I’m on my way to Kona!

Spectacular…no, that’s not the right word…

Brutal…that’s not it either…

Psychotic…okay, maybe a little…

Brilliant…only after crossing the finish line…

It’s hard to find the right word to sum up my first Ironman race, probably because I felt a multitude of different emotions throughout the 11-hour day. When people tell you it’s a journey, they aren’t kidding. You feel like the star in one of those terrible box-office drama hits where you are dragged through the gamut of emotions from happiness to frustration to anger to depression and back up to happiness all in the span of 2 hours. It is exhausting! Stretch that out to 11 hours and compound that with the fact that you are actually doing rigorous physical activity the entire time – it is a surreal feeling. And then we all cross the finish line, cheering and hugging everyone around us elated because it is over, triumphant because we conquered it, and slightly neurotic because we forget the truly raw and tumultuous struggle we just endured over the last 140.6 miles.

An Ironman race consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and then a 26.2 mile run where each leg is an entire journey all by itself.

A lot of people talk about the nervous jitters they get in the week leading up to their Ironman race, those of uncertainty when it is your first time or those of anxiety for what is about to come and wondering why you are doing this again. Peter and I had so much going on that I forgot the race was even happening. I even had to rush order a new pair of goggles off Amazon because I didn’t realize it was already race week. I never even looked up the course online. Peter and I did ride part of the bike course a few weekends before but other than that, I tried to count the number of buoys in the swim on race morning and had no idea what to expect from the run. And there was absolutely no nervousness. Not even at the swim start while standing in line waiting for the gun to go off. But don’t get me wrong, there were many stressful tears in the weeks leading up to this race. If you are ever thinking about quitting your job and starting as business at the same time your husband quits his job, selling your house, moving to another state, and training for an Ironman all at the same time – I kind of don’t recommend it.

3am arrived on Sunday morning and I ate my cold leftover pancakes with a banana and bowl of oatmeal as we drove about an hour up to Boulder. Everything went very smoothly that morning, no rushing around. We took the shuttle over to the swim start, put our water bottles on our bikes, put on our wetsuits, swam a few warm-up laps, and then got in line at the swim start. It was really that simple.

This is a long race so nobody was pushing their way up to the front or getting ready to sprint as the gun went off, it was the most casual race start I have ever experienced. With a rolling start everyone slowly entered the water whenever they felt ready to get the day started. I was at the front because I wanted to try to latch onto someone’s feet in the fast group. It was a little bit of a struggle at first as I searched for someone I could stick on. But once I found him, it was pretty enjoyable. He led me on a really straight line, right next to each of the buoys and for the first time in my life, I can actually say the swim was the absolute best part of the race. I exited the water in 1:03:53, the 3rd fastest in my age group and 22nd overall female (excuse me, what?!?!).

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Thanks for the fantastic picture Mile High Multisport!

I was ecstatic as I ran into the transition area to get on my bike, I cannot tell you how fantastic it feels to be one of the first out of the water after enduring so many races of being way behind. The bike was pretty hilly with about 4,000 feet of climbing which proved to be pretty tough towards the end. I mostly kept working on eating, drinking, and not going out too hard. It can be challenging because you get out of the water with a bunch of adrenaline and jump on the bike feeling like a million bucks. But, I kept reminding myself of the advice from my coaches – don’t go out too hard because you will start to die at mile 80 and then dearly pay for it on the run. The bike is where the happy-everything-is-amazing part of the movie starts to introduce a little drama. Around mile 50 you start realizing you are only half-way there. The hills are making your legs a little tired, your liquid calories are starting to taste yucky, and your butt really doesn’t want to sit on the bike seat anymore. I was also dealing with a bloody nose, which just gets irritating after a while. And then amnesia kicks in and you stop taking in your calories like you should – this catapults you to a strange level of hangry depression. Like those Snickers commercials with Betty White on the football field. Then you turn a corner and there is Sonja Wieck cheering you on, kindly reminding you to eat and drink. Oh yeah, I forgot about that. I downed some calories and a few minutes later I regained consciousness. (Thank you Sonja!)

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I found that this battle continued for pretty much the rest of the ride. Until towards the end, when we had a nice long downhill stretch and I decided I would rest my legs…and then my eyes…and then I happened to open them and glance at my garmin…38mph! I think I had a mini-heart attack, which pumped enough adrenaline into my system to remain coherent for the rest of the bike. Okay, that was dumb and dangerous, serious lesson learned.

The bike was finally over and the only thing I could think about was getting off that seat. NO MORE BIKE SEAT PLEASE!! There are only so many ways you can shift around on a tiny little bike seat! But I do have to say that my new Ride Blue bike is pretty amazing and I find myself overflowing with thankfulness the more I get to ride it. I finished in 5:33:05, which was a little slower than I wanted but still pretty good and now I was now 2nd in my age group and 17th female overall.

I got off my bike and stayed in my bike shoes because they made you run almost a mile (seriously), barefoot, part of it on a black rubber track, to get your running shoes. It was definitely uncomfortable but not as bad as burning your feet, which I heard a lot of people did. Once again, the drama movie transitioned back to a happy scene with a positive outlook on life. The start of the run was lined with thousands of people, cheering so loudly I felt like a super star. Amazing. Nothing better.

I started off trying to hit my goal mile pace and then a slow and steady uphill came – and continued – on – and on – and on. It felt like being hit by a car, and at this point my survival mode kicked in. I stopped checking my watch for a pace in fear it would destroy me mentally. All of my focus went towards running within a semi-level of comfort, and taking in calories every three miles. I believe it was at mile 4 they were handing out ice-cold towels. This was the most amazing towel…like my Wilson volleyball. I wrapped that towel around my neck and ran the rest of the race with it. It kept me cool, I wiped by face with it, wiped away my third bloody nose with it, and at very aid station I dumped more ice water on it getting a rejuvenating burst of cool.

Oh Wilson!

Oh Wilson!

The other thing that kept me going was dividing the race into 3-mile chunks. I fueled with EFS gel every 3 miles and never looked ahead farther than that. My only goal was to make it to my next feeding. The support on the race course was absolutely phenomenal. The calming and motivating words from Molly Smith, Katy Blakemore, James Sharpe, Max Bierman and many, many more (you guys were all awesome!!) helped jolt me out of the deepest and darkest parts of the dramatic movie and keep me going forward.

Am I even running anymore?

Am I even running anymore?

Then all of a sudden, I had finished my last feeding and I had 2 miles to go! And the culmination of the race lies here, at the end of this marathon, that you started in a state of pure exhaustion and end with a totally depleted out-of-body experience. At mile 26 I saw Peter who was cheering for me / yelling at me (having already finished an hour earlier) and I knew I had made it. Of course the movie is a happy ending where you some how muster up all of this hidden energy, that you couldn’t for the life of you find earlier, and sprint down the chute to the finish.

Amazing, it was absolutely amazing. I completed the marathon in 4:10:25, which was much slower than I had planned, but left me finishing 2nd in my age group and 17th female overall with a time of 10:56:18. I was so happy to finish and I definitively expressed that I never wanted to do that ever again, ever. So, naturally, when I found out I qualified for Kona, I decided to take the slot and race at the Ironman World Championships on October 11th…yes that is only 10 weeks away! So now you know the movie will have a sequel, but it will come full circle back to where all of the craziness started – Hawaii. This is an honor and the chance of a lifetime to qualify for this race; I just could not pass that up.

Sit still Tucker!

Sit still Tucker!

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Until then I will be working to develop my business, striving to keep the house immaculately staged as we try to sell it, packing up my life and heading to California, and somehow continuing to train like crazy. I feel like I just recommended not doing all of these things at once…oh well.

You guys go ahead and do all that...I'll be here if you need me

You guys go ahead and do all that…I’ll be here if you need me

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Big Ideas: Part 2

As promised, here is part 2 of my Big Ideas blog. The business is up and running and let me tell you, it is a lot of work! There is something slightly unsettling about working long hours 7-days a week without a paycheck, but that is the risk you take when starting up a business. For those of you that are interested, the company name is Modern Approach and we are boutique customer company that uses data science and advanced analytics to help companies create an awesome customer experience…if you want, you can check us out at www.modernapproach.com !

Okay, so with all of the craziness that comes with plugging your nose and plunging into entrepreneurship, Peter and I thought that we might as well pile on a bunch of other life changes all at once, I mean why not? And that brings me to big change number 2 – Peter’s Voluntary Separation Program application was approved and he will be separating from the military on September 29th of this year! This is a huge answer to a long-time prayer and we are so very thankful to be moving on from our military past. We have had some amazing experiences and opportunities but we are both whole-heartedly ready to experience the normalcy of a more settled life outside of the constant moving and change in the military. I am thankful for the sacrifice and service Peter gave to our country, flying all over the world in the C-17. But now it is his chance to get out there and try something new and we are ready for the adventure!

But, it wouldn’t really be an adventure if we didn’t take advantage of the fact that the military is no longer in charge of where we live. Keeping true to our constant itch for adventure, we both have not only quit our jobs but we are selling our house and moving out to the land of opportunity…California. Okay, hold on all you non-californians who are going to get totally offended here. The Silicon Valley is the center of high-tech development and innovation. So, although we realize it is expensive and that there are lots of other nice inexpensive places to live in the US, there are not many places outside of San Francisco that are more intriguing for a business owner in the advanced analytics industry (me) and a program manager interested in software development (Peter). And, now we have the amazing opportunity to be close to family, something that was never possible before! Oh, and the ocean…and the mountains…and the sunshine…and a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from Hawaii. Colorado, I will not miss your frigid winters and your summers of daily thunderstorms. Peter and I recently took a trip out to Lake Tahoe in Northern California to visit my parents and it was exactly the rejuvenating training experience I needed. Long bike rides in the warm sunshine are the cure to any ailment and with the beautiful weather and long undulating roads, I re-kindled my passion for biking. Our 90-mile excursion around Lake Tahoe made into my top-10 all time bike-rides list.

Beautiful Lake Tahoe

Beautiful Lake Tahoe

And the roads around San Francisco are amazing too: up and down the coast, through Napa Valley, the hills of Santa Cruz…I seriously can’t wait.

With all of the crazy life changes we have going on at the moment, training has remained a constant yet challenging force in my daily life. I am somehow still getting in around 20 hours of training per week chasing after this passion for triathlon.

please don't take me on another run...you run too much!

please don’t take me on another run…you run too much!

Ironman 70.3 Boulder was back in June and since it was a local race for me, it definitely made the experience much less hectic and not so much of a production. That was a nice change. And I made a HUGE breakthrough at this race! I am still in shock, but I swam the 1.2 miles in 30:39…I was 2nd out of the water in my age group and the 21st overall female out of the water! To give you some perspective…last year I was usually around 20th out of the water in my age group and somewhere around 100th overall female. I can’t believe I actually learned how to swim! I was able to keep on the feet of the same girl the entire swim and I am definitely sure that staying in her draft helped me get such a great time. So, thank you whoever you are!! And, my level of fitness out of the water has drastically improved so I did not feel nearly as tired when I got on the bike. I was happy with my strong bike effort, but I did try to hold back a little bit so that I would not blow up on the run like I did in Texas. I completed the 56 miles in 2:31:16, which is good, not great. But then I was still unable to perform on the run. I was pretty disappointed with my 13.1 mile split of 1:38…it seems where I have made gains in my swim I have made losses in my run. IMG_1746 Although, a lot of the run was on a gravely-dirt path and that was NO FUN, making it more difficult to keep a fast pace. If I wanted to run in off-road races, I would sign up for them! But I guess that is part of the challenge…as if the race itself isn’t a challenge enough. The absolute best part of the race though was having my Tribella teammates there cheering me on! It is so fun to race when the people there know you and are supporting you! And when you get to race with your teammates, it is definitely more rewarding. There is comfort in knowing they are out there with you, experiencing the same thing. In the end, I won my age group and was 5th overall amateur female. My first age group win ever!!! IMG_1569

Recovery fuel

..and recovery fuel

Even though I claim to hate biking in Colorado, I have to say that this past month has been quite amazing. This is partly due to my incredible new Ride Blue Triad SL di2 bike. I honestly cannot thank Tribella enough for helping me to get this crazy awesome bike that I hardly feel like I deserve. No really, I am actually quite embarrassed to say that my bike has electronic shifting…but then all of that embarrassment goes away quite quickly once I get on it!! This bike is a lot smaller than my previous one and it fits me much better. And, after getting a professional fit from the Denver Fit Loft, I am finally riding in the correct position on a bike for the first time in my life. The difference is quite amazing. And it could not have been more perfect timing as I am preparing for the full Ironman in Boulder that is now only a week away.

Peter, my fearless photographer

Peter, my fearless photographer

I am actually thinking the 112 miles will not be bad, that is how comfortable this bike is! This race is going to be a wild experience, but I have been training for it for about a year now and I think I am ready to do some damage. I can’t wait to finish up an easy 2.4 miles of swimming, a casual 112 miles of biking and then slip on my running shoes to go and run a marathon, it’s going to be epic!

Training in the Fall

Fall has officially arrived here in Colorado which means less daylight, colder weather, and beautiful scenery.  It is also a completely different training atmosphere for me.  I am not used to wearing so many layers of clothing!  It’s not that I have never lived somewhere cold (I grew up near Lake Tahoe, lived in Colorado before, and spent 2 years in Boston) but up until I started training for triathlons, I spent all of my time training indoors on the volleyball court.  No matter what time of year it was, you wore spandex and a t-shirt.  It didn’t matter when the days started to get shorter, the gym lights were always on.  I am now realizing how nice it was in the summer to wake up early before work and go for a run or to fit in a bike ride after work.  Getting in workouts has been a little tricky but really, it just calls for some creativity.

Fall Family Picture

Fall Family Picture after a beautiful (and chilly!) run

When we first moved here back in June and I started working full-time, it was very stressful for me to fit my workouts in.  I actually started to resent it.  It is hard when it feels like every waking moment of your time is either at work or working out and no matter what, you are always exhausted.  I have taken the time to reflect on my training this past season, pray about it, and work on understanding how something I love so much caused me so much stress.  I think it is amazing because God has given all of us these amazing human bodies that are so complex and resilient and unique.  Everyone of us has some unique talent and we use our bodies as the vehicle to perform that talent through.  I mean think about it.  For some of us it is the gift of speaking, for others it is artistic gifts through their hands, others it is their mind.  I have taken a step back from being so serious about “getting the workout in” and approaching my training time as a way to express the talent that God has given me.  I take my watch off a lot more and go on runs purely to see the beautiful colors of the changing leaves and to rejoice in how thankful I am to have 2 working legs, a healthy heart, and body capable of training.  I also run a lot more with Tucker…this dog runs 10 miles like nothing happened!

I feel rejuvenated and now my creative juices are starting to flow.  First, I examined all of the things that make working out feel more like a chore and less like enjoyment.  I hate waking up early to swim.  It is such a production for me and everything about it is stressful.  I have to make my breakfast and lunch the night before, get all of my workout stuff together, pick out my clothes for work, and get a bag of makeup and toiletries together.  After the alarm goes off at 4:45am I am jumping into a pool of cold water by 5:15am (which I hate…every time) and then I get ready for work at the gym and don’t eat breakfast until I arrive at the office, which by this time I am starving.  I have now started swimming after work and I love it.  It is a refreshing way to end the day.  And afterwards, I can just throw on sweats and a sweatshirt and head home.  Peter works Tuesday through Saturday so we have turned Monday nights into swim dates where he meets me after work at the pool and we swim together.  I love this time we spend together.

I still do all of my runs at lunch which I thoroughly enjoy.  And now that it is cold outside, I do not sweat as much so showering after my run is not as big of a production.  It is a great break for me to get away and loosen my legs after sitting at my desk all morning.  Biking during the week has turned into trainer rides for now because there is not enough daylight after work to fit them in.  But, Peter and I have set up our trainers in the garage and we have fun riding dates.  This past Friday night we rocked the Kelly Clarkson Pandora radio station (it was my turn to pick!) and had an awesome date on our trainers while Tucker curled up in a ball on his bed…our garage is freezing.  We have also done a few early morning trainer rides and for some reason, these do not bother me at all.  The alarm still goes of at 4:45am, but I can throw on a sweatshirt and soft-pedal on my bike until I warm up.  I wake up gradually on the trainer instead of experiencing the shock of cold pool water.  And afterwards, I get ready for work at home which is much easier.  I still ride outdoors on the weekends though, which has been the best way to get outside and see the fall colors with Peter.

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It feels great to be back where I started, loving my training and feeling inspired to keep going.  Sometimes we can get so immersed into what we are doing that we forget why we started doing it at all.  We just need to take a step back, re-evaluate, and remember that we are all so uniquely talented.  I firmly believe that God places passions in our hearts that align with the talents he gave us.  The best part is humbly displaying these talents so that others are inspired to search for theirs and let them blossom.

I thought you said it was fall?!?!

I thought you said it was Fall?!?!

Tucker is very confused by the white stuff on the ground

Tucker is very confused by the white stuff on the ground

The Tears of Race Week

We just had our friends Mike and Anna come visit us for the weekend.  Anna mentioned that my honesty about being tired and having rough weeks was very motivating for her during her training.  I mean, we all are real people who struggle and I have definitely struggled.

I am starting to notice that the weeks leading up to a race are when I have most of my breakdowns.  Typically, in the three weeks before any major race, you will have no fitness gains.  This late in the game, you plateau at a level of fitness and any work you do is just to maintain that level and cruise into the race.  I think knowing this fact is where I get my anxiety.  Going into a race pace effort run somewhere in this three-week period and not hitting your pace, or hitting slower than normal swim splits when you feel like you are going hard, or not getting the power you should be seeing on the bike, these are all moments that make you question your level of fitness.  You know it is too late to make any more gains so is this really how you are going to race?

Last week I hit a record.  I broke down in tears during three separate workouts.  And not just little streams of water dripping down your face in frustration after a workout kind of tears, I mean deep gut sobs straight in the middle of a max effort bike interval.  Good thing I was anchored to the trainer because I was out of control crying into my sweat towel.  My dog, Tucker, was extremely concerned as he uncontrollably licked my hands and legs, trying to comfort me.  I almost gave up.  I was so tired.  And not from the workout, but from getting very little sleep, working all day, and trying to fit all of my dang workouts in.  I mean it was 8pm at night, I hadn’t eaten dinner yet and here I was still on the bike.  I decided to stay on the bike and not look at my power meter for the rest of the intervals.  I would just go at an effort that felt hard, no matter what the numbers said.  So, I didn’t hit my power that workout but I finished it with Tucker laying right beside the bike to make sure I would be okay.

Sunday rolls around and I have a semi-long run off of a long bike ride.  Peter did not have a run since he had just raced in the Pike’s Peak Ascent, and since it was 90 plus degrees outside, he decided it would be a good idea to follow me in the car with water.  Seriously, what a great husband.  Turns out he did more than just feed me water.  I took off from the house and proceeded to try to hit my race pace in the first mile when the first mile goes up a pretty steep hill.  Instead of listening to my body, respecting the hill and the heat, and working up to race pace, I burnt all of my gas.  Peter was going to meet me at the first mile mark and by the time he got there in the car, I was lying on the grass under the shade of a tree, crying in the fetal position.  It was too hot, I had just put all of my energy into sprinting uphill for a mile and there was no way I could go five more.  He pumped me with fluid, dumped cold water down my back, made me eat half a gu and said he would be there for water as many times as I needed it…which turned out to be every half mile for the rest of the run.  I felt like I was going to pass out, I had major tunnel vision, and I was half-crying half-choked-breathing but I finished.

The next morning I got up super early to get my swim in before work.  I dragged myself out of bed with my eyes burning from being so tired.  I got in the pool busy with early morning swimmers, pushed off the wall and at that point realized I didn’t have my goggles on.  How embarrassing! This was the point I knew I was too tired.  I ended up cutting a few meters off of the swim and skipping the bike ride later that day.  I needed sleep!  I cried about missing a workout (obviously) but I just couldn’t bring myself to get on the bike.  So I went to bed.

I woke up 10 minutes before my alarm went off the next morning feeling amazingly refreshed.  I hadn’t felt this rested in a while.  Maybe it was the 10 hours of sleep but maybe it was also not pushing it through another workout when I had already hit my limits.

It is now less than one week until the race and my mantra this week has been positive talking and thinking.  I made it through the crying saga of last week realizing that I need to trust my training and the consistency I have managed to maintain despite my crazy schedule.  I am prepared for this race, I will hit my times, my body can take it.  I just need my mind to be ready too.  Each workout this week is easy, it is taper week, just keeping the blood flowing and the muscles moving.  But I am working on sharpening my positive-talk muscle.  My goal is to tell myself how awesome I am doing during each workout this week, look at how far I have come, and remember all of my fantastic training sessions, the ones where I really pushed though and came out successful.  Those are what will show through during race day when I start believing in myself.

So, it is true, we all struggle and we all have a hard time feeling motivated about training.  I love biking but there are times where the thought of getting on that bike disgusts me.  But in the end, I want to come out of this race knowing I gave it everything I had, not just during the race, but in all of my training leading up to it.  There is something exciting about trying to see how far you can actually go against the best competition in the world.  This sunday, we will see.

Training in Kona

I have almost caught up on sleep so I am finally coherent enough to sit down and write about the amazing time I had training in Kona last week.  When I boarded the plane early Friday morning, all I had with me was my bike and a back-pack full of workout clothes.  I knew it would be a long 5 days of pure training without distraction and I could not wait.

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About an hour after I landed and dropped my stuff off at the athlete house, we were headed to Kealakekua Bay for our first ocean swim.  It was a picture perfect afternoon in the refreshing, clear, sapphire-blue water.

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I hadn’t been in the ocean in a long time and I almost welcomed the familiar taste of salt water on my tongue.  I was swimming with the fish and the coral and felt at home again in the water.  We used the swim to determine our level of swimming compared to the other athletes at the camp so we could find a swim partner.  I found Kelly and little did we know that this was the start of a swimming bond I will never forget.

Following the swim was a short hour run.  I haven’t felt that great on a run in a long time.  Even though it was rolling hills, I hardly noticed.  This is obviously from training at altitude in Colorado, but you don’t understand the benefits of that training until you have the opportunity to go back down and train at sea level.  I was holding a solid pace and yet my lungs weren’t burning and I was not gasping for air…strange.

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Day 2 of camp was my biggest hurdle and probably the one day I was not really looking forward to. This was the day of our 10k swim from Keauhou Bay to the Kona pier where they hold the Ironman World Championships swim course.  I never doubted that I could complete all 6.2 miles, but I knew it would be painful and extremely long.  Not being the strongest swimmer, I had no idea how long it would take me.  We arrived at Keauhou Bay early Saturday morning and Kelly and I talked strategy while watching the sunrise.

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Every group of swimmers had a kayak escort which was an essential part of completing this swim.  We had Michelle’s husband who is very experienced with this kind of thing and this helped to calm my nerves.  He not only guided us on the most direct route (with my inability to swim in a straight line, I probably would have been out to sea without him) but he carried all of our water and nutrition.

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When Kelly and I started the swim, the conditions were beautiful.  The water was clear and calm, no clouds in the sky, the swim felt like butter.  It was almost effortless to glide through the water, I have never felt so serene.  Kelly and I had agreed to stop every 45 minutes for a water/nutrition break and after our second stop, an hour and a half into the swim, we couldn’t help but boast about how great we felt and how amazing this swim truly was.  We blew through the first 3.5 miles.  Then, very abruptly, the water turned choppy.  I thought maybe a large boat had passed and we were stuck in the waves from its wake but after a few minutes, it did not let up.  I popped up, Kelly stopped to.  The clouds had rolled in, the wind had picked up, and the water was anything but calm.  What happened?!?

The conditions of the last 2.5 miles were exactly the reason I had dreaded this swim in the first place.  I have swam in the ocean in nasty conditions before and it soon becomes a fight to survive.  Turn your head to breathe and get smacked in the face by a wave.  Swallow a bunch of saltwater.  Get sloshed up and down.  Try to swim left but the wave pushes you right.  Feel glimpses of helplessness. My only saving grace was Kelly.  Just seeing her out of the corner of my eye and knowing that she was pushing through the same thing saved my mental state.  She looked so strong, like none of this was affecting her.  I had to stop a couple of times and hang on to the kayak to grab more water and nutrition.  Fighting the waves was starting to take it out of me.  We only had half a mile to go and we could see the finish, but I was struggling to stay positive.  Kelly kept me straight.  She told me I could do it and we could stop as many times as I needed.  She was awesome.  And then we made it, 3 hours 54 minutes.  My arms felt like jello, my tongue like sandpaper.  It was like I had gargled saltwater for the last 4 hours but I still had a sore throat.  But I had finished something that up until this point, I wasn’t actually sure I could do.

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To celebrate, all of the athletes headed over to the Kona Brewing Co. to have a few beers and eat a lot of food.  I was starving.  I took a deep breath, worst part of camp for me was over.

I woke up Sunday morning excited for the long bike ride ahead of us.  We planned a 110 mile ride on the Ironman course and, based on my poor performance there back in June during my half-ironman race, I had a few mental blocks I needed to work through.  I wanted to conquer the climb to Hawi and prove to myself that I am a capable cyclist.  Truthfully, I have been judging and questioning myself as an athlete ever since this bike ride back in June.  This time I had my power meter and a better perspective on how to tackle the gusting cross-winds.

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After 30 miles of relaxed pedaling in the group, we hit the turn-off for Hawi and I immediately got in the zone and took off.  I didn’t tell anyone my plan or give any warning, I just wanted it to be me and the road with no distractions.

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The wind was impressively strong, just as I had remembered, but I dug in and took control.  I kept my focus, maintained my power, and nailed the ride.  Sometimes your biggest enemy is your own sub-conscious and I can now happily say I left that enemy in Hawi.

At mile 80 I learned an important lesson about myself.  My coach and I were drilling it back down the Kamehameha Highway into a fierce headwind.  We were each taking 3 minute pulls and it was getting to the point where my 3 minutes of drafting was not giving me any rest.  I was dying and I could not keep the pace any longer. I had nothing left in the tank.  We backed off and she immediately told me to eat something.  Wow, I hadn’t eaten in a while, it was something I was not paying attention to.  After a little while of taking it easy and eating I felt my pep come back and my strength rejuvenate.   It was amazing!  Keeping up on calorie intake is so essential and now I understand the consequences of forgetting that key part.  I ended the ride feeling strong, even though I had gone very hard for the majority of it.

Monday consisted of 70 more miles on my bike seat, something that was extremely painful to be on at this point.  After Monday, all I wanted to do was pack up my bike, put it on the plane, and then maybe not unpack it for another week.

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Like a whirlwind, the last day of camp came and I couldn’t believe it was almost over.  I was secretly looking forward to this day all week and not because it was the last day but because it was the long run day! I was so excited to do a long run back in Hawaii considering how painful my long runs have been in Colorado.  I was craving a flat road at sea level.  I woke up Tuesday morning to an uncharged Garmin watch and my mood turned sour.  I had a goal pace that I wanted to hit on the run and now I would have no way of tracking that.  My coach, on the other hand, was ecstatic that I had no watch.  In a desperate attempt to give it a little juice, I left it charging with one of the girls who was leaving the house a little later than us, hoping she could bring it to the run.  I later found out that my coach intercepted my devious plan and I was seriously going to run 15 miles with no gadgets, no headphones, no music.  Very organic I guess.

I had three pivotal learning experiences during this training camp.  The first happened during my push through the final 2 miles of the swim, the second happened at mile 80 on the bike, and the third happened in the last 7 miles of this run.  I had gone out at what felt like a great pace and by the turn-around point, I felt like picking it up and really pushing it on the way home.  I was keenly aware of my body and the feel of my legs, I had no distractions.  I thoroughly enjoyed running along Ali’i drive and even though I don’t know exactly what pace I was going, it felt fast and fluid.  I have never felt so satisfied after a run, this was one of the top 5 runs I have ever had.  I finally finished a run putting in an amount of effort based strictly off of how I felt and not influenced by a time, a heart rate, or a pace.

We all finished up, showered at the beach park, and headed out for celebration burgers and beers.

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I met some amazing people on this trip and have new friends that I can now keep up with and follow their crazy training and racing lives.

And then I got on the plane a few hours later and headed back on a red-eye flight.  Of course I pulled my least favorite stunt of getting off the airplane and heading directly to work.  Thankfully I wore a long skirt to hide these bad boys.

Riding with Power

My race bag is packed, my bike is in the car and we are headed to Racine, Wisconsin for the weekend. One of the great things about working at Sports Authority are the Fridays in the summer. Every Friday is a half-day! So, after I get off work at noon, we will start our road trip out to Wisconsin for my next half-ironman race! It is a 15 hour drive so Peter, my awesome Sherpa, will be taking over the wheel in the night time hours while I sleep in the back. We hope to arrive early-earlySaturday morning so that we can get some sleep before the festivities of athlete check-in, bike check-in, race briefings, etc. begin. At least this time we will have our own car packed with everything I might need (and a cooler of food!) so the logistical aspect of the race will be smoother.

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And we made a nice bed in the back so we can take driving shifts.

I am mentally approaching this race as a training event because I am using it as preparation for my big “A” race at the World Championships in Las Vegas early September. I get to try out three new and really cool toys: my power meter, my wetsuit, and my pink aero helmet!

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Through a few awesome athlete connections I made back in May, I got my new SRM 7900 wireless power meter for a great deal and started training with it right when I got to Colorado. Training with power has been an eye opening experience to say the least. Before, I rode my bike purely off of perceived effort with a little bit of Heart Rate training. This means that when my coach told me to go “strong” for 10 minute intervals, I would go at a pace and cadence that felt like I was working hard. Well, feeling like you are working hard and actually having a device tell you whether you are working hard are two separate things. Basically, the power meter tells you how much force your legs are putting into your pedal stroke over time. So, ideally, you want to be able to output a lot of force in the shortest amount of time possible. This is harder than you might think. Just think about riding a bike and shifting down into a harder gear…its harder to pedal because you have to apply more force to move the pedals around. Now stay in that really hard gear and try to pedal as fast as you can…this is how you die of a heart attack…I mean bike with a lot of power.

Aside from adjusting to Colorado and the altitude for the last few months, I have been adjusting to riding with an appropriate amount of power. The line is now starting to blur between whether my respiratory distress during bike workouts is from the altitude, the power meter, or a combination of both. My coach gave me an interval workout the other day with a set power that I needed to maintain. As she would say, I had to put my “big girl pants” on to finish this workout. Thankfully, I did this workout inside on the trainer (good timing for the Colorado thunderstorms to roll in) because there were points during this workout where I thought I might actually fall off my bike. My mouth was hanging open, saliva and sweat spraying everywhere (don’t worry, I had lots of towels laid out on the ground around me). Tucker was even upset to see me in this state as he tried to lick my hands and legs (not helping!). I entered a new realm of pain where I consciously had to focus on putting everything I had into the pedals and engage with the resistance. One minor loss of focus or a split second of relaxing your legs and your power plummets. And then when the fatigue sets in, this is where you learn the difference between how hard you think you are riding and how hard you are actually riding. There were points where I thought I was giving everything I had but yet my power was no where near the level it was supposed to be. It felt like it was impossible to get it back up. But then you learn to dig deep, embrace the feeling of your quadriceps ripping apart, and mash the pedals to get that power back up. I am at the beginnings of learning to take my riding to a whole new level.

Power has not only been a way to increase my intensity level, but also to gauge myself and learn how to bike more consistently over an entire ride. This past weekend, Peter and I headed out to Boulder to get a long ride in without all of the crazy climbing we have around our house. It was also a great excuse to go and explore the awesome and beautiful city of Boulder. We ended up finding a great 80 mile route that takes you from the heart of Boulder out and around Carter Lake, and then back along the Boulder Reservoir. This is some of the best bike riding I have ever done. The roads are extremely nice with wide shoulders, the scenery was beautiful, and there were barely any cars. And, even though the ride was not completely flat, the climbs are at a steady and gradual incline which is perfect for a long ride where you are trying to log miles, not time. This was the perfect prep ride for my race this weekend because I got used to using my power meter as a gauge of my effort level. It is going to take time to learn how to keep consistent power over the course of 4 hours, but the benefits will be huge. Sometimes I have the tendency to go too hard and then there are times when I back off too much. If you go too hard, you are at risk of wasting valuable energy that you will need later in the ride. It’s like starting a marathon by sprinting the first few miles and then having no gas left in the tank to finish the race. You will end up with a better time if you run a consistent pace throughout the whole race. Unfortunately we got no pictures of Carter Lake, which was beautiful. I guess we have an excuse to go back!

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Riding on the quiet and peaceful roads of Boulder.

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And a nice post ride refresher! Margaritas made with pure lime juice.

The swim portion of my race this weekend is going to be interesting because it will be the first time I race in a wetsuit. I tried the wetsuit out for the first time this past weekend in the Chatfield Reservoir.

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Swimming in open water in Colorado is completely opposite from swimming in Hawaii. In Hawaii, you can go and jump in the ocean any time you want and swim wherever and however you want. I mean literally, you can go any time you want: early morning, under the moonlight (if you are brave), in the heat of the day, or even when you don’t want to but your coach forces you to; like during a storm with major waves and currents (thanks coach!). You swim at your own risk. Here in Colorado, apparently the treacherous waters of a man-made reservoir are too dangerous for a swimmer, you must abide by strict rules and sign-in/out.

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I won’t tell you whether I swam during the specified time periods, signed-in, got the special permit, or if I swam in the proper direction on the correct side of the buoys. But I will say that no one seemed to care or be bothered by me swimming around. Tucker even got a chance to cool off and swim a little. The current in these glassy waters was sure difficult to manage though.

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I am glad I was able to get acquainted with my wetsuit before the race because it is a very different feeling in the water. It almost feels like you are wearing a one-piece life jacket, just floating along. But, it is also strange to feel so constricted. It gives me a slight feeling of claustrophobia especially when I start to pick up my pace and my heart rate increases. I am sure that my adrenaline will kick in during the race though and I will be more concentrated on my competition and not getting kicked in the face than I will be with the wetsuit.

Now it is time to relax and enjoy the 15 hour road trip to Wisconsin! And I mean relax in a literal sense because after receiving our shipment of household goods this past Monday, my life has been nothing but chaos. With boxes and stuff EVERYWHERE, I will have to let go my type-A desire for organization and cleanliness and worry about tackling the mess when we get home, even though that probably won’t be until the wee hours of the morning on Monday. Lets just hope we get home early enough for me to get a few hours of sleep before I have to go to work. Heading straight to the office after racing a half-ironman may be very interesting!

I was born this way

After the hectic move over from Hawaii, staying with friends, transitioning into a new job, and acclimating to Colorado’s brutal altitude, we have finally moved into our house. One more step towards normalcy! Tucker is now spoiled with a huge yard to play in and he loves it.

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And yes, that is a swing set in the background! It came with the house. I forgot how fun it is to swing! Living in a neighborhood with a house and a yard is a huge step up from our condo and lanai in Hawaii. I feel like such a grown-up. We even bought our first lawn-mower.

We still don’t have any of our stuff yet, somehow it got lost on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We hope to have it by the middle of July so we can really start settling in. Until then, we are hanging out with paper plates and a futon in an enormous and empty 5 bedroom, 4 bathroom, 4,000 sq. ft. house with a finished basement. It’s a little crazy for two people and a dog, I know, but it was literally the only thing we could find for rent in the location we needed. So, if anyone wants to visit, we have plenty of rooms. You could probably sneak in and live here and we wouldn’t even know it. Oh, and there is a wet bar and wine fridge downstairs, just in case you want to throw a party. Crazy!

I am most excited about having a kitchen again. I can’t wait to start cooking and experimenting with new recipes. This kitchen is twice the size of ours back in Hawaii so I have more room to spread out and Peter has bigger messes to clean up.

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Double oven, yay!!

Since we don’t have our stuff and there isn’t much to do around the house yet, we have taken advantage of our weekends to explore our surroundings and nail down our training routine. Unlike Hawaii where you can go to the neighborhood 50 meter lap pool and swim for free, (we didn’t know how spoiled we were) we now have to pay to swim. Most pools are associated with a gym which requires you to purchase a gym membership – not cheap! I finally broke down and joined a gym with an amazing pool facility that is on my way to work. It even has an outdoor pool that stays open year around. As long as it is above 10 degrees outside, the pool is open for lap swim. Umm, no thank you. I think I will stick to the indoor pool as long as it is below 50 degrees outside! Peter swims at the pool at his work where they like to remind you about the altitude.

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Yes, the air still feels rare but it is slowly getting better. My training sessions are starting to transition out of death from heart failure to death from volume (thanks coach!). Once I even remotely hinted that I felt better in the altitude, my coach so graciously started tacking on the mileage. Thankfully I have a lighter recovery week this week!

Along with figuring out the pool, I have found a couple of routes I can take to bike to work. They are around 20 to 25 miles each way, which is going to be a great way for me to get my mileage in during the week. The ride to work is mostly downhill which makes it pretty fast and easy. then after work, instead of driving through 45 minutes of traffic to get home and then starting my 90 minute ride, I can knock out the workout while I commute.

I have also come up with a good running routine so far. If the run is less than 45 minutes, I can fit it into my lunch break. There is an awesome running trail along the the South Platte River right next to my work so I can hop on that very easily. We have a small locker room with showers at my work so I have just enough time to rinse off, change, and run a blow dryer through my hair before my lunch break is over. For my longer runs, we are fortunate to live a little over a mile from Daniel’s park which has a plethora of trails and paths with amazing scenery. It is pretty hilly, but I don’t think I will be bored with the same running route.

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Fourth of July sunset at Daniels Park

Sometimes I think it is crazy trying to balance all of this training and have a successful job. I feel this now more than I ever have as my training intensity has increased at the same rate as the responsibility I have at my new job. But, in my blurred haze of exhaustion at mile 11 on my long run this past weekend, I made a seemingly clear connection. For four years during college I struggled to balance the demands of playing Division I volleyball while also double majoring in Mathematics and Operations Research. Everyone thought I was crazy and I remember wondering why I was putting myself through that. I did not have the fun partying college experience. I was either in the gym or in the books. But, during that time I learned how to balance, time manage, and most importantly, still be successful. Up until lately, I have kind of regretted those years, not lightening up and having more free time. I am now realizing more and more that this is just who I am. I thrive on not just being physically and mentally active but seeing how far I can push myself. I don’t like to be average, I like to see how far I can go and then try to push beyond that. But, this takes time and commitment. In a way, it is almost like God used that time in college to teach me how to balance working hard in both aspects of my life. He knew I would use it later on – right now. I have learned that this is just the kind of person I am, I was born this way.

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