Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Finding Kona: Arizona Edition

This is a story without a beginning.  It is a story without an end.  It is a story about hope and triumph.  It is a story about picking yourself back up when you fall short.  Again.  It is a story about finding the one thing that makes your blood race, and makes you want to get out of bed at 4 am.  Every. single. day.  This is a story about finding Kona.

Are you familiar with this story?  I feel like I've written it before.  The details change.  The characters in the story change.  The setting is a little bit different.  But the ending is unchanged.  Isn't the ending of a good book or movie what keeps you coming back for more?  Sometimes it leaves you hanging or it doesn't quite end the way you had hoped.  You read it again, or look for the sequel hoping that this time, it will be different.  Only when the ending leaves you satisfied, fulfilled, can you put the book down and walk away.  

After Ironman Wisconsin I became aware of a few things.  I need to get stronger on the bike.  I promised a friend of mine that I would not say "I am not a good cyclist".  If I was not a good cyclist, my dream would not be within reach and I should just throw my name into the lottery.  But, my bike leg is where I can make the most improvement and set myself up for the run I know I have in me.

The other thing I realized is that no one is going to hand me my dream on a silver platter.  I have to be willing to go all in every single time.  I have to be willing to make small improvements that will one day yield the result I long for.  Each time I put myself on the line and take away the "play-it-safe" card I will learn something new, something valuable that I can transfer into progress the next time around.

This version of Finding Kona takes place in my backyard playground.  I have raced Ironman Arizona a total of 6 times.  No two races are the same, and this year was no exception.  In the days leading up to the race the weather turned cool and windy.  Very windy.  It is rare to not have wind on the beeline, but the caliber of wind on race day exceeded anything we've seen since the race moved to November in 2008.

I knew I had to adjust my vision a little bit, and not try to fight the wind.  We all had to find a way to deal with it, or drop out.   Since you've read this story before I'll leave out every single detail and thought that crossed my brain during the day... and stick with the good stuff.  Since I consider this my diary more than anything, and somewhat of a race journal, I will probably bore you with details that don't matter to you... but next year when I re-read this it will spark the memory of lessons learned and remind me of what I am going to do differently.  So grab a bag of popcorn and settle in for the ride.

The Swim
So, here's the deal.  I haven't shared a lot of details about my training this year for 2 reasons.  1.  I am paying for a coach to give me workouts.  If you want someone to give you a plan, hire your own coach.  2.  I feel that her workouts are part of what make Hillary a great coach.  They are her trade secrets.  I feel it would be disrespectful to spill every detail of her assignments.  That said, the swim alone is proof of her awesomeness.  I was consistently swimming 1:01.  Every race.  For over a year.  I could swim 1:01 in my sleep.  I was convinced, as was everyone else, that I didn't need to swim any faster nor could I.  It wouldn't benefit me to swim faster.

But, what I have learned over the last 10 months is that I don't necessarily need to swim more, to swim better.  My swim workouts are equal parts torture and recovery.  I will have sessions that are 4-6k long that are designed simply to help me recover from a long, hard build.  And I can push myself hard in the pool day after day and not have it effect my bike/ run workouts.  And by following her magic day after day for months on end, it translated into my best IM swim ever.

Final kiss before the cannon.  It's our version of "good luck, be safe, see you at the finish."


I lined up as I always do, front right.  No matter how much I love swimming, and am comfortable in open water, I will NEVER get used to having the shit beat out of me.  I would much rather avoid the chaos, swim my own swim, even if it means I miss the draft for the first half.  So at swim buoy number 8, I merged my line with the main pack a couple hundred yards before the first turn.  Aside from the first 300 meters or so where I felt trapped between a couple of big guys, I had free space.  Once I was able to slide past them, it was smooth sailing.  And I cruised.

The best thing about Hillary's swim preparation is that I no longer feel any fatigue coming out of the water.  In the past, I was comfortable and swam fine, but by the end my shoulders were tired.  Tired shoulders are not how I want to start a bike ride where I spend 100% of my time in the aero bars.  This year I've had two swims at 59 minutes and change.  For some reason, before Arizona I just felt like I had a 58 in me.  Nevertheless, I was shocked to get out of the water and actually see that I had swum a 58!

Swim finish!  
Swim:  58:24

T1:  3:55
I have been spoiled the last few years to have a friend of mine volunteer in the change tent.  I am used to having her just stand by my side quietly, fend off all other volunteers, say a few words of encouragement and then pack up my shit when I leave.  This year she was not able to get into the change tent because the volunteer slots filled up quickly.  I love having the change tent volunteers, and in no way do I mean anything negative, but I have had (at other races) volunteers dump my bag out and start going through stuff which slows me down.  So as I raced into the tent I declined any offers of help, threw my shoes on as fast as I could, and took off.  I think I was about 30 seconds slower than my usual at Arizona but that may have been because some dude threw himself onto the carpet in front of me, tripping me as I was running through the wetsuit stripping area.  I might have thrown out a 4-letter word as I struggled to not hit the deck 2.4 miles into my day.  

The Bike
Wind is my kryptonite.  Everyone who knows me, knows this about me.  I. hate. wind.  Some people hate heat.  Some people hate the cold.  Some people hate hills.  I hate wind.  This year I have been working hard to be more comfortable in my aero bars in the wind.  My coach has given me great advice on how to deal with it, how to position myself an maintain confidence.  I have to say, it worked and I was very comfortable on Sunday.  I still hated the wind, but I did not get blown all over the road.  I was slower.  I felt like I was going backwards at times, but I was perfectly seated square in my saddle, in aero, the entire day.

Usually the fast girls catch me near the start of the 3rd loop of the bike.  This year I expected to see them come by me a lot earlier as I suffered a flat near mile 10 and lost 5 minutes.  I've never had a flat in a race, and I have to say, it was the perfect race for it to happen.  Since I wasn't going to have my fastest bike split anyway (due to wind) I was like, oh, I have a flat.  And got to work changing it.  As I got my front wheel off the support vehicle pulled up and the guy jumped out, grabbed my wheel and started changing it for me.  Rather than fight for the right to change a flat, I took the opportunity to start eating and shoved a few pieces of a bonk breaker into my mouth.  Even the girl in the support van remarked on how calm I was.  What could I do?  Pitch a fit?  Cry because I got a flat?  Dude, I still had 100 miles to go.  There was no time for crying.

Soon enough I was back on the road.  Sometime in the 5 minutes I was on the side of the road, DB came by me.  He waited to make sure I had everything I needed and then took off up the beeline.  I tried to keep him in sight as long as I could.  The first loop seemed very lonely on the bike course.  The usual packs of cyclists were strangely absent in the wind.  Later I learned that I was 77th person out of the water which explains why I felt so alone on the bike course!

Managing the gusts on the bike.  

I kept my head down, kept shoving food in my face and kept drinking.  I have been working on increasing my calorie intake on the bike.  I have been racing on 100 calories per hour on the bike which causes me to run out of energy very early on the run course, generally 6-8 miles in.  I literally felt like I was eating non-stop during the bike ride but was very happy to report to coach on Monday that I ate 250 calories per hour on the bike!  As expected near the start of loop 3, the first fast girl came by me.  I waited and waited for more girls and never saw any.  I started to think they had passed me when I had my flat.  As I came upon the final 4 miles, I rode up next to my good friend and training partner CH.  'Let's get this shit done!', I shouted and we took off.    

Bike 5:45:38

T2 1:19
T2 is a blur.  I literally threw off my helmet, threw on my Newtons and carried everything in my hand as I exited the tent, putting on my race number belt and visor as I ran.

The Run
I was aiming for sub-4 hours on the marathon.  In truth I had trained for a 3:45.  Why do I put this out there?   A lot of people don't publicize their goals because one-coach-or-another told them not to.  Or because they don't want to feel bad if they don't reach their goals.  Or for a variety of different reasons.  I read once in a magazine why I shouldn't state my goals publicly, but to be honest the reasons never made any sense to me.  I've never been afraid of asking for what I want.  Obviously I don't always get it on the first try.  (Or second.  Or third.)  But one day, I am convinced I will.  And then I want EVERYONE to celebrate with me because they will know how long I have worked for this.

The run was going very smoothly.  It wasn't comfortable.  It wasn't easy.  But I was hitting my goal times.  I took the advice of Hillary and literally ran the marathon one mile at a time.  Every single mile was a new challenge.  Could I hit my time now?  OK, how about now?  And 8 miles later... now?  I was taking in calories on schedule.  I was well hydrated.  As the miles progressed I hurt more and more.

I caught up with CH around mile 11 and we fell into stride together.  We never said a word to each other, except once I think I remarked about how f**king hard this felt.  We just ran.  It was so nice to have her there as a distraction as we entered the start of the second loop.  There were athletes who were finishing the race, and we still had 12 miles to go.  We ran and ran, and she was with me when the final podium finisher in my age group passed me.  I almost felt sorry for myself for a minute, but then remembered that I still had the opportunity to make this my best run ever.

Running with my amazing training partner, CH.

We rounded the north side of the lake and soon passed Hillary near the 202 overpass.  She screamed some encouragement at me and it gave me a little boost.  Somewhere near the marina on the way back CH picked up the pace and I couldn't stay with her.  I chased her up and over Curry and back under the 202.  Soon she was out of sight.  Hillary was there again and told me I ALWAYS have another gear, even when I don't think I do.  I let those words sink in and I picked up the pace.  I repeated her words over and over in my head the final 3 miles.  I always have another gear.  I always have another gear.  Step by step by step.  As I crossed the bridge at Priest I felt like I was flying by people.  It was getting dark and I had a hard time distinguishing who was who on course.  What if there was someone in my age group up ahead?  It spurred me on to go a little faster.

Rounding the final 2 corners to the finish line were surreal.  I could hear the crowds cheering.  A couple friends jumped into the road to spur me on and in my delirium I staggered a little bit.  I heard Mike Reilly call my name, 'you are an ironman!'  And when I didn't respond, he called me out again.  I said, 'you are an ironman!!!'  I raised my hands over head as relief crossed my face and I crossed the line.  A PR by 1 minute.  But my best Ironman marathon by 14 minutes!

Run 4:03:45

The finish!!  No matter how the day goes, the finish is meant to be a celebration.


Total time:  10:53:01

The volunteers caught me (literally) and quickly delivered me into the arms of my teammates.  Hillary was there and gave me a huge hug.  I was not on the podium, but this was a big step in the right direction and I was very happy with the progress.

Hug from the boss at the finish.  

We camped out at the finish line and waited for DB to finish.  I had passed him around mile 14 of the run and he finished about 30 minutes behind me.  A few seconds behind him was another friend and training partner MT who, despite the wind, had a PR of over an hour!!  Seeing her achieve this goal was definitely the highlight of my day.  I know how hard she has worked over the last 2 years to achieve this.

Celebrating a PR with MT!!

DB curled into his usual fetal position at the finish, and with the sun down I was getting cold.  A friend KM helped me gather our bikes and gear bags and bring them back to the finish line.  We said our goodbyes and hobbled back to the hotel a half mile away.

Monday morning was chaos.  I generally don't sleep after Ironman because my body is too sore and I can't get comfortable.  This race was no exception.  We headed out to breakfast early and then over to Tempe Beach Park to talk to some friends in line for 2015 registration.  We perused the gear tent and then headed back to the hotel to pack up.  We made it back to Tempe Beach Park for the awards ceremony and Kona allocation.  Many of my TriScottsdale teammates were on the podium receiving awards and several of them are heading to Kona next fall.

My age group was awarded 3 slots.  The final slot rolled to 4th place.  I finished 6th.  I would be lying if I said this didn't sting a little.  But I do not have any regrets about my race.  I know that my day will come and when it does it will be all the sweeter for the effort I have put in.  Next stop:  Texas.

***********************************

It takes a village to compete in Ironman.  And mine is no exception.  Thank you, Hillary Biscay, for taking a chance on me and for teaching me so much in the last 10 months.  I am looking forward to 2015 and getting stronger, faster, better. The day that I stand on the podium and take my certificate to race on the Big Island will be the proudest day of my life.  I can literally taste the salty sea air, and it motivates me to work hard every day.  

Thank you to my husband, DB.  Your endless support and encouragement keep me going.  Thank you for tolerating my mood swings, the grouchiness, and my 7 pm bedtime.

Thank you to Nate and Brandon at Endurance Rehab.  I was not made to be a runner, but with your help I am.  

Thank you to my Team HPB teammates.  Knowing that there are others who experience similar feelings of fear, doubt, elation, and joy makes this sport that much more enjoyable.  I love sharing this journey with all of you.  Many of you I got to know at the team camp last spring, and it has been so much fun watching each of you achieve goals over the year.  Can't wait for March!!

Thank you TriScottsdale!  Best. Support crew. EVER!  Running past your tents on the run course gave me the boost I needed to PR my run by 14 minutes.  Thank you for your support and cheerleading!!  I cannot wait to represent one day at the big dance.  I will make you proud!

Thank you to Paraic and his team at Cyclologic.  Paraic suggested some things after Ironman Texas and when I implemented them in training, and racing, they have made all the difference in the world!  He continues to amaze me with his knowledge and I am grateful to have them on my team.

And last but not least, thank you thank you THANK YOU to the BEST training partner ever!!  MP swam with me nearly every single workout since January.  She woke up extra early when I needed to swim at 4 am (and never complained once!).  She pushed me through every interval workout.  Many times I told her the splits and let her set the pace.  I knew if I could just keep up, I would hit the target.  She watches me and makes subtle suggestions- improving everything from my flip turn to my back stroke, and everything in between.  She is a brilliant swimmer and helped me improve my swim beyond what I could do alone.  You are the BEST!!!      
  

    

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Taper: A New Approach

Saturday November 1
After 10 full months of working with Hillary, I know that as I approach race day it is not going to feel the same as the previous 7 years.  In the past, I followed [insert random training plan here] which prescribed a 3 week gradual taper.  I HATED it.  I was grouchy.  I felt sluggish, and bloated, and not at all peppy.  By the time race day arrived I was a mess.  I mean, don't come close to me because I might scratch your eyes out - too much unused energy, too much sitting around.  Now, on race day it was... fine.  I swam, biked and ran and had enough energy to get through the day.  But I didn't have that little something extra.  I made progress, because I was consistent in training for 7 years.  But there was never going to be anything special.

Nowadays, I am pushing the envelope with distance, speed and volume all the way until 10 days prior to race day.  I have come to recognize the signs that I am almost at my limit... almost.  Hitting the goal of each workout becomes more and more challenging even if it's a goal I've hit a dozen times before.  My level of sleepy-tiredness is magnified ten-fold.  I am on the verge of breaking physically and mentally.  Everything hurts.  Not "injury" hurt.  But ache hurt.  Soreness hurt.  Fatigue hurt.  She takes me right to the brink, dangles me over the edge and then snaps me back just in the nick of time.
The other day, after finishing a grueling 5 days block, I logged on and saw the workouts prescribed for the rest of the week.  I nearly broke down in tears.  OK, I did shed a few actual tears, but I quickly reminded myself that there's no crying in baseball.  It had taken me 4 tries over 2 months to accomplish the goal of one particular run workout.  Now, when I am at my most fatigued, I am supposed to nail the intervals once again.  But 2 days later when I execute the workout, on still tired legs, I could not have felt more strong.  And damn if I didn't hit the goal.

And I think that's the difference, the key to this approach.  I feel so fucking strong.  I am tired.  Yes.  I am fatigued.  Yes.  I would LOVE to sleep past 4 am.  Yes.  But I am so. fucking. strong., and I feel strong, and when race day rolls around you will see my strength.

When I get on my trainer for my second interval workout of the day and pedal through the warm up at barely 12 mph, and still manage to squeak out the power numbers needed I feel amazing.  Even when I start to fall apart and my numbers start dropping... I start talking myself through every single interval..you can do this.... you CAN do this!, and I am able to gain those numbers back.

Monday November 3
By some miracle, I feel better this week than I did 7 days ago, despite having another week of hard efforts on my legs.  On Sunday, I repeated my 2 hours of intervals on the beeline, only this time it was in the middle of a long ride.  Last week I followed the intervals up with a HARD swim on Monday and a 20 miler at race pace on Tuesday.  I literally fought for every single mile on that run.  I told myself "If you don't hit this pace, Hillary is not going to let you run outside.  You are going to be on the treadmill where she can control the pace.  You have to hit this pace.  You HAVE to hit this pace."  Now, this may be true or it may not be true, but it's what I needed to tell myself in order to keep fighting when my body wanted to slack off.  When I am 15 miles into the marathon at Ironman, my body is going to feel the same way and I need to be able to keep fighting for every mile.

This week, I followed up the long interval ride with an 18 miler at race pace... and I felt pretty darn good.  No.  I felt so fucking strong.  I met a friend for a 5 am start, and we clicked off miles a few seconds under target pace.  Mile after mile.  By the time I started to feel a little fatigue creep in we were past 12 miles.  I got a little quiet as I focused a little more on working the pace.  We never let up.  We finished our final 6 miles as fast, or a few seconds faster than the first 12.

And it is with this effort I build confidence for race day.  Every time I think I can't take anymore.  Every time my legs feel too tired, too fatigued.  Every time I accomplish a goal during training, I feel more and more ready for race day.  I feel strong.  Really strong.  This is a new feeling.  I've been ready before, but I've never felt this. fucking. strong.

Wednesday November 5
Trainer ride with hard power intervals followed by steady state race effort.  Leg's are not feeling as zippy as I had hoped after feeling so great on Monday!  But this is completely normal.  I should have felt worse on Monday than I did, and today my legs just showed the fatigue a bit.  On top of that, I transitioned to a run and it was super windy!  Like unseasonably windy.  This could throw in a bit of turmoil to those from out of the area coming in for race day.  All the more benefit for me!

Saturday November 8
Fun little splash n dash in the books today!  I showed up early to do a 45 minute spin before getting in the water.  It was a good open water swim practice with a fast and furious 2k followed by a 5k run.  I was out of the water lickety-split and was running scared.  At the turn around I could see the 2 men behind me closing in fast.  I ran hard and even had to sprint to the finish to not get caught.  I ended up only a minute off of my 5k pr... after biking and swimming!  Yes, I am ready!  After the dash, I hopped back on my bike and headed to work for the rest of the day.

Thursday November 13
I am officially caught up on sleep.  After several days off of work allowing me to sleep for 11 hours at night, plus a nap in the afternoon, I'm back to feeling refreshed and awake before my alarm goes off in the morning.  Today I ran and biked easy before work and it took me until after I finished before I realized that I had shaken off "the taper" and actually felt pretty good.  No more baby-deer-just-learning-to-walk wobbliness when I run.  Just in time for race day!

Saturday November 15
A quick little run and spin before heading to Tempe to check into our hotel!  I was instructed to run "easy" which means I don't look at my watch.  When I got back I was thrilled to see my "easy" pace was actually my regular easy pace not my in the middle of huge training block easy pace.  At some point in training you start to wonder if you're ever going to run fast-easy again... today I did!  It is GO time!!

12 hours to go....Final thoughts:

Heading into race day I think about how truly lucky I am to be able to do the thing that I love, day after day, month after month, year after year.  I never take one day for granted, especially watching my husband struggle coming back from injury.  Every day, even when I am exhausted, I look forward to getting up and challenging myself in my assigned workout.  I am already planning to meet with Coach on Monday to talk about the off-season and how to make me stronger for 2015.

My heart breaks for my friend H. who had to pull out of the race at the last minute.  Her heart was 100% in it, but due to some ongoing health problems it would have been the absolute wrong decision for her to get in the water.  I will be thinking of her every step of the way tomorrow.  This one is for her.

I am so so incredibly lucky to be working with Coach Hillary.  I have 100% faith and trust in her plan and I have seen massive changes in the last 10 months- just day to day in training.  When I signed on with her, I had mentally committed to a 3 year plan.  We are officially nearing the end of season 1 and absolutely cannot wait to get back to work on season 2!!  Every single day I have support from my Team HPB mates who encourage me and inspire me.

I am anxious, excited, nervous about what tomorrow will bring.  One thing I am NOT is AFRAID.  As you have probably noticed, I am pretty open about my dreams and feelings.  I am not blind.  I am not naive.  I know exactly what I'm up against.  I am 100% prepared to give all that I have, every time I toe the line.  I am not afraid to fail.  I know that I will try, and fail, 100 times before I succeed.  But I will never succeed unless I try.  Good night, and sweet dreams of racing.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things

Fall.  Not Arizona fall.  But Fall fall.  Midwest fall.  Crisp air.  Football games.  Fires burning.  Thunderstorms.  Curling up on the couch with a good book and a blanket.  Running through leaves that crunch underfoot.  Hot apple cider.

Pizza.  I am not sure I would want to live in a world without pizza.  New York style.  Slight crunch to the crust.  Heavy with tomato and basil.  Perfectly round globs of real mozzarella cheese.  

My family.  When pressed most people probably say they like their family.  Love, actually.  But my family?  My family is freaking awesome.  I mean, it's like we're related or something.  They are a spirited, loving, life-living, fun-seeking, we-only-live-once bunch and when we're together you never know what's going to happen.

Hard workouts.  Long, hard workouts.  Short, hard workouts that make me feel like I am going to die.  Intervals.  Heavy breathing and rapid heart rate.  Gasping for air at the end of an interval.  Workouts that I have anxiety about for days in advance.  Workouts that I question if I can hit the goal, and then celebrate completely, whole-heartedly when I do.  Workouts that make me fall asleep when my head hits the pillow at night.  Workouts that I feel in my muscles for days.  Workouts that make me ravenously hungry.  Workouts that make me want to puke.

Christmas tree lights.  And instrumental Christmas music.  Think Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  Dark winter evening.  Quiet house.  Twinkling lights and the smell of dinner in the crock pot.

Running before dawn.  No light but the stars and a few street lanterns.  No sounds except maybe the crickets.  Pitch black.  I can hear my own breathing and foot steps.  Running for hours and ending up at home just as the sun is coming up and the neighborhood is stirring.  Having that time just for me.

Coffee.  The smell of coffee.  The way the coffee coats my cup when it is perfectly brewed in my French press.  Coffee enjoyed with my sister while we solve all the world's problems.  Coffee with a good book.

Kittens.  Purring, playful, perfect balls of fur.  Growing up to be cats.  My cats.  My cats that greet me when I come home and snuggle on my lap at night.

Exploring new trails.  Having no time limit.  Just running or hiking in a new direction to see where it takes me.  I once hiked the Clear Creek Trail in the Grand Canyon solo.  My family was napping in the bunk room at Phantom Ranch.  I had the trail to myself on a warm sunny day.  It was peaceful and exhilarating.   Once on New Year's Eve I wanted to run 18 miles to make it over 1500 miles for the year.  I went to my favorite park and just ran.  I explored trails I'd never run before with no care for time, just the miles.  I started with a full 3 liters of water in my pack and turned back when I had drank more than half.

Rainy days.  Rainy days when I have nothing to do but open a window, curl up on the couch with a blanket and a good book.  Rainy days when the weather is just a little bit chilly.  Rainy days when I get to run in the rain!

Football games.  Swimming.  Swimming and having the pool to myself.  Swimming with my training partner and challenging each other.  Reading.  Cooking.  Eating!  Racing.  Dreaming about new races.  Planning.  Planning for races.  Planning vacations.  Planning the future.  Reaching a new PR.  Running a new distance.

Sharing some of my favorite things with my favorite people!


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Building Power

October.  The time for crunching through fallen leaves.  Drinking good beer.  Sipping hot cider and pumpkin spice lattes with a good book.  The morning air is crisp despite the days still being warm and sunny.  The windows are left open and in the middle of the night you reach for the blanket to ward off the chill.

I am overcome with the urge to run.  Run long distances.  On soft, dirt covered trails.  Over mountains and through the desert.

Just because it's fall.

Some people get spring fever anticipating the change to nicer weather.  Here in the Valley of the Sun, I get fall frenzy.  Spurred on by that subtle change in the weather that reminds me there are days that don't require heat advisories.  Some people go into hibernation, pack on a few pounds.  I lace up my running shoes and pound the pavement.

While most people are wrapping up their racing season in Kona or New York City, I am prepping for my final build to Ironman Arizona.  In the process I am looking forward to next year and beginning to set goals for the season ahead.

Since coming back from Wisconsin Coach put me back on trails once a week and has had me knocking out some hard workouts on the bike utilizing my new Powertap.  My husband has remarked on several occasions that he hasn't seen me work this hard since our build up for IMAZ 2012 (my PR race).  And it's true.  Since 2012, I slacked off on the bike and lost some fitness.  Now, with the truth staring me in the face, there's no avoiding work.  I can no longer rely on my "perceived exertion" which, let's face it, is less than accurate.



Little by little, I am starting to gain fitness on the bike.  I love the feeling of being completely smashed after a hard 4 hour ride.  I had forgotten that I could feel like this after a bike ride.  It's generally a feeling reserved for the longest of long runs.  And I am thriving.  I crave that endorphin fix, and the burn in my legs.  The feeling of complete exhaustion combined with accomplishment.

Little by little I can see how this new tool is going to revolutionize my training and racing.  I start to look to next year.  I know that Arizona is too soon.  In analyzing my training and racing data, what we have discovered is that I have been taking it way to easy in training and then when I race I push myself far beyond anything my body has been prepared for.  And subsequently I don't have the legs I need to execute the marathon.  Ironically, I can cheat my way through the half iron distance and still manage to post podium or near podium results.  But when it comes to Ironman, my weakness is exposed.  The good news is that with the right training, my bike leg is about to be revolutionized and I will be able to get off the bike and run the pace that I know I can run.  I don't have enough hours in the remaining 5 weeks to do the work that needs to be done.  But maybe, just maybe, by May I will be an entirely new athlete.  With weeks upon weeks of work behind me, and redefined legs as proof.



I've been doing a lot of reading lately.  Athlete's blogs.  My coach's blog.  Random people on facebook who have an opinion about what it means to follow a dream.  One thing I have come to realize is that some dreams are never going to happen.  No matter how much I love ballet and worked hard through my childhood to be the best dancer I could be, my body will never be that of a ballerina.  I have a weird pelvic alignment.  I am not able to turn my hips out.  It's never going to happen.

I have also realized that when a dream is within reach, only relentless hard work, laser focus and single-minded dedication will chip away at the proverbial rock day after day until one day that rock bursts into a million pieces and I am left standing at the top of the podium.  

I am not afraid of work.

I am not afraid of commitment.

I am not afraid of having a dream... and putting it out there for all to see.

I am not afraid of Finding Kona.  No matter how long it takes.



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I AM

I am a daughter.

My parents have been married for 44 years.  They live in the town I grew up in.  They love to travel and be outside.  My mom took up hiking and loves to venture into the mountains with her mountaineering brother.  My dad still works at the practice he started with his own hands, but hopes to retire soon and spend more time with his grandkids and traveling with my mom.  They love to go to wine country and Colorado.  My favorite adult vacation was when our entire family spend Christmas in Yellowstone National Park a few years ago.  Due to the heavy snowfall during the winter, everyone is shuttled into the park on a big "snow cat" and there are no cars- so you can't escape.  You spend the days cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and lounging by the fire with a hot beverage.  One morning we snow-shoed the trail up to the overlook above Old Faithful.  It was truly amazing to experience the stillness of the chilly morning and be surrounded by family watching one of the many wonders of our world.

I am a sister.

I grew up with constant playmates.  I love my sisters and could not imagine being an only child.  My two sisters are married to some pretty kick-ass men.  I have 3 nephews, and 1 niece all under the age of 10.  And one more on the way.  I'm hoping for a girl, but I'll take whatever they give me.  I can't wait to hold him/ her.

I am a wife.

I met my husband 10 years ago in October.  I don't believe in love at first sight, but this was pretty darn close.  From the moment of our first conversation, I was won.  He is smart and creative.  He makes me laugh every single day.  He knows me, sometimes better than I know myself.

I am a veterinarian.

It was the only thing I ever wanted to do.  From the time I was 6 years old, my parents say, I wanted to be a vet.  I worked for my veterinarian in high school.  Mostly cleaning and walking dogs.  But I loved it.  I grew up with cats.  My dad got me my first cat when I was 9.  We saw a sign on the local feed store advertising kittens.  Little Lucky was so sick, but he was a fighter.  I had him until after I graduated from veterinary school.  I was 24 when he died.  I never remembered a time before him.  It felt like a part of my heart had been ripped from my chest.  I was holding him when he passed and it was unexpected and quick.  He did not suffer.  Only I did at his loss.

I am a business owner.

My husband and I opened our running store 19 months ago.  It is truly a passion and we love being involved in the running community.  Showing up every Thursday morning for the group run that I lead is a highlight of my week.  I love seeing so many familiar faces, and a lot of new ones, every week.  It is comforting having a routine where friends meet to run.

I am a triathlete.

I never played sports growing up.  I started running after vet school to get in shape.  When my husband and I moved to Arizona it was a natural progression as there are so many triathletes here.  Through triathlon I have gained confidence, a competitive spirit and an admiration for what the human body is capable of.

I am a stepmom.

My stepdaughter is turning 16 a couple of weeks.  I was the first one to let her practice driving because her parents were too scared.  She is a sweet, smart, beautiful girl with dreams of going to college to study medicine.  She loves to watch football (college and NFL) and knows all the players and their stats.  She's funny, and quick with the comebacks.  She is adored by both (all!) of her parents.

I like to ride my bike.

I like to ride my bike because I love the sense of freedom and the wind blowing in my face.  I like to feel my legs working hard and the sun warming my skin.  I like to ride my bike because it's time that I get to spend outside, often with my husband or my friends.  I don't ride my bike to annoy you.  I try never to venture outside the bike lanes.  I stop at stop signs and stop lights.  I wear brightly colored clothing, not to show off but because I hope that it helps you to see me better.

It only takes a second to kill a person on a bicycle, or cause significant harm.

A person on a bicycle might be riding to work, or to school, or just for fun.  One morning a couple of years ago I was out for a run.  There was a teenage boy riding his bike to school, which is extremely common in Arizona because weather permits kids to walk or bike to school year round.  I witnessed a minivan make a right-hand turn into a gas station parking lot and sideswipe the boy.  He did get back up after being hit, thank God.  The driver did not even get out of the car to make sure he was OK.  She rolled down her window to check.  This woman had children, and may have been on her way to drop her kids off at school.  If it had been her child, how would she feel if the driver did not even get out of the car?   Would she feel hurt?  Offended?  Saddened that the driver felt so little toward the human being that was just struck the she didn't even get out of the car?

Almost every single person I know in the triathlon/ cycling community has been hit or run off the road at one time or another.  If you've been riding a bike long enough, it's only a matter of time.  Or at least that's how it seems.  But it doesn't have to be that way.

If you put down your phone, you might save a life.  If you keep your eyes on the road, you might save a life.  If you watch for cyclists or pedestrians when you want to make a turn, you might save a life.  If you understand that it's not about you, and it's not about me either, you might save a life.

Don't take such personal offense when you see someone out riding their bike.  Maybe they can't afford a car, or they have a medical condition that prevents them from having a license.  Maybe they ride a bike to stay in shape.  Or maybe they ride because they love the feel of wind in their face and the freedom from life's problems for an hour.

I know there are cyclists who don't obey the law.  I know there are drivers who don't obey the law.  There are people who don't obey the law.  Unfortunately this is not going to change.  The question is are you going to be one of them?  Will you text and drive?  Will you drink and drive?  Will you be distracted by your kids fighting in the back seat when you drive?  Will you take your anger out on a person riding a bike because you feel they are inconveniencing you?

Or will you pay attention when you drive, every time you get behind the wheel?  Will you slow down, take a deep breath, and wait until you safely can pass a cyclist with a minimum of 3 feet as required by law?  Will you see me as a person?  A wife, and mother, and sister, and daughter?  Or will you see me as an inconvenience to you when you get behind the wheel?

My husband was run off the road yesterday by a distracted driver who swerved into the bike lane, forcing him to hit the curb to avoid being struck.  As he went down hard, his ribs absorbing the impact, the driver drove away and left him lying there.

5 years ago, I was run off the road by a driver hauling a boat.  The boat swung into my lane and forced me into the gravel which threw me off my bike and into the lane of traffic.  The driver never stopped.

5 years ago my husband was run off the road by a truck hauling a trailer, leaving a garage sale.  My husband lay on the ground with 4 fractures in his collarbone and the driver never stopped.

2 years ago my friend was hit by a drunk driver.  Her body was thrown into the air and landed with such impact that she fractured both arms, her pelvis, her collarbone, tore all the ligaments in both knees, and punctured a lung.  She had to be helicoptered away from the scene.  The driver never stopped.

When will this end?  When will people care enough about another person to stop?  How do you hit someone and drive away?  I cannot begin to comprehend this.  We are all people.  We are mothers, daughters, fathers, brothers, wives.  We all share this one world for as long as we're here.  When will we matter enough?  As a person?  As a human being?

If you want to hate me, don't hate me because of what I AM.  Hate me because of something I have done to YOU.  Was I rude to you?  Hate me for that.  Did I say mean things or cause you physical harm?  Hate me for that.  Did I give you bad news about your pet?  Hate me for that (even if it's not really my fault, I'll understand...).  But don't hate me because I ride a bicycle.  Don't hate me because I like the color green.  Don't hate me because I love cats better than dogs.  These are things that don't affect you.  They have no impact on your life.

After his accident we received well wishes from many concerned friends.  I appreciate the support and am sorry if I tend to withdraw instead of reach out.  I am so so upset, it is sometimes hard to verbalize how I am feeling.  I think my rant to one friend pretty much sums it up...

If there is a God, this world is a huge fucking joke.  He must be so disappointed.  

Please, when you get behind the wheel, put your phone down.
Please, when you get behind the wheel, pay attention to the road.
Please, when you get behind the wheel, remember that the person on the bicycle, or the pedestrian, or the kid on his way to school is human just like you.

In all this overwhelming disappointment with the way of the world, and my compressive sadness, I would like to say thank you to the person who drove after the woman as she fled the scene yesterday and got her license plate number.  The only way to fight this epidemic is one person at a time and that license plate number was needed for the police report that was filed.  Thank you for caring.  Sincerely, truly, thank you.  

 



***I know that sometimes my family reads my blog so the following note is for them.***

Dear mom and dad,

I know I've told you before how much I love you.  Thank you for shaping me into the person I am today.  A wife, a stepmom, a veterinarian, an athlete.  Thank you for sharing your zest for life with me.  I know that you worry about me when I ride my bike and run long distances, and compete in Ironman.  I promise I do everything I can every day to stay safe.  I have blinky lights on my bike and try to ride with people as much as possible.  I try never to leave the bike lane or ride in places where I feel unsafe.  I love riding my bike, and I don't want to be afraid of living and enjoying life.  If I die, please know that I was doing something that I love.  

I hope to be around to say goodbye to you in your very old age.  I hope to see my niece walk down the aisle, and dance at my nephews' weddings.  I hope to be there when my stepdaughter gives my husband his first grandchild.  I hope that my sisters and I will still be taking "couples vacations" when we're in our 60s.  I hope to celebrate my 44th wedding anniversary with my husband.  But if I am not, then it was not meant to be.  I will always be with you.  My spirit and my joy will be evident in the lives of the people that are left behind.  Do not be angry, do not be sad for too long.  Celebrate the life that we have, no matter how short it may be.  And know that I will always, always love you.

XOXO
M-

        

                

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ironman Wisconsin: Uncovering Truth

Wednesday
I climb into bed, the sharp ache of the effort gone leaving only the emptiness of fatigue throughout my body.  The darkness surrounds me and doubt creeps into my mind.  I break the silence.

Me:  Do you think I'm wasting my time?

Him:  (long pause)  Let me ask you a question.  Is this what you really want? 

Me: Yes, I

Him:  Are you willing to keep working?  

Me:  YES, I 

Him:  Are you tired of it?  Do you have a passion for it or has that worn off?

Me:  No!  I really want it.  I will do anything I have to do.  I knew going into this that it was going to be a 2-3 year process.  I'm OK with that.  But... what if I can't?  What if I never get any stronger on the bike?  

Him:  You will.  But it doesn't matter.  Look at it this way, you don't have to be a Meredith.  You can be a Rinny. You don't have to be the fastest one on the bike.  You have to be as strong as you can possibly be so that you can run to your potential.  That is how you will win.

A quote from my coach's recent public speaking engagement runs through my mind as it does now almost daily.  If you're willing to keep showing up longer, and again and again and again, after everyone else has given up ...you'll get to where you want to go.    

Contemplating the road ahead.

Tuesday
I sit on the rickety spin bike with almost no load on the flywheel.  My legs turn the crank and my calves remind me of the effort 36 hours past.  My Garmin 510 is in my hand and I am flipping through my bike ride for the first time.  I scroll through the splits, divided into 4 neat segments of the 112 mile course.  In my mind I know the truth before my coach has to tell me.  This isn't going to cut it.  If I want to get to Kona one day I am going to have to get stronger on the bike.  I upload the file onto my phone, take a deep breath and email the data to my coach.  Is it wrong that I'm almost embarrassed to send her this information?  I am relying on her to help me get stronger, but having no prior power data to speak of, this is my first test.  And I feel like I've failed.  I know this is a stepping stone, and I keep reminding myself this is a process.  I cannot be impatient.  I have to be present every moment.  Do the work.  Keep chipping away at the proverbial rock.  Never give up.

Reenactment of the proposal.

5 years ago we got engaged at this finish line.





















Monday
She calls me in the afternoon to deconstruct.  I have been napping and now we're getting ready for dinner.  We talk about the positives from the race.  I tell her it probably didn't look like anything special on paper, but there was a lot of good stuff.  I felt super strong in the swim.  I had an opportunity right at the beginning, literally 5 minutes before the gun, to affirm my commitment to my plan.  He wanted me to line up closer to the buoy.  You're strong, swim with the main pack.  No, I said.  I have to stick with my plan.  I lined up far right to avoid the pack and a subsequent panic attack in the first 200 meters.  My plan worked, I had smooth sailing all the way to the first turn buoy which I reached with the front pack.  

I admitted, the bike ride crushed me.  So many people passed me in the first loop like I was standing still.  I felt like I maintained my effort and kept my pace consistent for the second loop, but I was hurting.  I definitely felt the effort.  But, I didn't get negative and stayed present.  I would not let my mind turn on me.  I remained positive and though I cursed at those shitty, rutted farm roads MANY times, I didn't let the thoughts remain.  I verbalized, took a deep breath, and pedaled on.  We confirmed that I need to take in more calories on the bike, but now that we know what works, we can up the intake.

I fought back on the run.  Despite a bad patch in the middle, I fought back and finished my final 10k strong.  This was a first.  Generally once I've fallen off, my pace continues to slide.  But I was using this race as practice.  Even though I knew my pace was well below the leaders in my age group, I still used other athletes on course to work off of.  I didn't want them passing me.  I fought to stay with them when they did.  This is important work for my progress as an athlete and necessary for me to see that I CAN make myself run hard even when it doesn't feel good.  This was my most important piece of the puzzle.

Sunday
140.6 miles:  11 hours, 49 minutes, 45 seconds


Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Finish

26.2 mile run:  4 hours, 24 minutes, 59 seconds.

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Finish Chute

Mile 139.9.  The guy I've been back and forth with all day catches up to me again on State Street.  We congratulate each other briefly as he passes me on the way to the finish line.  He's a graduate student in physics at the University of Wisconsin.  His fiance is on the east coast and couldn't be here to see him finish his first Ironman.  His friends are here and he is in good form.  He'll be fine.  I climb the final hill to the capital.  I make the final lap around the capital listening to Mike Reilly's voice.  When I hear my name, I raise my arms in victory and smile for what feels like the first time all day.  I smile in relief because I'm done and I can stop running now.

Mile 133.4.  I'm walking up the hill at Observatory Drive.  In one hand I have a cup of salty potato chips.  In the other hand I have a double shot of Coke.  I keep telling myself, the race starts at mile 20 of the marathon.  I have to pick it back up.  I had been running strong for the first half, but somewhere along the way my energy dipped.  I have been trying to get back in front of my calories now for several miles.  This is it.  There's another girl in Smashfest coming the other way.  I will not let her pass me.  I pick up my pace a little bit and force my aching legs into the effort.  At every aid station I grab a little bit of calories.  Another Honey Stinger gel.  A cup of Coke.  Perform.  Chicken broth.  Keep the fluids coming.  Pretty soon, my legs begin to respond and recognize my pace.  It hurts just a little bit less and I pick it up a little bit more.

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Run Course

Mile 128.4.  I'm heading toward the Camp Randall Stadium for the second time.  I'm still feeling good but not quite the same as my first 8 miles.  My mind knows I'm too far off pace but this is my opportunity to practice racing.  I keep running.  I see him coming from the other direction.  He doesn't look good.  He's wobbly and staggers a little bit to my side of the road.  He's been puking for hours.  I tell him there's an aid station around the corner.  Go there, rest, and get some calories and fluids.  He tells me he's dropping out.  I keep running.

Mile 120.4.  My mind and my body are reeling.  I have zero recollection of hills on this run course.  I feel like I've been slapped in the face.  A rude awakening.  With the gradual climb through the neighborhood, and the several steeper climbs, I am feeling every ounce of effort.  I stick to my plan taking in gel at regular intervals and water at every aid station.  My stomach has been solid all day affirming that my new hydration/ nutrition plan on the bike works.  But why didn't I remember these hills?

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Run Course

T2.  I'm so happy to be off the bike.  I can't wait to start running.  I dump the contents of my  transition bag on the floor.  I slip into my running shoes, grab my race belt and visor and run out the door.  2 minutes 9 seconds.

112 mile bike:  6 hours, 17 minutes, 3 seconds.

Mile 82.4.  Almost there, almost there, almost there.  I keep telling myself this so that I don't lose focus.  I am counting down the miles till I'm back on the stick heading toward the finish.  The roads on the course are brutal.  Jarring.  My body is trashed from bracing against every pothole and rut in the road.  My bike feels like it's falling to pieces.  My xlab has completely slipped, that happened in the first 20 miles.  My derailleur which was nice and quiet at the beginning of the ride now resists changing gears and is making a lot of noise with the effort.  There are still people passing me, just not as fast now.  And I am passing a few people back.  That feels pretty good.  My energy levels are stable.  My mind is clear and focused.  I am getting this done.

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Bike Course

Mile 32.4.  I can't think about how far I have left to go.  I have to stay in the moment.  One down side of being a good swimmer and an average cyclist is that I am literally getting passed by everyone.  I take a deep breath and keep going.  I have to race my race.  Keep my head in the game.  My watch beeps to remind me when to eat.  I stick to my plan.

T1.  I swam under an hour.  I swam under an hour!  Confirming my progress wasn't a fluke, and sticking with my plan at the start line was the right decision.  I swam under an hour.  How long is this freaking transition?  I am spinning up the helix and into the change tent.  The volunteer is trying to be all calm and taking her time.  I throw my bag on the floor, not even bothering to sit down.  I strap my helmet on, grab my shoes and sunglasses and run out the exit.  I holler thanks! over my shoulder as the volunteer is explaining how she'll pack up everything for me.  I'm gone before she can finish her thought.   5 minutes 40 seconds.

2.4 mile swim:  59 minutes, 54 seconds.

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Swim Exit

Mile 1.9.  I am going nowhere.  Am I going nowhere?  Why do I feel like I'm swimming in place?  Since making the final turn toward shore I have hit some type of current and literally am swimming upstream.  I kick a little harder.  I try to pick up my turnover.  I can see the exit I just don't feel like I am getting any closer.

Mile 0.8.  This is freaking awesome!  I look to my left as I breathe and I am with the front pack as I converge with them on the first turn buoy.  I feel fantastic.  So strong.  My turnover is perfect, I am swimming a straight line.  Is it possible to get a runner's high while swimming?

Mile 0.0.  The national anthem is playing.  We have 5 minutes till the start.  He encourages me to move closer to the actual start buoy.  Swim with the main pack.  You're a strong swimmer.  I shake my head.  I think back to Texas.  I don't have time to explain all the thoughts running through my head right now.  There's no time.  I have to stick to my plan.  *BOOM*  The cannon sounds.

T minus 3 hours.  My alarm beeps.  It's race day.  

The capitol building in Madison, WI.  Backdrop for the IM Moo finish.

    

 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wrapping Up

Summer in the Valley of the Sun is the same and different from everywhere else in the country.  In most areas summer marks the season of vacation, of travel, of time off from school and more time with family.  In Arizona especially, people look for a reason to abandon the heat for a week or a long weekend.  For those of us without children and with full time jobs here in Arizona, there is less vacation and more of a "hibernation".  Either hibernation inside an air-conditioned building or as a triathlete, lots of long solo hours of training since everyone else is indoors.  Summer is about putting your head down and getting the training done in the hot, endlessly sunny conditions.  There are no races to speak of because no one wants to race when it's over 100 degrees at 7 am.  So between June and September everyone goes into hiding.  Myself included.  Only this summer, I've been holed up in my own little world trying to balance work and training and sleep.  I have been working my ass off, and loving every second of the training, pushing myself to new limits.

As summer wraps up and I am a mere 3 days away from the start of the fall racing season, I can look back over the last few months and see the progress I've made.  It's been a busy summer.  It seems like forever ago, when in reality it was 9 weeks ago when I was running across the Golden Gate Bridge.  And 6 weeks since I ran through the woods in Tahoe.  4 weeks since I was in Canada crewing for Ultraman.  And the week after Ultraman I raced the Mountain Man Half IM in Flagstaff.  Rather than recount every detail of Mountain Man, I thought I would share the recap I gave my coach in my workout log:

************************

For starters, I have been feeling really good physically.  Nothing more than what I would consider normal soreness which is great given my last 4 weeks of bonus activities.  The last night in Canada I only got 4 hours of sleep because the awards banquet lasted until after 11 pm and I had an early flight .... I know better for next time.  That set me up for a rough week because I was only getting 6-7 hours of sleep for the rest of the week.  

So waking up on Sunday morning, my brain felt like it was ripped out of a deep sleep (I'm usually always awake when my alarm goes off no matter how early).  I immediately felt nauseated and a little headache from not enough sleep.  The nausea lasted until I started the swim.  At one point in transition, I was kinda hoping I would get sick so I'd have an excuse not to race.  I'm glad that I didn't because it turned out to be a GREAT training day for me. 

Mountain Man is a really small event, and I'm generally trying to compete more with the men than the women, especially when there's not a lot of fast girls that show up.  AF told me in the morning that it would be my race to lose. 

I took off fast in the swim to gain a little separation from the group.  DB said by the first turn buoy (maybe 300 yrds?) I had two body lengths lead over JP (I think you met her?)  in second, and then dropped her shortly after the turn.  She was 2 minutes back coming out of the water.  I didn't push the swim after the first turn buoy, knowing I'd want a little oxygen in my legs when I hit the bike.  I was happy to come out of the water in 29:23 since I know I could have swum a lot harder, and there were only two boys who swam faster.  And I was 2 minutes faster than last year. 

On the bike, I pushed as much of the flats/ downhills as I could.  On the uphills, I switched to an easy gear to spin but kept my effort consistent.  I ended up passing a lot of guys on the ups.  We had some horrific crosswinds in the final 15 or so miles.  Normally wind is my kryptonite, but I just remembered what you told me months ago- and I was seriously talking to myself out loud... Keep my rear in the saddle, and my weight in the aero bars....  By focusing on that I didn't get freaked out, and was able to stay aero and just go with it.  Came off the bike in about 2:56, 5 minutes faster than last year.

It's really hard to compare this run course to other half im's.  Clearly, I ran no where near my "normal" half IM run pace for something like Oceanside.  But this course is a lot harder, and at elevation so I try to just compare to previous years.  I have always blown up on this run course.  At 1.5 miles in, there is a 1.5 mile switchback that you climb, turn around and descend, and then the final 9 miles are slightly rolling hills (no crazy hills, if you were just out for an easy run you might not even notice that you're going uphill).  This year, I made a conscious effort not to go out crazy in the first mile and half.  I got my run legs under me, took the hill comfortably and then when I got to the top, I picked up the effort a little.  When I hit the final 9 miles, I was pretty much spot on 9 minute miles for the rest of the course, which for me is a HUGE improvement in pacing.  I looked at my splits from last year, and in the final 5 miles I lost 10-15 seconds per mile.  This year, even when I was feeling bad, I was still able to push myself and hold onto my pace.  I think I was a little slower than last year overall pace, but the course was also a half mile longer than last year and I haven't looked at the pace on my garmin yet so not exactly sure.  But this is the BEST I've ever run on this course performance-wise.  And I was reeling in guys every mile.  (Ran 2:02 for 13.6 miles),  finished 16th out of 92 people:  5:32:07 (this is decent for me on this course, not my fastest.)

So... although I'm happy with the win, I'm most happy about my improvements from last year on the swim/ bike and how I did on the run.  I think it really showed me what is going to be required of me on the run course at ironman, and that when I feel like shit, I CAN still hold onto that effort.  There were so many times when I wanted to stop and walk and I refused to let myself do that.  Plus, I felt like my nutrition/ hydration plan on the bike really contributed to how I felt on the run - I came off the bike feeling fantastic (nutrition/ hydration-wise)  and just held onto that through the run-- staying diligent with my plan.  

First place Eagle trophy!  My teammate got the Bear for the men's title. 


And as much as I wanted another bear trophy, I decided that the eagle was more appropriate.  The eagle is a bird of prey, and from now on, I am a predator.  I will be the hunter until I have captured my prey.  

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The next weekend I biked Mt. Lemmon with a friend and finally stopped to take a photo at the sign I've wanted a pic of for the last 3 years:

Ha!  Middle Bear!  That's me!

Made a few upgrades to my bike! 

New Powertap!  Thanks Wheelbuilder.com!

Don't mind the sleeping kitten...
And who doesn't love kittens??  My babies are 19 weeks old.  They are finished with their kitten vaccines, and breezed through their neuters with flying colors.  From here on out it's cuddling, sleeping, eating, and entertaining everyone around them!

Blackie and Moo birdwatching.

Looking forward to my first race of the season in a few days, I am relaxed and confident.  I believe in my training, I believe in my coach and I believe in the work we've done over the last 8 months.  I know exactly what it will take for me to achieve my goal.  In a word:  Everything.  It will take absolutely every ounce of energy, every bit of focus, and every last thread of effort for me to do what my heart so desires.  I am not the most talented, but I like to think I have that little something extra.  The sheer will to accomplish the impossible.  

In my mind I know that when I signed on with Team HPB in January, I committed to a 2-3 year process to achieve my goal.  But in my heart I want it so badly it hurts.  The only other time I have felt this way about a goal was in 2009 when I was running to qualify for my first Boston Marathon.  Only this time, I don't control the outcome.  For Boston, there is a time goal.  I hit the time, I qualify.  For this race (affectionately known in my circle as "That Which Shall Not Be Named"), it is all dependent on who shows up on race day.  First place punches the golden ticket.  Everyone else stands in line and hopes there is an extra slot available at the end of the day.  If I give everything I have and execute the best race of my life, it still might not be good enough.  That is the toughest pill to swallow.  

I am committed to the process regardless of what happens on Sunday and am staying focused on the long term plan.  Sunday marks the 5 year anniversary of my engagement to my wonderful husband.  He has supported me all summer (year!) long and has driven me to and from both races in Flagstaff (I hate driving!!), been an awesome cheerleader and sherpa, and has encouraged me through all my ups and downs.  He was with me in Napa when I qualified for Boston, he's run Boston with me twice, and he knows the deepest desires of my heart.  I know on Sunday he will be with me from start to finish.  Regardless of my placement when I cross the finish line on Sunday, we will be celebrating.          
  
Vegas Marathon Run-Through Wedding Ceremony.  Where else would we get married?