about 10 miles out from the finish. She tried to encourage me, and I was trying to keep it positive, but clearly I was in a bad place. I kept up my run/walk (mostly walk) for quite a while more alone in the dark, until Riz came back by in a car this time, and said she had a surprise for me. I knew what the surprise was and in a way I was glad, but in a way I didn't want it. Coach Brad jumped out of the backseat and started walking with me. I was so glad to have him there helping me get through the rest of the course, but at the same time I was so very frustrated and disappointed in the way the run had gone that I could barely stand to see him there and have to talk about it.
Brad and I walked/jogged most of the way back into town, negotiating over every street sign and stoplight that we would start/stop running once we reached. "run at the next stop sign"  "no, run at the blinking light"...

The rest was a bit of a blur, I know there were more glowing fairy-themed teammates out there, I know the lights kept getting brighter as I got closer in near the finish line. I also know that Brad left me with a little over a mile to go and told me to run- to make sure I made it in under 16 hours. My goal had been 14:30.  I ran nearly the whole last mile on my hideous feet. most of the people who were out there could barely run anymore. I felt guilty because I was tired, but I could definitely still run (if I could ignore my feet). With the finish line in sight I was able to push through and ignore the pain - I ran it in to the finish at 15:54:30.

After the race I got handed a medal, an enormous finisher t-shirt, a hat, and a silver foil blanket. I remember waddling back to the post-race area to get some food and meet up with my teammates. After some pictures and some hugs, we somehow made it back to the bus and back to the hotel.

I decided to be good and (sans-shoes) crawled my way to the hotel ice machine to get an ikea-bag-full of ice for a mid-night ice bath. I waited for my race-roomie Amy to shower, then had my ice bath, then a shower, then some much deserved sleep!

Talking Johnny out of buying the Ironman bed
The next day we actually got up and went for a swim in the lake to help with recovery. Without our wetsuits the lake was nice and cold. Definitely a good idea. From there- we went to the merch tent to buy some finisher gear. Some people went nuts (like Johnny, who almost bought an Ironman-brand memory foam mattress and pillow if I hadn't stopped him), but I just bought a visor. That's all I needed.

All in all I would say the IM Canada was a great race- it was a challenging course, with amazing community support. The town is cute, the scenery is gorgeous, and it was another spectacular trip with some of my favorite people.

Race morning
Maybe it was a sign of PIDS (post ironman depression syndrome) since the race was over but a couple days after the race I got to thinking about what it meant to be an Ironman- now that I had finished my first official M-dot race. I think most people think that you become an Ironman when you cross the finish line, but I see it differently. From my perspective, when you cross the finish line, you finish being an Ironman- your training is over, the race is over, you stop doing all the things that made you an Ironman and got you to the finish line. Maybe it's because I have done this once before, but I feel like you are an Ironman when you decide to train for it, when you are in the middle of your training season, going through your hardest workouts, waking up every weekend day at 5 am to continue pushing yourself past your limits. That is what makes you an Ironman. Crossing the finish line is just a formality that puts a punctuation point at the end of the sentence "I am an Ironman" - it may be an exclamation point, or just a period, or a question mark depending on your mental state when you finish. I think my sentence ends with an ellipsis- if I am going to call myself an Ironman, there should be more to come...

525,600 Minutes: in Inches, in Miles, in Laughter...

Our SUV window driving up to Canada- one big Ironfamily
I have been on a hiatus from updating this blog for several months- not necessarily intentionally, but because circumstances have really left me mostly speechless for some time. I had intended to write my race report for Ironman Canada right after returning from the trip, but as is usually the case, one thing leads to another and there tends to be a delay before I get around to it. Before I found the time to update about the race, my priorities and thoughts took a dramatic shift.

On raceday at Ironman Canada, my teammates and I got ready together, started the race together and cheered for eachother through the day- and all day we were asking our coaches and fellow teammates- "Where's Mari?"  Mari had driven up with us, prepared with us the night before, but we had not seen her on race morning. Our coaches assured us she was fine, and we were to assume she was getting ready elsewhere- likely with one of the coaches.

The day after finishing IM Canada, we found out that Mari had been unable to race with us, because late the night before the race, she got word that her father had passed away. She few home early Sunday morning before the race to be with her family, and had insisted that our coaches not tell the rest of us what had happened until after our race was over. That was classic Mari- she wanted to protect us and make sure we would have the best day possible. We were heartbroken for her.

Biking with Mari on PCH on her birthday (September 15th)
A number of weeks later, being the hero and the fighter that she was, she decided that since she did not get to race IM Canada, which she had been training for for 10 months, that she would find a way to enter IM Arizona in November. That meant several more months of training, but I know she wanted to finish what she started and "officially" become an Ironman. Our teammate Raul- who had finished Canada, decided to sign up with her so she wouldn't have to train for it alone. Over the next few months we all pitched in now and then to do workouts with Mari, to help motivate her and keep her company out there swimming biking and running.

Mari pausing at the halfway point of her ride on October 13
On the morning of October 13, Mari went out with several of our teammates for a Saturday training ride. She planned to bike from Santa Monica, up PCH through Malibu, come back, and then do the loop again. After her first loop, our teammate Carlos was there as Mari was about to set out on the road again and took this picture which he posted on Facebook. She was having a great day and looked great on the bike.

Mari biked back up PCH, but never made it back to Santa Monica. Even writing this months later, it is hard to believe. On her way back, riding on PCH alone at that point, she somehow tipped over into the roadway and was struck by an oncoming bus. There was likely nothing the driver could have done to avoid it, and there were several road hazards that contributed to her fall- gaps in the pavement, cars parked on the shoulder. What we do know is that she was gone instantly, that she likely didn't see it coming, and that it happened so quickly that she wouldn't have known what was happening. No fear, no suffering, just gone- in an instant.

There is so much that I am not going to go into here- about the accident, how we all found out, the weeks and months that have followed. Her family and friends, as well as myself and my other teammates who were close to her have tried our best to support each other in remembering Mari during this excruciatingly difficult time.
I still don't know what it all means- the fact that she was taken from us exactly 7 weeks to the day after her father passed away, the fact that if she hadn't found out about her father's passing until the next day, that she would have raced Canada, and wouldn't have been out there riding on PCH that day in October. I don't know what it means that the night before the accident I was talking to someone about training and how we often would ride on PCH, and that person's response was "oh that's dangerous". I remember thinking and saying that sure it was a little dangerous but we did it all the time, and my teammate was going to be riding there in the morning. I don't know what it means that I had almost gone riding with Mari that morning, but I had decided to sleep in for the first time in several months instead. I suppose some things are never meant to be understood. All I know is she will always be missed.

People tend to exaggerate the positive things about a person after they have passed away, but I am not exaggerating at all when I say that Mari was one of the greatest people I have ever met. She was encouraging, sweet, and caring, she was a fighter, she was real. she was smart, mischievous, and so very silly at times. I miss being silly with her.  She was beautiful, she told me when I met her a few years ago that she was 23 years old- and I believed her, even though she was joking and in reality at that time I think she was 33. She totally pulled it off- she was one of those women who gets more beautiful with time.

There is so much to say about Mari, about her smile and her determination, about her life and her family and her friends, but I don't need to put all of that here. I need to instead carry her with me, and remember her every day, because she is still with us. She is still with me when I remember her. I know she is there when I jump in the ocean and get tossed by a wave, when I'm descending a hill on my bike and tap on my breaks, or when it's so very windy. I know she's there when I have car trouble, when I'm fixing things in the middle of the night. I know she is there when I'm running, reminding me to stay on my intervals. She is there when I dye my hair too dark and I look like, as she would say, "Latina Holly", and she's there when I go on a blind date to laugh at me and remind me that they could always be worse. She reminds me every day that "if you're not scaring yourself you're doing it wrong," don't take yourself too seriously, be silly, go "all in", and live in the now.

The year leading up to October 13, 2012 was arguably one of the best years of my life to date, and a large part of that time included Mari. Through the miles we trained together, the places we traveled, the cocktails we drank, the cookies we ate, the races we ran, fundraisers, parties, jobs, conversations, lattes, karaoke, jokes, sun, rain, wind, waves, and all the rest, we made the most of every moment.

It may be more than a little cheesy, but I heard the song from RENT yesterday that goes: "five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure, measure a year- In daylights, in sunsets, in mid-nights and cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter...?" Now, the themes and subjects of that play are different from the circumstances I'm relating to, but that song reminded me of the time I got to spend with Mari, and all the miles, sunsets, mid-nights, coffees and laughs we shared along the way. I feel fortunate that I was one of the people that got to spend time with her in her last year here with us.

I miss my friend. I lament that the world has lost one of it's best people.
Last year, Mari sent this message to our friend Marvin after his uncle passed away. As tragic as the loss was for him, she was able to offer this piece of advice, which I am sure she would offer to each of us now that she is gone:

Of course I feel and will always feel the sadness and the loss. I will remember though, that she would want us to be happy and to not dwell on the loss, and to have a good time. When I go to visit her memorial on PCH I always try to go with peace and happiness in my heart. When I think of her I will always remember how she made me feel and the good times we had. I am going to take her advice and choose to celebrate her life and remember her and rejoice in the fact that I was lucky enough to know her while she was here.

Mari's memorial on PCH- I like to go up there and add some color now and then.

Raul finishing Ironman AZ with a sign saying "in loving memory of Marisela"
Life is so short- sometimes even shorter than we tend to expect. I will continue to take advantage of every opportunity that I have to live every day to its fullest- living to celebrate Mari's memory, and to wring every last drop out of life and spend time with the people that matter.

On the way to Ironman AZ, we drew our carpool family on the back window- Mari was with us. I remember our friend Louis said at one point that he knew she was up there doing great at "Ironman Heaven". I like to think that is the case.