Friday, December 28, 2012

Coming Undone

Hmmm....Life is often like a roller coaster, and I must say that for the past couple of weeks, things have been a little rough. It started off with losing a loved one, which really threw my whole family for a loop. When something like that happens in your life, you really start to think, often about sad things. That is why they call it grief. About that time, I started to not feel very well, a cold virus that has lasted...well it is still lasting and it has been over a month. Finally after 3 visits to my ENT, it turns out that I have something that doesn't belong in my sinus cavity. This is really scary to me, because anyone who knows me knows that I take my sinuses VERY seriously. I netipot two times a day EVERY SINGLE DAY. Never miss a day. EVER. Also throughout any given day, I sanitize, wash my hands, and use nasal salt spray every time I have to tie a pair of shoes, or a student coughs on me (which is A LOT!) A short background, is that two years ago, I had such severe sinus problem, that I had a sinus infection that lasted for about a year straight. I felt awful, energy drained, and had a headache almost every day for a year. Finally, a little over a year ago, I had surgery that cleared and had hopefully solved all of my problems. And for a year it did, I didn't have a single infection for a year and felt like a million bucks! With this current problem, I am straight scared! I am afraid that it is back and that I am going to feel awful for a while. I am afraid that I am going to have to have another surgery. I am afraid that I am going to have this problem forever. I am afraid that I have a dream sitting at my finger tips, and it is going to slip right through. I might be dramatic here, but that is what happens when I am scared, I think of the worse possible scenerios. I have been thinking about this stuff for a few days, and feel myself slipping into a little bit of a funk. Now, I have a degree in counseling and know that this train of thought is probably just as damaging as the actual stuff that is going on, so I am going to try my hardest to pull myself out of it starting now! I am surrounded by some extremely amazing and inspiring people, and I am lucky enough to have a support system. I have a healthy perspective of what is really important in life, and know that despite having experienced lots of adversity in life, I have always made it through. So my plan for the next 10 days is to poison myself with toxic crap that hopefully kills this stuff going on in my sinuses. Then if it does, I am going to do the elimination diet that might explain if a food allergy is causing this stuff that is going on in my sinuses. If the blockages are still in my sinuses, I have faith that I will make it through and there might even be some sort of silver lining. 

As for the elimination diet, I really don't know much about it, but will have to figure it out. To be honest, I am excited to try this experiment. I generally have a very healthy diet, but around the holidays, I don't watch as much and that could explain why I am having this problem now. I am hopeful and nervous about the portion of cutting out wheat and corn. I know that is in lots of foods, so I will have to do some investigating and hopefully enlist some experts!Well that is my plan, and now I am going to drag my butt off the couch and do an easy trainer ride. My heart rate will be extremely high and my watts will be ridiculously low, but that is not what matters in the big picture....

Last thing - now that winter is in full effect here in Pittsburgh, and I am spending lots of time on the trainer. I daydream about cool riding that I have done to get me through the monotony of it. I think one of the coolest rides I have ever done was this year on a mini adventure from Vail to Aspen over 3 mountain passes, and then Aspen back to Vail through Glenwood Canyon the next day. Honestly the most amazing views with some of the coolest people!!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Keep Moving Forward

I want to write a summary of this year in triathlon, but I don't feel that I would do it justice without writing a little bit about my whole journey thus far, because although this year has been somewhat of a breakthrough year for me, I wanted to share some of the bumps in the road I have encountered over the years. I officially started triathloning around 2006. Throughout high school, I was a volleyball player, until I sliced my hand open - cutting all of my tendons and muscles - diving for a ball my senior year. While I played volleyball, and throughout college, I also ran on my own for mental therapy (I will spare the details of what drove me to run, but I will honestly say that running probably saved my life in some way). My senior year at Edinboro University, a co-worker from the gym where I worked as a trainer, talked me into running cross country - even though it was half way through the season - because they were in desperate need of a seventh woman. I didn't know what that meant because I had never run cross country in my life, but he convinced me by saying that if the team made it to nationals, I would get to go to California. I had always wanted to go to California, so I decided to give it a try! My first ever meet was conferences, where I finished somewhere in the 20-30th place range. My second meet was regionals, where I finished All-Regional, creating a chance to go to both California, and a scholarship for the following year. Over the next year and a half, I juggled grad school, working as a bartender about 20 hours a week, a grad assistantship at the gym 20 hours a week, and traveling for track/cross country. I have worked since I was 14 so I had a good work ethic, but this routine plus my new found drive to be a competitive athlete opened up a door to a part of me that I didn't even know existed, making me a time management fanatic! Unfortunately, student teaching and internship limited spring training trips, and work-out times with the team. So I had to do the workouts with only my coach watching me at some point of the day. I could go on and on about Coach Watts and Edinboro Cross Country, but being a part of this team taught me the most important lessons of my life (still to this day)!  My first ever Nationals track meet was my opportunity to place in the top eight at the 3000M to achieve All-American status. I 100% blame the eventual result on myself, because the only instruction my coach gave me was to NOT go out in the lead. When the gun went off, I somehow found myself leading! I had no clue these girls used different race tactics at this level and  would go out so dang slow! So inevitably, they picked up and I slowed down, finishing 9th, just .2 seconds away from All-American with my worst 3K time of the season. I was heartbroken, but in retrospect, not achieving my goal, that is what kept the fire burning to stay competitive.

The next couple of years, I would say that I dabbled in triathlon, while dealing with one issue or another. My first triathlon goal became finishing a half-ironman in 2006. I signed up for Timberman that year and bought a triathlon bike. My second ever ride on that bike, I was riding a fast downhill when a squirrel ran out in front of me. Since a car was passing me on the left, I went right to avoid the car and the squirrel. Right into a huge pothole. I flipped over my handle bars, broke my collarbone, and had a concussion. That cancelled my plans that year. Then I signed up for IM Louisville in 2008, but came down with pneumonia two weeks prior to the race, so I DNS. 

Cheering Jeremy on from the sidelines at Louisville
So my first official IM was Lake Placid in 2009, where I survived in a respectable time of 11:30, and I knew that I was hooked. After getting one under my belt, my next goal was to try to make it to Kona. The following year, I ramped up my training and finished Lake Placid with a 45 minute PR, grabbing my spot to Hawaii. Three days before Kona, I was on a training ride on Ali'i Drive when a truck made a right hand turn into me. I landed on the hood of the car, and fortunately had only a super swollen knee, and a completely broken bike. Luckily the guys at Quintana Roo were awesome enough to hook me up with a new bike, so I was able to finish that race, but not without major stomach issues (I suspect from all of the ibuprofen that I was taking for my knee).

2011 was probably the most frustrating season I ever experienced. I had chronic sinus issues and was on an antibiotic for every single race I competed in that year. I think the most frustrating thing was that I felt awful almost every single day of the year.
Squeaking by at IMLP!
It turned out that I could not rid myself of infection because of a deviated septum and all kinds of other crap that was going on in my sinuses. I qualified for Hawaii by some freak roll-down to sixth place in Lake Placid. So I went back to Hawaii with sinus issues and some mechanical issues on the bike, but still finished with a run PR, so that made me happy. Immediately after Hawaii, I had sinus surgery to clear up all the junk that was stuck up there, and immediately felt a world of difference. I gained such a perspective of what it feels like to be healthy that now I will never take it for granted again.

As far as triathlon goes, I didn't feel like I was reaching my potential, so I needed a change. I decided to hire my first triathlon coach, Jesse from QT2 Systems. He is the most detailed person I have ever met in my entire life, and he formulated a plan that took all aspects of training into consideration. That brings us to this year. This year started off a little bit rocky with a lost garmin, and a flat tire at my first race of season. But the next 5-6 races, I was finally able to string together some good performances, highlighted with a PR in every distance that I raced. So when I look back upon my journey in triathlon (and in life) a quote really resonates with me. I have it posted around work and home so that I see it often:

The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't how hard you hit; it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. - Rocky Balboa

The biggest lesson that I have learned is that things often happen for a reason. I remember being so upset when I messed up my hand in high school, but in all honesty, if I didn't - then I probably would have taken a much different path that probably wouldn't have led me down this road. And I love this road!!!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rest and Recovery

I can pretty much sum up my end of season rest and recovery time period in two words:

Dexter and Nutella!

Just kidding. Kind of. The plan was to take two full weeks off training and then two weeks of easy stuff. My body decided to tell me that I needed a third week off when I came down with a nasty sinus infection. At first, I was disappointed to get sick, but after further thought, I considered myself lucky that this happened now and not a month ago. So my plan is to listen to my body and relax, there will be plenty of time to train in the future.

Things I have done the past three weeks:
     * Spend time with family and friends
     * Watch every episode of Dexter (up to season 5 so far)
     * Eat Nutella...lots of it!
     * Stay up late and sleep in 
Things I have NOT done the past three weeks:
     * Laundry (I realize how much I usually do with all my sweaty clothes)
     * Eat a gel, bar or drink perform
     * Soaked in ice baths or salt baths
     * Turned on my Garmin

I have also used this time (and extra energy) to focus on some work (school) items that I have been wanting to do. I plan to take all of my classes to the swimming pool this coming week. I am hoping that a little swim lesson might spark an interest for some young triathletes! 

Also, Thursday evening I am going to the second annual Ballou Skies Champions Gala. This is an really fun night at one of Pittsburgh's hidden gems, Engine House 25. Engine House 25 is this really cool renovated fire house that has a Roberto Clemente Museum, a really beautiful wine cellar, and the most amazing professional photos throughout the building. The evening will have food, my personal favorite wine, and super auction opportunity, all to benefit Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I encourage anyone in the Pittsburgh area to come and experience a great evening. You can find more information here

Now it is time to watch more Dexter!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Kona 2012

Kona 2012
This is the third year in a row that I was fortunate enough to compete in the IM World Championships. This race is the pinnacle of triathlon races! Set in the most beautiful place I have ever been to, surrounded by the most fit endurance athletes on the planet, this race absolutely ROCKS! My goal going into this race was simply to execute the plan that Coach Jesse had laid out for me, which included drinking LOTS of Powerbar Perform and stick to the heart rate.
SWIM – 1:06
Last year, during IM Lake Placid – I was beat up so severely during the swim portion, that I decided from there on out –I would always line up mass swim starts WAY outside. I would rather swim more yards than to get beat up like that again. So for this swim – I started WAY left of the buoy line and about second row back. I think that because the cannon did not go off this year, I may have gotten out faster than the people around me, because I did not bump into a single person until the first buoy! The bad part was that I could not catch a draft for the first half of the swim, but I did do a pretty good job on the way back. My garmin said I swam 2.63 – which I am fine with because I did not panic and I did not waste energy fighting with anyone.  My swim time was about 3 minutes faster than last year in what seemed like slower conditions.
I had a gut feeling that this year was going to be way more challenging than the past two years that I competed in Hawaii, so I really hoped that I was ready for it. Everything started off great, but when we got to the last section of the Queen K – the crosswinds began and they were relentless. There were so many times that I looked ahead and saw cyclists riding slanted to the road. I kept pushing on and was still feeling good all the way up to Hawi. Hawi is this really cool little town that I rode to earlier in the week and met a few locals that were SO fun! It is always a blast riding through that town on race day. On the way back we were rewarded with a beautiful tailwind all the way to Kawaihae.  Turning back onto the Queen K, things started to fall apart a little bit. There was a constant headwind (always is), and although I did keep it together better than years past, I could not stimulate my heart rate. This is when I thought it would be nice to have a power meter, because I am not sure if I went out too hard or if the winds in the first half took it out of me. Either way, I did stay mentally positive – so I am happy with that part. I even remained positive at about mile 95, when I passed a guy and of course he had to pass me back, pull right in front of me and immediately stop pedaling. Repeat this cycle x3! Finally, I decided I didn’t want to burn anymore matches, so I sat up and stopped pedaling. Since he wasn’t pedaling either – I did not get out of his line in time and I received my first ever penalty. I was pretty upset because this whole race, I had been passed by many packs and I always rode smartly. In this situation – I should have hit my brakes – no excuses, It just happened so fast and I was too proud to slam on the brakes. So I got over it and finished the ride where I served my 4:00 penalty in t2. During this stand down time, I saw a bunch of girls run past me through transition and I started to feel more and more anxious to get out there and run.
RUN – 3:16
I think I had a little too much excitement starting the run, because I came through my first mile in 6:35. Oops! Mile 2 was 7:01. Oops again! I knew it was hot and dangerous, but I just love the energy along Ali’i drive and I felt great for about the first 8 miles. About the time I started running toward Palani, I felt my belly start to really rumble and I was worried that I would not make it to the portopotty in time. Fortunately I spotted one halfway up the hill and I made a pit stop. I think that the potty was 500 degrees in there, because I felt like I was going to catch on fire. When I stepped out, the humid heat of Kona was actually a relief! Onward I ran for the next few miles to the next potty where I had to stop one more time.  My pace started to slip a little bit, but I was nearing the Energy Lab and actually looking forward to that section. I always enjoy this part of the course for lots of reasons. First of all, I start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Second, I get to see friends and competition. Finally, I LOVE that last aid station – the volunteers are so loud and cheery, that it really makes me smile. I had spotted a few girls that looked like they may have been in my AG and decided that now was the time to go for it. I was happy (and lucky) that my body seemed to have listened to me. This run seemed to fly by, and before I know it, I was turning down Palani and looping town toward Ali’i. There are SOOO many people lining the course that I can’t even begin to paint a picture of it, but it is amazing. That last mile of an Ironman is what keeps me coming back for more! About a half an hour after the race, a friend told me that I got 5th place in my division! I was not really expecting that to happen because women 30-34 are SO tough, but WOW I felt like a million bucks!...
…Until about 10 minutes later when another friend told me that Jeremy was in the hospital. Then I forgot about EVERYTHING! Jeremy is one of those ridiculously healthy people that had one cold in all of the years that I have known him. For him to be in the hospital, I knew it was BAD. You can read all about his experience here, but I was so relieved that he is going to be okay. I slept that night for about an hour, because all of the emotions that I was experiencing were so overwhelming that I couldn’t think straight. Even when I think about race day now, I still get kind of fuzzy mentally and emotionally!
I have had my share of disasters while training and racing over the past few years, and my number one thought is that I am incredibly grateful that I played my cards and everything worked out. There are many people that I know that did not have that luxury. Jeremy, Sonja, Katy B. (did not even get to the starting line), Michelle, Joe V., etc… Those are the people that I think about, because I know how hard they have worked and they didn’t have near the day that they are capable of.  In this sport (and in life) I refuse to take a moment for granted!
I am forever inspired and grateful to be a part of BallouSkies. Also, a GIANT thank you to Coach Jesse of QT2 systems for preparing me in every way possible! I will reflect more on the details later, but for now it is time to rest and recover!