Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ironman Coeur d'Alene

It is fair to say that I started this race with some doubts. Coming off of Ironman Texas just six weeks earlier with a DNF and an injury to get to the bottom of, I didn't know if I would even be able to start CdA until 2 weeks out. And even then, it was a leap of faith. I hadn't been able to get the volume in that I really wanted due to my low back/hamstring problems, and I was forced to take 10 days completely off of running through the process (which I told no one but Romney and BJ). But with an army of smart, talented and all around amazing people on my team (Greg Freebairn, Dr. Drew Cooper, Tyler Hanson - PT, Jeff Sherrod and BJ Christenson), we made it to the start line.

I arrived in beautiful Coeur d'Alene Thursday before the race, after a delightful 10 hour drive from Salt Lake City - by myself. Yep, traveling solo again meant I had a lot of "me time", which is really just time to get my head in check before the big day. I had the pleasure of staying in Post Falls with the most wonderful host couple, Tom and Marie Flanagan. Not only was their beautiful home on the Spokane River with views that were to die for, it was such a pleasure visiting with and getting to know them. They were a delight in every way!

Boat ride up the Spokane to Lake CdA with Tom and Marie

Pre-race relaxing - feet up!

Race morning was the usual routine. I arrived in T1 feeling great. Pre-race nerves per the usual. I wasn't super stoked about the conditions the day was throwing our way, but no one was. The wind was brutal and the water was chop chop! It was going to be an Ironman kind of day, one that wouldn't come easy and we would have to earn. But we all had to deal with it, can't waste too much energy there. All square in T1 and I head down to the water to warm up. I jumped into that choppy water and got a good warm up in. As much as I know that these conditions will affect me more than the strong swimmers, I was ok and in a good place.

Ready to rock! Photo by Myrleen Wright

I love this swim course! It's a beach start, which is just plain fun, and it's a two-loop out and back that makes it harder for me to find myself off course. And on this day, it was a great swim for me. I know, I know, the conditions were crappy, and it wasn't my fastest. But the time doesn't tell the whole story. So I will....

The girls and I line up along the beach start line and the canon fires. We're off! So for those of you that have followed me and my races, you know that I have struggled to stay with a group in the water. I typically lose feet and end up swimming alone by the half way point. But I have been practicing drafting in the open water (thanks Kathryn for being my draft buddy leading into this race!), and I think I'm seeing an improvement.

There we go! Another great pic by Myrleen

The first couple hundred yards are a good effort, and some body contact with the other girls. But by a quarter of the way out to the first turn, the lead pack with Heather, Kelly and Jess has pulled away. I knew they would. The good news is that I'm still in a group with 3 other girls, and we have settled in to a nice pace. I'm super pumped, and absolutely determined to stay with them. It feels like a washing machine out there, but I'm hanging on. The only thing I remember focusing on at this point is feet. Don't let those feet go! We make the first turn, and then the second turn back into the beach comes quickly. After rounding both corners, I'm still with them. The way back in was still bumpy, but a little faster. I make the turn into the second lap with the girls, and back out we go for round two.

Thanks Myrleen for the pic!

The second lap was a little crazy, simply because shortly after we made the turn to start lap two, the Age Groupers were let into the water. By about half way to the turn, we were swallowed up by the super speedy male AG swimmers. I was pretty sure that would happen, and I also knew that meant flailing and flogging with those guys. It is what it is and I carry on. As I made the last turn into the finish, I found myself taking in more water than normal due to the conditions and the mosh pit of people I was in. My fingers were crossed that it wouldn't cause me stomach problems later on in the bike. Wish was granted and stomach was good all day!

All in all I'm happy with my swim. I was able to find feet and stay on them the majority of the swim. Near the end our group of 4 broke up, due to the AG swimmers. It's ok. I learned a lot and will continue to build on it. Like I said, it wasn't my fastest swim, but as I look at the numbers, I was faster than I was at Texas. There were a couple girls that were also at Texas, and they weren't faster. To me that is progress, and I'll take it!

Quick run through transition and I'm out on the bike. There's a little chill in the air, but I knew I'd warm up because this course makes you work! Like the swim, it's a challenging two-loop bike course that offers plenty of scenery. The first section of the course is right along the lake, and within the first 15 miles I passed both Jennie and Cathleen. Jennie was having technical issues with her bike. I felt bad for her, bummer! I passed back through town, and then we head out onto the 95, which is where it gets really tough. It's a solid 20 miles of climbing, straight into a fierce head wind. It's a "put your head down and go to work" kind of bike ride.

My main focus is to stay on the nutrition and stay within my limits. I rode all day alone, but was able to see where the other girls are at at each turn. After battling the hills and wind out to the turn back into town, I could see I was making up time on the girls behind me. I knew it would be a screamin' fast ride back into town, and boy was it fun! A quick pass through town again, and I got my special needs bag which had my second bottle of GU Energy Roctane drink, and more gels. Gas in the tank, baby!

Second lap was more of the same. Hills and wind. And more wind. This was hard. And it was taking a long time. It didn't take a genius to know that we'd all be out on the course a little longer than normal, but I was still picking up time on the girls behind me, so I let the clock go. Just stay on the nutrition. The climb out to the final turn back in to town couldn't come soon enough. And when it did, my oh my was it wonderful. The final fast stretch back into town, and just a marathon to go!

As I came into transition, I saw Tom and Marie and heard then screaming my name. They really are awesome! It made my day to see them. And Chrystel, the super spectator of all spectators! Thrilled to be off the bike, I ditch it to a friendly volunteer, thank them and run through T2.

Still aero....

Out on the run, back is a little tight, but I'd expect that after a bike like that. It'll loosen. Legs a little heavy, but they'll come around. I start at a comfortable pace, just trying to get the legs underneath me. The crowds through town are amazing! Super energizing and just when I needed them - that first half mile up hill out of transition. A couple miles tick by and body is feeling better. The first 5 miles were just where I wanted them - 7:30-35's. Super consistent, and I didn't want to see anything faster than a 7:30. Right on the money! Up that terribly cambered hill, ugh! At the turn around I see the other girls. I can't tell if I'm putting any time in to the girls up ahead, but I have quite a gap on the girls behind me. I like it! But I also know that Jennie can run close to a 3 hour marathon, so I have to keep the pace up.

Photo by super-spectator Chrystel

On my way back into town everything feels great, except for the normal pain that comes at this point in an Ironman. But around mile 10, I start to feel some discomfort in my feet. What?!? I'm wearing the same shoe I've had such success with at this distance. Never even a hint of this at all. After all the injuries I've battled to get back to where I am, not one of those things are giving me any problem.  It's often the things you least expect on race day that throw you a curve ball. That's Ironman. And you have to deal with it as best you can and move on. And so I did. For several miles I was able to tolerate the pain without it affecting my pace THAT much. I had slowed a bit, but not substantially.

In the hurt box!

As I made the turn back in town to start my second lap, I could see my competition. I could see Jennie was running strong and closing the gap. I still had time on Cathleen. I also saw BJ and he looked focused, but good. The second lap turned into a game of me trying to figure out what I could do to ease the pain in both feet. Wondering if I just walked through one water station while stretching my ankles and wiggling my toes - would that be enough? I tried everything I could think of, but really the only answer was to just suck it up and get to the finish. Jennie flew past me around the 18 mile mark as I shuffled along. Eventually my only goal was to hold my position and not get passed again, which I did.

I was pretty happy to see the finish, and to get off my feet. I did what I could on the day, and I'm happy. No excuses. I was fortunate enough to hold on to finish 6th pro woman and in the money. Yay! I'm thrilled to have put my first Ironman finish behind me since injury. A special shout out to all my Utah friends who were out there with a smile on a tough day, ripping it up. Your cheers and courage were awesome! And to my great friend and amazing girl Jess Smith, congrats on finishing top 3! You inspire me! Next up? Ironman Wisconsin, and looking forward to it!

Proud to be with these ladies!

Thanks to all of my supporters, and especially my sponsors who make all of this possible and so much better! GU Energy, Rudy Project, Gnarly Nutrition, Canyon Bicycles, Greg Freebairn and BodyWise Fitness. Romney and the kids, you make me want to be better every day. BJ for getting me back to a good place. And once again to the Flanagans - thank you for opening your home to me and providing me with a wonderful Coeur d'Alene experience. I hope to be back!

Taking home the hardware!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Texas Double

You know the old saying... "Don't mess with Texas". Well I messed - twice! Texas fought back, and gave me everything it possibly could... Fun. Beauty. Excitement. Anxiety. Fear. Joy. Knowledge. Pain. Confidence. Gratitude. Wind. Rain. Heat. Kindness. Victory. Disappointment. Friendship. Great Food. Love. And in the end, I'm thrilled to be able to be on this journey. Even when it doesn't end the way you had envisioned it.

Let's go!

Round one was in April for Galveston 70.3. This was my first race back since injury last May. It was a "no pressure" race for me, just a good test to see where my fitness was at. But still... I was excited! I was nervous! I hoped I'd done enough!

I arrived in town Friday before the race, traveling solo for this one. I completely lucked out with the most awesome home stay. Thank you to the Amsalem Family! I didn't have to think about a thing, other than racing. Perfect!

It had been stormy for days, and the forecast predicted more of the same. Wind and rain. At the pro meeting the day before, there was talk of the possibility of the swim being cancelled. We were all praying for a swim (even me), and we got one.

I arrived at the race venue with my normal pre-race jitters. Into transition to rack my bike and get everything squared away. One last glance over everything, and I leave transition to make my way to the swim start. As I prepared to get in, I looked out into the water. Never have I jumped into such a dark and foggy Ocean before. It was intimidating, but also a little exciting. The canon fires and this party has started! The swim was rather uneventful, other than a bunch of chop and fog, and my normal "hang on for dear life and stay on feet as long as possible" plea. By the first of three turns I was alone (I know, a huge surprise!), but as I rounded the buoy, a saw a group of girls behind me. Awesome! Certainly wasn't my best swim time - 34:51 - but with these conditions and knowing there were girls behind me, I stayed positive.

Go, go, go!

Into transition with some of the girls, and bikes are still racked. I'm happy! I headed out onto the bike with a few of the girls. I never saw them again until the turn, when I was able to see where everyone was. They were not that far back, and coming. And there were plenty to chase as well. The wind was howling, and it was a cross tail wind all the way out of town. A crazy fast 28 miles to the turn, but we all knew what we had coming on the way home. Work.

First race where I could see better without glasses 

This bike ride was FUN! Despite the rain and wind, I was having a ball! These conditions don't typically bother me, as long as I'm not frozen. I wasn't cold, so life was good.  I just did what I could to settle in to my race and hopefully make up some time on some girls. After making the turn, my goal was to hold it at a steady effort all the way back home. I felt good and stayed very consistent. It took me 48 miles to catch the next girl in front of me (tells you how fast and tough these ladies are!), but I was never passed by a single person on the bike, even those speedy male age groupers. Bike split was 2:22:36, and I felt good about that. Now let's see if these legs can still run!

This run course was a spectators dream! It was 3 loops of roughly 4.4 miles each loop. And each loop had four fingers taking you out and back, you can only imagine how many times we turned around. But none the less the run was on and I felt good. Legs were there... for now.

This sign became oh so familiar!

As I ticked off the first few miles, my pace was a bit quick, and I knew it. Try as I may to back it off a bit, each mile ticked by and my pace was only but a second or two slower. I think I was just so thrilled to be back out there, I had a hard time slowing it down. And sometimes when you feel good, you just have to go with it. But as we all know, that can come back to get you later on. Ah, the lessons we learn on race day. By the half way point I had passed a few girls and was still feeling pretty good.

By about mile eight I felt my poor pacing catch up with me. Legs were starting to feel it, and my pace was slowing. I start remembering this familiar race pain, in which I was still grateful to be experiencing. By mile 11 it was simply hang on and get to that finish! The wheels came off, and it's ok. I take what I can learn and move on. Run split 1:35:02.

Photo credit: Wesley at Pro Bike Express

At the end of the day, I'm happy with my 4:35:58 and had a blast out there! The body felt good all day and no signs of any knee pain. I left plenty of room for improvement, but a good return to racing and start to my season!

I had a good solid 4 week build leading into Ironman Texas, which was next up. It included some fun spring break travel to Scottsdale, AZ with Romney and the kids and a trip or two to St. George for warmer weather training.

Just my favorites!

My recovery from Galveston and build into IM Texas went really well. I was excited. I felt fit. And after all, this is the distance I've been best at, and thus it's where my heart is. I love the challenge. I love the journey and the process. I love the battles you have with yourself, the ups and downs. I love that through the process we learn we can do things we thought we couldn't. I love the chance you get to visit the devil himself, look him in the eye, and choose to turn and walk away knowing well it's the harder path, but the only way to victory. And I love the inspiration I get from others. I was ready to return to the full Ironman distance and give it all I had.

Just before getting in the water

I was so grateful to have Romney here with me this time. I needed him! He kept my head in check and lightened everything up. He took care of everything and was there every step of the way. Being race spouse and sherpa is not an easy job, and he does it so well. Thank you my Love!

I'm out there somewhere

The Swim - oh my, what can I say?! This course was NOT best case scenario for me, but what do you do? Well, you just keep swimming. And so I did. It was a point-to-point swim broken down into three sections. A banana shaped out and back, then a hard right turn, like almost a u-turn, into a narrow canal where there were spectators on both sides. And when you end up swimming alone 1/3 into the race, you are left to navigate alone, and let's just say my open water navigation skills could clearly use some good practice. The best part of the whole swim was after making that hard right turn into the canal, I spotted Romney, and with each breath, there he was - smiling, shouting, encouraging - and taking pictures. Now this made me happy!

Just me!

Needless to say I was happy to exit the swim, and it certainly was not my best. 1:08. I entered transition with a few of the speedy male age group swimmers that had caught me, which I knew was a possibility. Time to re-group and get on the bike. Yes!

It always takes me a couple miles to get settled in and get my legs underneath me. By mile 10 I passed the next girl up. I felt good. Legs were good. Head was good.

We were pretty fortunate weather wise, temps were mild and humidity was low, unlike last year. We did have some wind to contend with on this beautiful, single loop course with rolling hills through the Texas farmlands. Like wind all day. In every direction. It certainly kept things exciting! I really only remember a short section - like 5 miles is all - around the 60 mile mark where I felt like there was a tail wind helping me.

I rode all day alone, with the exception of some packs of fast male age groupers that would pass me, then just stick themselves right in front of me and sit there. Often my only choice was to use a bullet and pass the whole bunch of them, or sit up and stop pedaling. So several times I'd make the move pass a group of 6-8, just to see them speed back up and pass me back within ten minutes. So frustrating! I was astounded at some of their disregard for rules and fair racing. I saw blatant drafting. I saw them pass each other and there was no effort to drop back to the legal distance once overtaken. I saw litter just thrown into the streets, nowhere near a feed zone. I do realize that this is not every male age grouper, but there was enough of it going on that it left a bad taste in my mouth. My goal is to race an honest and fair race, and the rules are very clear to me. There are no grey areas. I saw several red cards given, but not enough. The referees can't keep up. Enough said.

On my way out of town

Somewhere around mile 30, everything was going well when I start to feel a sharp pain going down my left leg. I don't think much of it initially, just stay on the nutrition and push forward. I have had some sciatic nerve issues in the past, after I was hit by a car back in 2011. This feels similar, and I dismiss it somewhat knowing that race day can bring out some unforeseen issues, but can usually be dealt with and you move on. So I start to look for little rollers just to come out of the saddle to change things up. I stretch when I see an opportunity. I do what I can to stay positive, and above all things, keep eating and drinking! This race is not over. I am troubleshooting in my head. I am reminding myself of other races when I haven't felt up to par on the bike, and then felt great on the run. And then somewhere around mile 70 I notice the pain has moved deep into my calf and my left buttocks is tingly and numb.

Doing everything I can to stay positive and manage the pain as best I know how, I power forward. Just at the right time, when I needed a little pick me up, I was surprised to hear Romney's voice cheering me on at mile 87. Wow! I didn't think I'd see him once I left town, but this man never ceases to amaze me. I was so excited to see him, what a great boost to help carry me through the last 25 miles of the bike. 

As I pass the hundred mile mark, my head moves on to anticipate what's coming next, the marathon. And I'm hopeful, I want to bury this little issue and move on. I top off the 1500 calories I'd already taken in with another GU Roctane, making sure I start the run topped off. My energy level and stomach were both great, thanks to my tried and true nutrition plan powered by GU Energy Labs. Could't do it without these guys! As I make the final few turns into transition, I see a few girls up ahead. Yes! I roll in just behind them and leap off my bike and toss it off to one of the awesome volunteers. These people make our races possible, and I try hard to thank as many of them as I can. Finished the bike in 5:17.

As I began my long run through transition, I realized that I not only had sharp shooting pain down my left leg, but that my low back was completely locked up. Never have I felt like this before, and I couldn't stop thinking about how silly I must have looked trying to run through T2 with my back locked up and hobbling from the shooting pains down my leg. None the less, I grab my bag and put my running shoes on. I wanted so badly to move on from the issues that had plagued me on the bike and have a solid run.

At this point, I figured my best shot of accomplishing that would be to run the first few miles relaxed and in control. Find the legs and let things loosen up. After just a few miles, I started to come to the realization that that may not happen today. This was different. I felt a severe and sharp pain, like a rope that had no give or flexibility going all the way down my leg and into my foot. I felt as if my heel was going to tear right off of my foot. At this point, I start to weigh the risk of continuing. After sitting out the entire season last year due to injury, I'm not willing to do it again. I'm heartbroken. I've never had a DNF before, and I surely didn't come to Texas for my first one. Lots of self talk going on at this point. I wrestled with myself. A lot. I cried. Yes, just past the aid station at mile 3 had tears coming down my cheeks.

As an athlete, you have to be mentally tough. We all know that it won't be easy, and we WILL push through some serious discomfort and hard times throughout the day. But this was different. This was sheer pain that I believed could have a serious consequence. Pulling the plug was without a doubt one of the hardest things I have ever done in a race. It took every ounce of mental toughness I had to accept my situation and make an educated decision.

There was a first aid tent near mile five, which is where I stopped and notified officials I couldn't continue. I called Romney on the phone, filled him in on my situation through my tears, and made a plan to meet him back at the main medical tent in transition. Once there, I turned in my chip, iced my body, and found Romney. I was so happy to see him, and for whatever reason, I needed his comfort and approval. He was so supportive, understanding and wonderful. We finished up business there and he took me out to a big, wonderful lunch.

This guy. Simply the best!

As two weeks have now passed, and I've had a lot of time to look back and reflect on the day, not once have I regretted the decision I made to pull the plug. There's no denying that I wish I wasn't in that situation. But I was. And under the circumstances, I am confident that I did the right thing. There will be more races. I am eager and excited to continue training and racing. I have been working hard to get to the bottom of this issue and continue my season.

Thanks to BJ for your ever positive attitude and constant belief in me! And my amazing sponsors, in which I could't imagine doing this without. Dr. Greg Freebairn who bends over backwards to keep me healthy, and is an absolute genious! Gu Energy that fuels me every day of my life. Canyon Bicycles keeps my bike running flawlessly with amazing service and people! Gnarly Nutrition helps me recover daily with the cleanest and best tasting whey protein on the market. I never go a day without it in something I eat or drink. Rudy Project has the best helmets and glasses in the sport! BodyWise Fitness provides the brightest, most friendly and up to date facility to do any kind of training you can imagine. I love that place! Roka for the most comfortable and fastest wetsuit out there. And ISM Saddles for making the most comfortable saddle I've ever ridden. And trust me, that's important!

Must express my thanks to my four kids who are my everything and give me reason to be better every day. And to Romney, I think you all get the picture. He's an amazing dude to have as my hubs and partner in life. I'm a lucky girl, love you! There are so many others on this journey with me, and you all know who you are. My A Team. The inner circle. The ones that keep this all fun. Early morning swims, long bike rides and lots of running. Ya'll know who you are, MWAH!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Party at the Pool!

Ok, you all are probably expecting to hear about some epic swim. Like a friend's birthday swim, or a solid week of swim focus, or something along those lines. But no, my party at the pool today involved no one else. Just me. And for those of you that know me even a little, you know that it doesn't take very many people for me to have a party. I love to have fun! And this party was very impromptu. On the fly. Totally unexpected.

So when I was asked a few weeks ago by a good friend if I would demo a waterproof iPod and headphones, I agreed. Why not? Who wouldn't love to have some tunes every now and again in the pool. Something to keep you company with all that back and forth, back and forth. It all sounded great, without thinking about much more than having music for my solo swims.

But when the package from Underwater Audio arrived and I looked at everything, I panicked a bit. You see, I'm one of those finicky ear plug swimmers. I can't stand ANY water in my ears. I instantly thought this whole project would be a big fat fail! I was suddenly skeptical and not excited to use them at all.

So awesome! A completely waterproof iPod shuffle, and completely waterproof Swimbuds!

Regardless of my lack of excitement, I loaded the shuffle up with some good tunes, and packed it in my swim bag. They've been there for several days now. Today when I found myself at the pool alone, I decided to give them a try. I dove head first into the water, as I always do, figuring I'd be back in 50 yards to trade them out for my silicone plugs. Much to my surprise, I had no water in my ears. I was instantly impressed, and as my swim went on, impressed turned to BLOWN AWAY!!!

It was a strange sensation at first, hearing clear sounding music while swimming. But I grew to enjoy it quite quickly. As my warmup ended and I began my main set, I really started to see some benefit. I found myself more engaged in my swim, especially for the longer sets. As any swimmer knows, it is quite easy to lose count while swimming. The mind can easily wander. But with the music, I found that my mind didn't wander. My brain was occupied with music and had no need to drift off. Which I think made the counting task easier. You could call me easily amused, but hey, whatever works.

There she is! Small and sleek, clipped right on to my goggle strap

I swam an entire hour with these buds in, and could have gone another hour if I wanted to. Not a drop of water leaked in, great sound and a good beat…what's not to love?!

So for those of you that might need extra motivation to get to the pool, or if you're like me and just need to have a party in the pool, I highly recommend giving these a try! You can check them out at My guess is that you'll be just as pleased as I was! And just one more honest plug…this could make a GREAT Christmas gift for any swimmer in your life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Thought Provoking 5 Miles...

Yesterday I saw 5 miles tick by for the first time in 26 weeks, exactly. As I ran on the treadmill, grateful for every pain free step I get, my mind took me back over the past six months. I am not yet running without several one minute walking recoveries that keep me humble, but I am up to three minutes of solid running before I have to reel it in for a minute. I am finally to the point where I have to hold myself back, a great place to be in my mind! Through the process of healing, I've learned some things. In no particular order, I thought I'd share some of my random thoughts….

  • Accept your situation and adjust your expectations accordingly. Initially I thought I'd be that one miracle. You know, the one that defies all odds, has no complications throughout the process and bounces right back out there like the machines that we are, even when the doctors tell you it's going to take time. I was sure I'd race late season races. And even the doctors looked at me with doubt when I told them my expectations. As August rolled around, and then September, I struggled with disappointment and frustration. I was hard on myself and thought I was failing. As soon as I wrote the season off and accepted where I was, everything changed, mentally and physically. I now had time on my side.
  • Lighten up and don't take yourself so seriously! It's not the end of the world, even though sometimes it may feel like it. Take time to enjoy some other things that often get pushed aside. Find a new interest. Spend time with family and friends. Help someone else. Like all things, this too will pass!
  • It's ok to gain a little weight. In fact, it might even be good for you. Some have said it's not good to be at race weight year round. That can be a whole conversation for some, but at best, it's good resistance training, right? And a wise tall bird told me, "Ali it's just weight, it's easy to lose." So true! 
  • Fear is a darkroom where negatives develop! I wanted to be diligent in the recovery and PT process, and I was. I had been told to use pain as my guide as I re-introduce activity. Every time I would try, my tendon would feel tight, and I assumed I had done too much. So I would stop. I cried. I doubted. I wanted to give up. Romney finally sat me down and suggested that at some point, this tendon has to get used to being used again. He told me to let go of the fear and figure out if this thing is fixed or not. He forced me back to Tyler (I've worked with him on and off for years, and he's AWESOME) at In Motion Physical Therapy so I could have constant eyes on me and more guidance. Tyler rationed everything I did, and wow has this made the difference! I had allowed fear to get the best of me, for a time.
  • I have a great deal of respect for my patellar tendons and all they allow me to do! For without them functioning properly, life is far less fun!
  • RUNNING IS HARD!!! But oh how I love it! Those days of fast running are but a distant memory. I have my work cut out, and I'm grateful to work!
  • I could never, ever have made it through this alone. I have the most amazing people behind me that have lifted me up through some pretty dark times. You hear the old saying, "it takes a village," well I'm here to tell you it does! From my family, to friends, to doctors and physical therapists, to coaches, to sponsors and so on….. THANK YOU!!! It means the world to me!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Mini Milestone

Last weekend I made the much anticipated trip to San Diego to meet and work with the super duo brothers Bryan and Sean Hill at Rehab United. I have to admit, at first I was apprehensive. It's not the most practical thing in the world to travel to California for physical therapy. But at the suggestion of my coach Lesley Paterson, and out of complete desperation, I pursued it. And it was worth every penny and then some!

In my pursuit, I started talking and emailing with Bryan, and sending info back and forth to get a history. He sent me videos to get started, and told me that his brother Sean would be in the Salt Lake area that weekend. Possibly we could hook up. I was thrilled when Sean said he'd be willing to see me here on his vacation, and I jumped at the chance! He and his wife Erynne (who is the Director of Massage at Rehab United) came to meet me at my house. Yes that's right...A HOUSE VISIT!!! How cool are they? After spending almost two hours with them, and watching them dissect every detail in just the way I walk, I knew I had to find a way to get out there and learn more.

You see, the knee is rarely the problem, but the victim. For months now, as I've been trying to get back to training after my two procedures to repair the tear in my patellar tendon, and suffering through constant back pain, I've wondered if I'd ever be pain free again. And I've also feared that if I don't get to the root of the problem, I would just re-injure it. It wasn't until I met with Sean and Erynne that I had my very first bit of hope in a long time. Their philosophy made perfect sense to me, and they were confident they could help me get back to doing what I love!

This felt sooooo good!

A bit of planning, juggling schedules around, and with my husband's blessing (poor guy, I think he is as desperate as I am to have me back to my pain free happy racing self), I booked my flight. Arranged my home stay with a great friend of mine and a wonderful athlete in her own right, Marison Beniek. Then told the boys at Rehab United to plan my two day crash course however they needed so that I could leave there with enough knowledge to do the work on my own back in Salt Lake City.

Upon my arrival Thursday morning I was to be at Rehab United immediately. A little delay at the rental car center pushed things back a bit, but no biggie! Once at RU, I got to meet Bryan and the crew that was to take care of me for the next couple days. A nice chat, another good evaluation, and some soft tissue work. Ahhhh!

Feels totally awkward now, but I'm getting better!

I spent two hours there the first session, soaking in as much as I could. The staff at RU are awesome! They made me feel like I had been a client for years, and were so knowledgeable and friendly. I finished up with my first session, and went straight to the pool for a swim. I needed to shake out the travel and loosen things up.

The next day was an early swim, rehab session number one followed by a lunchtime bike ride with Bryan, then an afternoon session as well. Full day, but such an awesome day! The point of my post is not to outline every detail of my therapy, but rather just to express what an awesome, productive and worthwhile trip it was! I accomplished everything I wanted to, and more. I left RU with a clear vision of what I need to do. Thank you so much to EVERYONE at RU that helped me!!!

While the job is not done, I feel like I have reached a mini milestone...I have been completely pain free for FIVE days!!! I have a renewed energy, my fire is back and I've found my mojo again. I'm not running yet, but I'm cautiously optimistic that it's coming soon! I'm so excited about it, I've worn my super cute Rehab United socks for two days now :).

They even match my bike!

The other highlight of my trip was a 40 mile bike ride with Marison Saturday morning. She is such a joy to be around, and was kind enough to let me use her road bike for the weekend and tag along with her on a training ride. She took me to some of her favorite spots near her home in beautiful Poway, CA. We had a blast together as she took me to her favorite hill repeats and showed me some of the most beautiful fall scenes SoCal has to offer. I loved every minute of it. Thanks Marison for the great accommodations and time spent together!

Out for a ride with Marison!

Injury is part of an athlete's journey, and it is terribly difficult. If anyone reading this is feeling discouraged, hang in there. I know how hard it is, but it's worth the fight back to full health. Never ever give up, I'm not!!!

I can't finish up without giving one more shout out to my amazing sponsors, who have stuck with me through this ordeal. I couldn't do all this without your continued support... Dr. Greg Freebairn, who has been there for my every need in the pain dept, you rock! Canyon Bicycles, GU Energy, Wasatch Running, Gnarly Nutrition, Saucony and ISM Saddles. Thank you!

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Summer of Reflection

As many of you know by now, I tore my patellar tendon in late May. I haven't written much about it, simply because I just haven't wanted to! Let's just say this has been the most challenging setback thus far in my triathlon career, both mentally and physically. It's not even close to the way I envisioned my first year racing pro. And it's not over yet, but I'm on the ups and am seeing good progress!

Looking out onto the Boise 70.3 swim start, where I played race sherpa for Rom (and friends) shortly after I learned my fate for the season. He has been my absolute rock and support through this whole process. Love him!

I don't have a definitive answer as to how this happened other than I have managed patellar tendinitis on and off for years. Under the care of doctors and PT's, I continued to train and manage the situation keeping it fairly under control. I now believe it was during my build into and racing Kona last year that started the slippery slope beyond that "manageable" place. I don't remember feeling any pain in my knee during the race (plenty of pain involved, just not there :)), but I remember telling Romney shortly after I finished, "I don't know if my knee will ever be the same again." Funny, turns out it's not! I took several weeks off after Kona, and I thought it had settled down. Clearly, I was wrong.

Looking back, it was a ticking time bomb. I started the season with it aggravated, not realizing the severity of the situation. As athletes, we often assess pain levels we can push through, and I had become accustomed to feeling some pain there. As I continued to train, thinking I was managing it, I started compensating for it, and we all know what that means. A laundry list of other issues that pop up due to the compensation and weakness. I started having severe glute and back pain, not realizing where the main fire was.

It was the Tuesday before Memorial Day at the track. Nearing the end of my workout, I was in the middle of an interval and suddenly I felt severe sharp pain on the inside of my knee. It was all I could do to slow down and stop without going down. I knew this was not the normal discomfort that I could push through, this was different.

At home I started my icing and rehab routine immediately, and within a day felt little to no pain as I went about my normal activities. I could even bike pain free, and put in a good 100 miler Thursday, as Ironman Coeur d'Alene was just around the corner. Normally I would have run off the bike, but in an effort to give it an extra day, I waited until Friday to try to run again. Didn't make it a quarter mile. I knew something was terribly wrong at that point. 

A quick message to my doctor, and he wanted an MRI. Because of Memorial Day weekend, I had to wait until Tuesday to be seen. Wednesday morning it was confirmed, a 50% patellar tendon tear. Snap! I was to fly out Friday morning to race 70.3 Raleigh, NC. Trying my best to roll with it and adjust, I withdrew from that race and Ironman Coeur d'Alene. I was heartbroken, but at the same time, so sick of hurting. My main focus now was to figure out how to treat it. 

After looking at all my options, which included surgery, I chose treatment with Dr. Joe Albano. Dr. Albano specializes in Regenerative Sports Medicine, and I believe is the best in Utah at Regenerative Medicine. It is more conservative than surgery, and can have the same outcome in a shorter period of time. There has been a lot of success with this type of treatment, and it is completely natural. If unsuccessful, I can always have surgery. After talking to several professionals, this direction seemed to make the most sense for me. And as an added bonus, I can swim through the whole process! I forced my way on to his schedule ASAP!

All smiles before the beating!

The procedure that Dr. Albano felt would be most effective is called a FAST Procedure with a Fat Graft and Platlet Rich Plasma (PRP) Injection. While we refer to this as a "procedure" and not surgery, it is not for the faint-of-heart! They do not put patients out for this, and much to the contrary, I was acutely aware of everything that was happening. I have since referred to it as yes, surgery!

Ready to go!

It started with a quick blood draw, then the blood goes into the spinner to separate the PRP from the red blood cells. Pretty cool. Then, in to the surgery room to get the fat from... yes, me! I was fairly nervous for this part, and with good reason. The process is very painful and just gross! The doctor first had to pick the best spot to take the fat from, then he gave me an injection with a local anesthetic.

You guessed it, donor spot was the tush!

He then put the HUGE fat collector needle into my butt and maneuvered that thing around until he had what he needed. It took longer than I thought it would, and I cringed the entire time. Yuck!

And there ya have it...FAT!!!

Now that I had donated all that I could to the cause, they took the PRP and the fat and let them "marinate" together for about 20 minutes. During this time we began the FAST procedure. This is where the doctor debrides and removes the degenerated soft tissue. It is fairly quick, 10 minutes or so, but it seemed SO much longer. Brutal I tell ya!

Next the fat and PRP were injected into the tendon, and I had to sit and wait for about 20 minutes before I could move. Let it all settle in I suppose. The throbbing began, and the pain was quite intense for the next couple days.

Complete Gimp!

Thrilled to be done and outta there, my hubby took me to 7-11 to get a drink. I ordered what turned out to be the best slurpee I have ever had, and he insisted I needed something to replace the fat that was just stolen from me :).

Rom was sure I needed one of these! But being the girl athlete that I am, I was CERTAIN that I DIDN'T need one, I was now out of training for a while and would have no problem putting fat back on!

From here it was a SLOW road back to biking, and even SLOWER road back to running, as I am still not running. Three days of no swimming, then I was cleared to hit the pool, with no kicking and pushing off the wall. Within a week I was able to kick and push off the wall again, which felt awesome!

At about three weeks out of surgery I started spinning on my bike, and gradually built up duration before any intensity. I've never been so happy to ride my bike before! At six weeks out, due to good progress, I was cleared to start run therapy. And let me tell you, it is nothing more than therapy. It's a far cry from running, but it was something, and it was progress. I was thrilled to get that privilege.

Now at 10 weeks out, I just had my second treatment, without the FAST procedure. Another round of fat graft/PRP injections. The idea is that I take another 2 weeks of recovery now to buy me months in the end. It is fairly typical to have a second procedure, especially if time is an issue. And I do care about time. I am so hungry to race again!

So here I sit, buying time!

It's been a hard road, harder than I thought it would be. I've had a lot of time to reflect and think about things. The mental highs and lows are brutal, and they're REAL! I've felt completely gutted at times, and others I am completely confident that I'll make a full recovery and be better for it. The mind is a very powerful thing, and to keep that in control is a real skill. One that I haven't perfected, but am trying every day.

I'm learning to appreciate the little things, and focus on what I CAN do. Find the positives and build on them. Work on weakness where possible. Fix my attitude when it slips. All of this will serve me well as I make my way back to racing. And with the support of my family, friends, coach Lesley Paterson (aka head doctor that totally gets me and lifts me up every time I have a meltdown), Dr. Greg Freebairn (who also understands me and has kept the rest of me healthy through this whole ordeal), and AMAZING sponsors, I'll get there! But make no mistake, I couldn't do it without them!!!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ironman 70.3 St. George - Bruised... but not Broken

WOW, what a week! Probably the most emotional week I've had in a long, long time. Like since the days of those dumb, unstable high school relationships that at the time, seem like EVERYTHING! Well folks, those days pass, and you only go up from there. Phew!

It's been a long time since a race has had as much hype as this one. With it being the US Pro Championships, almost every big name this sport knows was there. How exciting! Every single friend of mine in Salt Lake that is involved in this sport was there. How exciting! The Salt Lake Tri Club (Rory Duckworth) and the City of St. George (Paul Jewkes) had embraced me as a local "rookie pro", and to those people, I want to say a very heartfelt thanks. Thank you for believing in me and allowing me the opportunity to brush shoulders with greatness. 

 On stage with the Big Guns!

There was a lot of anticipation on my part going into this race. I was hoping to redeem myself a little bit from Oceanside. I feel very comfortable with the terrain in St. George, after all it is my second home, and I have always raced very well here. I was excited! I figured this was the perfect place for me to have a great race. With a full house of racers and a lot of positive energy, we were ready to roll. And just to keep things light, we threw some good humor in there as well...

Who says moms can't have a six pack??

Now, for the race.. you're not gonna get a blow by blow, look at all the mental demons I pushed through kind of report. But rather, a very candid shot of where my head is at since last Saturday. For anyone that understands the sport, it is very clear what happened. I got popped in the first 400 yards of the swim, and was out of the race. Period. I have no other excuses, nothing or no one to blame but myself. I am now racing with Professionals, where no one sucks. They're all triple threats. They show no weakness. They'll battle until they can't battle any longer. They won't quit, ever! And because of all that, they'll push me to become better as well, it may just take more time than I thought.

In the Age Group race, I was able to get away with a weaker swim. I would come out of the water in the top 10-15% of my group, having a wide range of swimmers to work with that always kept me in a pack. Then out of the water it didn't take me long to pedal my way through the field to the front of the race, soaking in that adrenaline of flying past cyclist after cyclist. My race is different now, and there isn't that range of ability in the swim, bike or run. So, if I can't hang on in the swim, well then, I'm racing alone. Swimming alone, biking alone, running alone. 

So here's my reality... I have to figure out how to swim! And while doing so, continue to strengthen my bike and run. I fully recognize that I haven't put the time in the pool that 95% of these girls have. Ask any swimmer what it takes to be fast - every one of them will tell you time in the water. Years and years of swimming 5-6 days per week, with many of those days being two-a-days. I have never done anything close to that, ever! The first time I had anyone look at me in the pool was during the 2009 season, remember those days Beej? So how can I expect to come out of the water with them if I haven't put the work in?! I just simply can't. So, new plan is to swim a minimum of 5 days a week. I know, many of you will laugh that I haven't been doing that already. Lesson learned. Salt Lake Masters, I'm coming! Please be nice :) I clearly have my work cut out for me!

At least my long and lonely ride was scenic! Photo by Chris Mabey

As I've had time to reflect on my race, there are several other things I need to remember. I'm a wife and mom of four beautiful children, and I've been running their school for the past year. I love them and want every opportunity for them. Because of that, I have less time to put in for training. I spend hours and hours every day tending to their needs, and taxi-cabbing them around town, making sure everyone is at the right place at the right time. I chose this life, and I LOVE this life. I wouldn't trade it for anything. But I also chose to take the huge step up to the Pro field when the unlikely opportunity presented itself. So, while I will do my best to keep things in perspective, I'm a fighter. I'll see this battle through, I'll finish what I started.

As a competitive athlete, it doesn't feel good to be at the back of the pack. I'm used to winning, that's what got me here in the first place. And trust me, it's WAY more fun! I'm not going to lie, this has been a hard adjustment for me. It's been very humbling. It's caused me to question myself when before I never did. I've asked myself if I made the right decision to turn pro, the list goes on.

Some would say life has come easy to me. And if I'm honest with myself, I'd probably agree. There's not much that ruffles my feathers to the point that I fall apart. I can usually keep a pretty level head and come out of most things smiling. But I wasn't smiling Saturday afternoon. I didn't have fun out there, and I felt like I'd let a lot of people down. Myself, my sweet husband who was out there suffering as much as I was as he watched me struggle, my kids, my amazing sponsors, all my friends who have supported me through this whole process, my coach and so many others who have helped get me here. I was ashamed. 

But with some time and perspective, I'm ashamed no longer. I'll hold my head high knowing that I earned my spot on the start line, and I've gotten here out of pure love for sport and desire to be a better version of me. I just have a lot more work to do, and I'll do it with a smile reminding myself how lucky I am to have a healthy body that will allow me down this road. So, I walk away from Ironman 70.3 St. George all bruised and banged up, but not broken. 

So glad that's over!

To all those who were out there supporting me, thank you from the bottom of my heart! I was absolutely amazed by the number of people who knew my name, knew who I was and made the effort to introduce themselves. To all my training friends - you amaze me and inspire me constantly. To those of you athletes that were out on the course and made an extra special effort to keep me fighting when you saw my pain - you know who you are - you helped pick me up and get me to the finish line! And to save the best for last - my family! I couldn't do this without your constant support and encouragement. They're the real heroes in my story!

To my amazing sponsors - you rock! Canyon Bicycles, Dr. Greg Freebairn, Wasatch Running, Gnarly Nutrition, Gu Energy, Saucony, BodyWise Fitness and ISM Saddles - thank you, thank you!