Sufferfest 2013…er, Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 Race Report

Well, a week has come and gone since I raced Ironman Lake Tahoe, so I think I have had enough time to reflect on the day!  And for those wondering, no, I haven’t done anything remotely close to working out (unless bike commuting to school counts), and no, I have no desire to do any working out anytime soon!  Also, note: this race report is LONG (but hey, Ironman is LONG).  But really, feel free to skip everything to go straight to the last 4 paragraphs, I won’t be offended.

The days leading up to race morning:

Luckily, we were fortunate to have found a GREAT house that I ended up staying in with my teammate Scott (and his girlfriend Karen), and friends Brian (who was racing) and Kim (his fiancé), Brian’s mom Lorraine, and our friends Lauren and Brandon (extra special treat—they flew out just to watch us race!), and the whole house atmosphere was super mellow.  Sure there were some stressful moments when we were trying to organize all of our stuff to drop off at the different T1 and T2 transition areas on Saturday, but all in all, they were a FANTASTIC group of people to stay in a BEAUTIFUL house with!  :)

In the spirit of keeping things light (and always trying to not take things too seriously—because at Ironmans, there are FAR too many athletes that are around that are too type A for me and definitely too serious…), I had some fun before the race testing out some Korbel champagne with Brian and Buzz…

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We also had a team photoshoot on Saturday morning—it was supposed to be outside, but we had to do it inside because it was freezing cold and pouring outside.  We took the generic team shots…but…we also managed to have some fun as well: #kokuashake

All in all, once I was able to drop off my bags, bike, and get all of that settled, it was great because then I just headed back to the house to watch a little “Friends” with my mom, and even Jade had some relaxation time:

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That evening, we had a delicious baked ziti made by Kim and Lorraine, and it was lights out!  After all, I had an early wake-up call:

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Race Day:

That morning, at about 3:30 a.m., I made myself a giant breakfast of eggs, sausage, a bagel loaded with cream cheese, and lots of coffee…spent some time surfing the internet for a little bit, then we all loaded up in cars to head down to the swim start!

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We were fortunate to arrive at the transition area around 5 a.m., when it opened, and managed to find a parking spot pretty close.  As we walked towards our bikes, I immediately thought BRRRRRRRR.  It was very, very cold out.  I was bundled up as best as I could be, but it was a really cold morning.  I’m not sure what the exact temperature was, but I think about 36 degrees or so? We took a couple nervous pictures, Brian, Scott, and I:

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Once we arrived in transition, Greg and I walked to find my bike—I was worried it wasn’t going to be there, but there Cervie was, and she seemed just fine!

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Have I ever said how amazing it was to have Greg in my life?  There are many reasons, but in particular, it was AWESOME having him with me because his inner bike mechanic kicked in and as he got to my bike, he pumped up my tires, wiped off most of the water from the rain the day before and just checked my gearing and shifters to make sure everything was working well.  He’s awesome!  Just to have him to take care of that element was the best—so I didn’t even have to bother with it. He rules.🙂

As he dealt with my bike, I headed over to my Bike Gear Bag to put a few extra things in it, then I headed over to VIP, mostly to get away from the rest of the crowd.  I found Lauren and Brandon on the pier and it was great to get some last hugs from them!

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And again, to try and ward off any nervousness I had before the race, I had to keep up with the silliness:

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I found a warm bathroom that happened to not be occupied and used that to put my wetsuit on.  It was SO COLD outside, so having a warm, well-lit space for me to put on my wetsuit was amazing.  I coated myself extra with some tri-slide (I figured a nice coating of oil would be great all day long to protect me from the cold) and got my wetsuit on, thanks to a kind spectator that helped me zip it up.  I headed back to VIP to grab a cup of warm coffee, then found Greg, and we walked down to the beach to wait for the start.  After several hugs and him telling me that he was really proud of me and believed in me, I was ready.  I stripped off the rest of my clothes, handed him my bag, and headed to the swim corral.

The Swim

HOLY COW.  Immediately as I started walking over, my feet were BURNING.  I had underestimated just how cold it was out and the cold sand was FRIGID. PAINFULLY FRIGID.  It felt like knives were shooting up into my feet and as I limped along to my starting group, I didn’t know what I was going to do for the next 5 minutes while we had to wait before the start line went off.  I looked around me and several people were still wearing their shoes, socks, plastic bags on their feet, booties, or anything else they could find!  Damn!  I hadn’t even thought about that.  One person even had grandma slippers on.  :) I decided that my best bet would be to sit down on the ground and suspend my feet into the air, like a dead bug.  Hey, it looked ridiculous, but it was all I could do…once I did, I started to feel less of the cold burning sensation, and I figured eff it.  Who cared if I looked silly, at least my feet were no longer burning because of the frozen sand…?  I decided, I am going to stay seated until the last possible minute.  :)

I seeded myself into the 1:00-1:10 wave group, figuring that since the last time I did Ironman Lake Placid I did the swim in 1:04…with altitude (and no “cheat line” in the water), I knew that I would probably have a slower swim, but was hoping that I could swim under 1:10.  When the gun went off, I got up and we started moving slowly towards the start line.  I saw Jeff Edwards (Operations Director for Ironman and former Ironman Lake Placid Race Director) at the start of the swim, gave him a quick hug, and it was ready to get into the water!  With the water temperature being in the mid 60’s, getting into the water was MAJOR RELIEF!  Finally, I was warm!  I have never experienced that before, since usually I never want to get into the water (water monsters = scary) but this time, it was amazing!!!  We had shallow water for quite a bit and ended up walking into the water for a minute or so and then it was go time! I’ve never swum in Lake Tahoe before and never enjoy open water swimming…but this was a different story!  The water was so blue, so clear, the water temperature was perfect, and it was my absolute favorite part of the day.  When we took a breath we got to look at the snow-capped mountains around us and it was just overall enjoyable.  I never say that about the swim!  J  The one thing that made the swim particularly challenging was the water was so warm and the air temperature was so cold out, that there was a nice layer of steam that was rising off the water…

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This made it really, really, really hard to see any of the buoys.  In fact, I heard that once the gun went off, spectators have told me that everyone went diagonal to the first buoy, completely in the wrong direction, right from the start.  I had no idea that it would be so difficult to see…so I just kept following people in the hopes that “following the crowd” would yield good results.  They were mediocre results, as at one point I saw a buoy and I was on the wrong side of it.  Whoops.  I corrected myself and tried to do my best with sighting for the rest of the morning and found a line that seemed to work pretty well for me—at least I remained close the buoys when I passed them, and I was on the correct side.  J As I crossed the turnaround buoys, I glanced at my watch and saw that for 1.2 miles I had swum it in 34:50—that was pretty decent and I thought if I kept up that pace, I’d be able to reach my 1:10 goal, so I was pretty stoked!  I tried to speed up a little bit on the second lap at first, but then I slowed back down because I wanted to stay conservative as I knew I had a long day ahead.  It was a great feeling when I came out of the water, looked at my watch, and it said 1:08…Awesome!  Lauren even managed to see me come out of the water and snapped this really flattering photo:

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The first thought I had when running out of the water was that same BURNING feeling I had felt earlier…Damn.  It was still cold. I grabbed my Bike Gear Bag and headed into the changing tent, eager to get my wet clothes off and into something warmer.  Since I’m notorious for ALWAYS being cold, I knew I had to wear a LOT of clothes this morning.  I settled on high neon socks, Lululemon capri rights, my team cycling shorts/cycling jersey/arm warmers/jacket, a cycling beanie, and hand and feet warmers in my gloves and shoe covers.  You can imagine my surprise when I got to my bike and there was FROST all over my bike…FROST!  Holy hell.  I think my eyes widened a bit, and then I grabbed my bike (in a little disbelief, I know) and I headed out.  I saw Greg at the mount line and told him how cold I was…in typical Greg fashion he said “you’ll warm up, better go, well, see you later!” and I rode away.

The Bike

The bike course, like I had expected, was challenging.  I had practiced many rides that included a LOT of climbing and felt pretty strong at climbing and particularly at altitude, and I’d say that much of what I’d ridden on and prepared me for this course.  What I probably should have done, however, was driven the course before hand.  The bike course was about 2.3 laps, so whatever you rode at the beginning, you’d experience at least once if not twice.  What I should have looked into, really, were the climbs.  The climbs up by Truckee and Martis were not ones that were impossible—it’s just that I didn’t really know where the ends of the climbs were.  I saw the gang at a spot once I got on one of the highways:

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and I remember Greg telling me that there would be the infamous Brockway Summit once I turned onto that highway.  I rode and saw them at the top of the hill and thought—oh!  This must be it!  Piece of cake!  WRONG.  I wasn’t even close.  Right after I saw them, I had Martis and then Brockway to go—and it was a long, long way!  During the bike, however, on all of the climbs, I do have to say that I felt pretty good.  It was the only spot that I could really pass folks and also where I felt most strong.  Sadly, however, I am a notorious weenie on all of the downhills, so I tend to get passed by the same people that I passed as they go screaming by me.  I know that I’m too quick to use my brakes, but I’ve also seen too many crashes and recklessness that hasn’t ended well.  I’ll take the few extra minutes, if it means saving my face.  Up to Brockway Summit the first time, I was feeling pretty good.  But then, the descent happened and we got back down to King’s Beach and there was a long, “flat” and “fast” section.  This section was for whatever reason, just really difficult for me—mostly because I was starting to get the muscle aches and being in my aerobars was no longer super comfortable.  I also think that I just don’t have the same type of raw power that some people do on the flats, so I got passed quite a bit for the next 20+ miles.

Overall, it was just sad…and a little demoralizing.  I felt like I was the very last person in the race or something and it was really reminiscent of Lake Placid, when I did not pass a single person on the bike.  My goal for Ironman Lake Tahoe was to pass at least 1 person on the bike, which I did…but this section was long…and sad.  People blew by me like I was standing still and I just felt dejected.  When I did Ironman Lake Placid in 2010, I felt that same dejected, sad feeling around mile 90.  I was worried this time because all of this weakness I was feeling and wanting to quit was starting, and it was starting FAR too early…around mile 60?  Yikes.  I wasn’t even halfway done and already wanted it to be over?  It was going to be a looooooong day.  My confidence that I had leading up to Lake Tahoe quickly toppled, and it was just a sufferfest for the remainder of the ride.  Topping that off with being freezing cold the whole time (I never warmed up during the ride at all—and I couldn’t believe it when I would see some athletes pass me with no gloves on or just a little tri kit—CRAZY!), I was pretty miserable.  I saw the gang at the right turn just before Truckee on my second loop and gave them a sad face and told them that the day was not going well.  All I could really remember was Lauren’s GIANT smile and cheering me on while I was frowning, and I pushed on.  I kept telling myself that I couldn’t quit, that I had to get back to Squaw Valley, and started back on the part with the steep climbs once again.  This time, however, I knew what to expect, so they weren’t that bad this time.  I felt extra proud of myself while riding up Brockway Summit for the second time and staying on my bike the whole time.  Several people around me had gotten off and were walking their bikes up the steep hill.  I looked at them and said, that’s not going to be me.  Nothing on this course was unrideable, if you were prepared.  Like my friend Robin had told me before I left Fort Collins, when it gets difficult, remember that probably no one else that is racing did repeats up Rist Canyon.  You did that—you can do anything!  So, I kept that at the forefront of my mind and finally made it up to the top of Brockway Summit…where you were greeted with an old man in a Speedo…both times!  He was a trooper, staying out there the whole time!  I had about 25-30 miles still to go and just tried to maintain a comfortable speed.  I knew that I wasn’t setting records that day, so I thought I would keep trying to make sure that I ate and stayed hydrated. Again, I got passed like I was standing still on that last “flat” part leading up to Squaw, but I tried to not care as much this time around.  While we rode into Squaw Valley, I saw people already out on the run and again, I felt like the one of the last people to come in from the bike.  I was disappointed, but there was nothing I could do.

The Run

Immediately after I hopped off my bike, when I put my feet onto the ground, I felt shooting pains going up into my feet.  Awesome.  This seems like a GREAT way to start the run???  I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I grabbed my gear bag and headed into the changing tent.  Two volunteers helped me get out of my bike clothes and into my run clothes.  I wanted to wear my team kit, but figured that for running a marathon, I’d probably get too much chafing.  I settled for BRIGHT running shorts and my team tech tee and hat.  I was a little worried about wearing such little clothing for the run because it was getting colder, but I figured that since I was running, I’d have to warm up.  As I ran through the finish line area, I saw all of my friends and family, gave them some high fives, and I was off.

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The first mile felt like it usually does once you start running off the bike (i.e. horrible), but then after that first mile, I really started to get into a stride!  I walked the aid stations, always being cognizant to fuel during the run (which I didn’t really do at Boulder 70.3), and overall felt pretty good!  I didn’t know if it was just being off the bike that put me in such a good mood, but I just started to feel awesome!  I started passing people (which felt great—to pass the people that had passed me on the bike!) and was just ticking down the miles.  I don’t think that when I had woken up that day it really occurred to me that I would be running a MARATHON.  Crazy!  The miles were going by pretty fast and I even had a run split where I ran sub 8 minute miles…I know that some of it was downhill, but seriously?  That’s fast for me in general!  Hahahaha.  I also ended up getting a MAJOR BOOST on the run as I was heading out of Squaw Valley and got several cheers from the Cal Tri Team!!!  I saw Papa Bear Kevin Haas, Mike Sontag, and Shelley Harper, and even got a chance to flash them my sportbra (which was a Cal Tri Sport Bra, what else?), and seeing them really helped my mood.  I also ended up running with a 64 year old man who was from Colorado Springs and was doing his 23rd Ironman.  We ended up chatting for a bit until we got separated around mile 14 at an aid station, and I was back to running on my own.  Around mile 14 is when the tiredness really started to kick in.  I knew I had some blisters on my right foot, so it made running painful and a little awkward, trying to compensate for less time spent on my right foot, and I started to spend a little more time at the aid stations trying to eat chicken broth, Gu, Perform, and anything else that might help.  As I headed back to Squaw to the turnaround point, all of a sudden, my body started to shut down.  I was COLD.  I was about 3 miles away from the turnaround and started to really shiver while I was running and I didn’t really know what to do.  My whole body was aching (I think from being in the cold all day long), and I started to think that finishing the race might not be an option.  I couldn’t really feel my arms anymore, nor could I feel my fingers and I knew that I had to get some more clothes or I’d have to drop out.  I found at one of the aid stations one of the foil blankets that they were giving out, so I wrapped that around me and kept running forward.  Putting that blanket on me, however started a flood of emotions and once I wrapped it tightly around my arms, I started to cry.  Tears were streaming down my face, but I was still trying to run forward, and I was a complete mess.  There is one other time that I have cried because I was too cold, and that was the infamous Cal Poly Triathlon where we raced, even though it had started snowing during the swim.  I think the DNF rate that time was around 80% or so?  Something crazy, but most people didn’t finish, including me.  That time, I quit while I was on the bike because after 20 miles, I truly couldn’t feel my fingers, I couldn’t shift my bike, and I couldn’t go any further.  This time, with this foil blanket wrapped around me, was reminiscent of that time and I started to think that maybe finishing was not a possibility for me.  Spectators saw me crying and running and tried to say supportive things like “buck up girlfriend!” or “it’s not so bad!” and the tears just kept coming.  I got to the next aid station, had some more warm chicken broth, and tried to give myself some tough love.  I kept repeating to myself “Christi, get your shit together!” and managed to resume running, this time without tears.  I was now about 2 miles away from the turnaround and thought that maybe once I got there, I’d be able to find my friends and family and steal some warm clothes from them.

Coming into Squaw Valley was both great (tons of people around!  Lots of energy!) but terrible (because some people were finishing…and you had 1 more lap to go, boo!), but luckily, I found my people.  I looked around, scanning the crowd, and saw Greg out of the corner of my eye.  I ran over to the side he was on and told him how cold I was and that I needed some more clothes (it was also pretty evident because I was running in a foil blanket).  He yelled back that he’d get me clothes and that he’d meet me when I came back around, so I had a sigh of relief that he’d give me something to run in so I could warm up.  I saw Lauren, Brandon, and my mom also close to the finish line, so that gave me an extra boost as I was heading back out for my second lap.  I met up with Greg right towards that end, and he handed me a long-sleeved shirt and my Cal sweatshirt.  As I started to put both on, he again told me how proud he was of me and that I had a really good swim and bike split.  I perked up a bit, hearing about my splits, and I think that once I got off the bike, I was in something like 8th place in my age group.  It was a BIG shock to me, since I had spent most of the bike feeling like I was in last place, so it really boosted my self-esteem!  I practically skipped out of Squaw Valley for my next lap, excited that I wasn’t actually doing as poorly as I had thought.

AND THEN THE WALL HAPPENED.

The famous wall everyone talks about…where you’re running (usually marathon distance) just fine, and then BAM!!!!!!!!! Out of nowhere, it’s like someone comes over and gives you two dead legs.  I’m talking beating you with a baseball bat, you can barely walk, type of “wall.”  Although I was finally warm (big relief!), my body just started to shut down and I was reduced to a walk from about miles 20-23.  It was like something had just taken all of the muscles out from my legs and said “good luck running!” because every “run” I tried to do, felt like excruciating pain.  I kept making forward progress, and got passed a LOT during this time.  But, I kept moving forward.  There was a spectator that was beating on this pot at the bottom of one of the big hills that kept yelling at the athletes to do the “Ironman Shuffle,” which is the “running” that most athletes seem to end their race with…barely a run, you’re shuffling along at about a 13-14 minutes mile pace.  I tried to force myself to shuffle along for the last 3 miles sort of succeeded—there were still some walking breaks in there, but at least I was moving forward!

The last mile was, as it always is, SUCH an amazing feeling.  You can hear Mike Reilly in the distance, there are cheering fans everywhere, and the run up the cobbles felt like I was running on air.  A BIG difference from 6 miles before!  It’s always special to hear Mike call out “Christi Leong, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!” but this time, it was so much more special than Ironman Lake Placid.  This time, it was 14 hours and 8 minutes of THE hardest thing I have ever experienced in my life.  There were multiple times I wanted to quit, but didn’t, and the pain that I felt during it was in no way comparable to Ironman Lake Placid.  I think it was a combination of the altitude (and not enough oxygen getting to my muscles throughout the day) and the very cold temperatures (that caused my body to feel so much more exhausted from trying to keep me warm all day long) that made it so difficult.  Oh, and the course too…I saw on someone’s Garmin data that the bike had about ~8,300+ feet of climbing?  That will certainly make for a difficult day!

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The Epilogue

I wanted to give a few special shout-outs to my Ironman Foundation Newton Running Ambassador Triathlon Team.  You have all made racing this year so very special and I appreciate so much that you have all given me a reason to race.  I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting all of you and spending time with you—it’s a wonderful group of individuals that I am so lucky to be a part of and I am glad to have you all in my life!

To all of my wonderful friends and family that have donated to my fundraiser (and Keep Tahoe Blue), you all are 100% the reason that I finished the race this past Sunday.  I can’t tell you all how much I wanted to quit and thought very seriously about it (during the bike and run in particular!) … but it is truly because of you, that I didn’t quit.  You all were so very gracious to donate to this fundraiser and I felt like I wouldn’t have held up my end of the bargain, if I had dropped out.  I thought about each and every one of you while I was racing, and it was because of all of you, that I knew I had to keep on keeping on.  Thank you so much for supporting me in this endeavor—really truly.  Thank you: Mom, Auntie D, Dad and Toni, Ellen and Nick, Marisa, Robin, Kay, Chris, LLPC, Curtis, The Ulrich’s, Dewey and Carolyn, Mike, Megan, Barb and Bill, Patty, Julie and Bob, Donna, Hathor, Vicki, Diane, Julie and Bob, Ed, and Jim, for your never-ending support and for being there for me and making sure I finished this darn thing!  :)

And a special thanks to my wonderful friends and Mom that made it out to the race to cheer me on—words can’t express how fun it was to see you out on the course in your silly t-shirts and heads on sticks.  They were the brightest points for me throughout the day, and always kept me feeling positive…even during the times that weren’t so positive.

Big extra thanks too, to Greg for believing in me and helping through this day as well.  Thanks for knowing exactly what I needed during the day, helping me deal with my bike (cranks, cassette, wheels, and who knows what else!) and gear backs before and after.  You are the best!😀

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(Not from Lake Tahoe, but from a great ride we did in CA!😀 )

tolerance for adversity

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Well, it’s the night before the big race all I can think about is how truly grateful I am and how thankful I am to be able to compete at Ironman Lake Tahoe tomorrow for the Ironman Foundation Newton Running Ambassador Triathlon Team. I have been blessed with meeting these really fantastic teammates who really embody the #triteamforgood and #kokua message and have been a part of my journey this year.

I wanted to have a special shout-out to those of you who have contributed to my fundraiser and have been part of the Ironman Foundation and getting me to Ironman Lake Tahoe as well.  Your funds have contributed specifically to the Keep Tahoe Blue organization…preserving our natural spaces is something I am particularly passionate about, and I appreciate you all in supporting this!

I have the best friends in the world.  To all of you who have sent the text messages, facebook messages, emails, calls, they are all so, so, so appreciated.  Knowing that I have all of you backing me, supporting me–it is going to give me that extra push tomorrow on the bike and during the rough patches so I can keep moving.

If there is one thing that I have learned in life (and particularly from doing NOLS), is that you must have tolerance for adversity.

The weather has been fluctuating quite a bit here, and it even snowed today here in Tahoe (cold, rainy, snowy weather the day before the race–yikes, right?)…BUT…I know that even though some of the elements may be challenging tomorrow, or if there are any changes with the race with the course, start times, or whatnot, it will be OK.   It’s OK because it has to be OK.  I am going into tomorrow feeling 100% positive about the day tomorrow.  Sure, I’m worried and sure, I’m nervous.  But I have full faith that the Ironman staff and the volunteers are going to take care of us tomorrow and we will have the safest race out there.  I’ve planned ahead and prepared and will be equipped tomorrow with the warmest of clothes, with a good amount of food to keep fueling while I’m riding and trying to keep my body warm at the same time.  I may not set a PR and I might have some slow transition times while trying to warm up, but that’s OK.  I will have tolerance for adversity, I’ll accept whatever gets thrown at me tomorrow, and I will expect that things will come up that I didn’t expect.  That’s natural, and that’s life.

When I look at my life, there are a LOT of things that have happened in my life that didn’t go “according to plan.”  And…I think that my life turned out just fine.  :)  So there, Tahoe!  Give me snow, give me rain, give me whatever you’ve got it.  I can handle it.  We can handle it.  And at the end of the day, we will all get to say to ourselves…YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

To my coach John Dahlz, you are the best coach a girl could ever ask for!  Thank you for being a part of my Ironman journey this second time around, for taking the time to write me fantastic training plans, for helping me to change course when I’ve needed to, and for always being encouraging and for always having faith in me–and much more faith in me than I often have in myself!  Thank you for always believing in me.

To my wonderful friends and family–you are all amazing and have given me so much encouragement this past year.  To those of you who even go as far as to send me little care packages (Popo!), you all make me feel like a million bucks!

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To those of you who have made the big schlep out here to Tahoe to be stuck all day long trying to follow me and track me, you, too, are so, so amazing.  There will be no one in the world that I will want to see more during the day than your faces at the finish line.  Best cheering squad ever!!!

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To my teammates, for all of you racing tomorrow, I hope that you have a race that you’re proud of–and accomplish all of your goals, big and small, that you came to do.  For those of you on the team who are with us in spirit, your thoughts, facebook messages, dancegrams–everything has really been so encouraging to all of us this weekend–thanks for sending your energy to all of us…we’ll certainly need it!

Thanks again to each and every one of you for all of your support.  Peace, love, kokua, and see you at the finish line!😀

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Personal Statement

It’s finally ready!  I have hit the “submit” button on the VMCAS main application, so no turning back now!  I’ve had a few requests from friends and family to read my personal statement, so I figured why not post it on my blog?  :D

Discuss briefly the development of your interest in veterinary medicine. Discuss those activities and unique experiences that have contributed to your preparation for a professional program. Discuss your understanding of the veterinary medical profession, and discuss your career goals and objectives.

“Runner’s high” is euphoric. At that point in time, the world has stopped and everything is in slow motion, except for me. My legs defy physics; driven by an unexplainable force, I glide forward, feeling no tiredness, and no pain. I can’t stop. I won’t stop. I feel whole. Until recently, I thought that this feeling was something I could only experience during athletic races and training. I was wrong.

I did not always want to be a veterinarian. My life has been driven by purpose and goals, but it has not always been filled with furry creatures. I became a triathlete at UC Berkeley first as a member and eventually as president and race director; these leadership roles taught me discipline, organization, and how to blend individual achievement with team spirit. My appreciation for the multisport lifestyle led me to a position at Ironman where I quickly rose from contractor, to merchandise manager, to global buyer and product developer in 4 years. While I enjoyed my time there, I always had a restless feeling that I was meant to do something else—simply growing our product line and continually meeting the high sales goals was not enough. Something was missing.

My life changed in 2009 when I received a taste of what a career in veterinary medicine would be like. Scout, my Rhodesian Ridgeback, tore both cranial cruciate ligaments in her rear limbs and required dual tibial-plateau-leveling osteotomy surgery. As Scout recovered, I fed and administered medication to her, and I used a sling to teach her how to walk again. I witnessed the profound impact surgeons and veterinarians had on my life; Scout’s surgeon in particular, was an absolute inspiration. Her attention to the finest detail and her ability to be both comforting and firm, reminded me of myself. After exposure to this driven and compassionate new world, I envisioned a new career—one that would help channel my energy towards helping other people like me, and other dogs like Scout.

While I had a bachelor’s degree, I did not take the required prerequisites for veterinary school, so I enrolled at Colorado State University in 2011. That fall, I attended “Pre-Vet Day” through CSU and the first lab I participated in was a sheep necropsy. While I was in lab, I felt a familiar feeling. Time had stopped around me and I was in my own exhilarating world—animal anatomy and the processes we performed were absolutely fascinating. It was interesting, it was challenging, and it required detail. It was my first experience of “runner’s high,” outside of sport. I felt like I was flying. At that moment, I knew. I was meant to be a veterinarian. I felt whole.

Since this day, I applied for and still hold a research assistant position at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, working with Dr. Dean Hendrickson to develop equine and canine biosimulated organs and models for veterinary students. I also participate in equine hippotherapy programs, as well as volunteer with small ruminants in various settings. I wanted experience with large animals since I had little previous contact and while I certainly have a love for all animals, my volunteer experience has solidified to me, that dogs will always have my true heart.

Once I become a veterinarian, my primary goal is to give back. I have thought deeply about how I can use my previous work experience, penchant for detail, and ability to work under immense pressure, in my future work. These past three years, I have realized my ultimate calling—I hope to join the military and work with the US Army’s military working dogs, with a specific focus on canine orthopedics and internal medicine. I sincerely believe I possess the drive, determination, physical strength, and mental tenacity required to be successful. As an athlete and team member at my core, being an Army veterinarian is the perfect marriage of both my skills and career goals.

After completion of my military service, I plan to work in academia, building upon my current research at the CSU VTH. I hope to develop a curriculum for an undergraduate gross anatomy lab that combines both cadavers and synthetic organs and models to give students a better and more tactile understanding of animal anatomy. I want to introduce undergraduates to proper surgical technique, the fluid dynamics of bloodflow during incisions, and suturing. This combination of synthetics with animal cadavers would ultimately result in the early development of proper surgical techniques, with savings in both monetary cost and animal lives.

If chosen for veterinary school, I will launch into the coursework with the same enthusiasm and energy that has defined the past 28 years of my life. I will be a friend, advocate, and caretaker of our most loyal military working dogs in the US Army, and afterwards, I will work tirelessly to improve the educational system in biomedical sciences to give back as much as possible, honoring and respecting animals as they have selflessly given so much to my family, friends, and me.

And as always, a picture of my inspiration:

 

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     It’s strange if you think about it, really—we communicate in gestures, tones, and facial expressions with furry creatures that we don’t even share a language with. We welcome them into our homes, our beds and under our dinner tables with secret treats, all of which somehow communicates to them, “Hi there, I love you and I will take care of you. You make me happy. Please join my family.”  Strangely enough, agreeing to spend our lives with them forever, often only happens after meeting them for a short while at a shelter, or seeing a picture of them online. It is a shotgun marriage that you two have embarked on and in most cases, the bond is far stronger than one with any other family member, best friend, or partner.

 

 

Man In The Mirror

So I’m starting to work on my vet school personal statement, which means I have to 5,000 characters or less to respond to:

“Discuss briefly the development of your interest in veterinary medicine. Discuss those activities and unique experiences that have contributed to your preparation for a professional program. Discuss your understanding of the veterinary medical profession, and discuss your career goals and objectives.”

Let’s just say that I’ve been pretty contemplative the past couple days, and when I started to think about career goals and objectives, I was reminded of a poem that a friend on my NOLS trip in Australia shared with me years ago, back in 2005, called “Man In The Mirror”…

When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you king for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t a man’s father, mother or wife,
Whose judgement upon him must pass,
The fellow whose verdict counts most in life,
Is the man staring back from the glass.
He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test,
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But the final reward will be heartache and tears,
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

How do I appropriately convey that the reason why I want to go to Veterinary school is that at the end of my life, when I am looking back on it, I want to be proud of the person I am?  That I want to be satisfied for the good that I’ve done in the world, and that I don’t want to “cheat” myself from a life that I could have, you know?  

Someone once told me that you have only 1 life, so you better live it well while you’re here.  How do you appropriately convey that in an essay…without sounding so cliche???  Sigh.  

Boulder 70.3 Race Report!

It’s about time for a race report, eh?

This past Saturday, I went to pick up my packet at the Boulder Reservoir, then met up with my Ironman Foundation Newton Running Ambassador Triathlon Teammates–the Colorado contingent, plus Larkin from Mississippi!  We had a LOT of fun during our photoshoot at Coot Lake.  Here are a couple of my favorite pictures…the serious ones first…

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(this one takes me back to high school team photos)

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(clearly, I should probably start lifting weights)

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(what’s a team photo without some fun, with my signature jumping moves?)

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(and here us ladies are, spelling out #kokua, our team motto!)

After all of the team photo fun, we headed over to The Med (YUM!) for some team lunch…

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…and I HAD to get some fried calamari (my favorite!)!  Our teammate Ed Schifflett had posted about having calamari post-long ride and it put that idea in my head…😉  Khem got some too, so these 2 portions weren’t all for myself…

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After lunch, I headed to my Boulder abode (Lauren and Brandon’s house) to hang out with their sweet Blue Bear (they were in Japan, so I got to dog-sit for this cutie on Saturday evening)…

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The rest of Saturday was filled with nerves…but I managed to get 2 slices of pizza down for dinner and a banana with a lot of nutella for dessert.  I got to bed at a reasonable hour, ready to wake up at 4:30 a.m., an unreasonable hour…

Race morning:

The morning had me a little groggy, and like usual for race mornings, I wasn’t very hungry.  I had some “gruel” (amaranth, millet, steel cut oats, buckwheat oats, flax seed, chia seed, teff, milk, honey, and butter) but it felt pretty tasteless and I didn’t eat much because I was so nervous.  Once I got to the race site, I had a Honey Stinger honey waffle right before the swim, so I think I had enough to eat in the morning before the race.  Once we got to the race site and I found my transition spot, race morning was pretty uneventful!  I saw a couple teammates (this neon green is GREAT for recognizing other teammates!), and as I was unrolling the arms from my wetsuit to put it on, this fell out of my sleeve:

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#1, clearly I hadn’t swum in my wetsuit since Ironman Lake Placid, in 2010!  And #2, I took it as a good sign!  I figured that since IMLP was a good race for me, I’d use the goggles that I had used during that race…can’t hurt, right?  I also managed to sneak in a picture with Greg before he helped me get my wetsuit on…

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We look a little red…maybe it was just because of the sunrise.  ;)  And yes, that’s a Cal sportbra that I wore underneath my Newton kit.  Cal Tri 4 Life!

The Swim:

I found Sarah at the swim start–we had seeded ourselves in the “30 and under” wave start group…the half Ironman distance triathlon I had done, I swam it in 29+ minutes, so I figured, what the hell, why not go first?  We heard Kelsey sing the national anthem, and I got a special shout-out from the announcer (and my friend) Dave Downey…it was awesome having so many people that you recognized at the start line!  After the pros went off, our group started.  It wasn’t mass hysteria, and it was great!  We jogged into the water and I started swimming right away.  But…immediately my wetsuit felt really tight and I could tell–it was going to be a long swim.  I had issues in the water (maybe I should have practiced, even a little bit, with swimming with a wetsuit?) and just didn’t feel great.  My sighting was off, and several times, I ended up veering WAY off course and ended up super far away from the buoys.  I don’t know how much “extra” I swam, but I definitely took the long way around the buoys…oh well, at least I didn’t get in trouble with cutting any corners!  During the swim, I just mostly tried to concentrate on a smooth stroke, and I was counting down the minutes until the swim was over.  I never really like the swim to be honest…it must be something about “not being able to breathe whenever you want” that gets me…but even back when I did triathlons in college, I remember always that I couldn’t WAIT for the swim to be over!  With swimming so much extra, not sighting very well, and not feeling particularly good, I was just hoping to myself, that I’d come out of the water in 40 minutes or less.  That was all I wanted.  As I neared towards the finish arch, I began to think about how the next transition would go (I’d keep my cap and goggles on while concentrating on getting out of the wetsuit without having my hands full with the cap and goggles), and when I hopped out of the water, I quickly looked at my watch…33 something.  Not…horrible.  It was 4 minutes slower than I had done “previously,” but at the same time, it was still within the “I’ll just be happy if I do it within 40 minutes” so I ran to transition a happy camper.

The Bike:

Ahhhhhhh the bike.  I enjoy riding my bike.  I feel like more than anything, I have put in the most training on my bike and was really hoping to pass some people during this “leg” of the triathlon.  With my previous fear from Ironman Lake Placid (the race where I got passed by EVERYBODY and didn’t pass a SINGLE person on the bike), I was determined to try and pass at least a couple people!  I hopped onto my bike and headed out on 51st in a comfortable gear, knowing that once I made the right turn onto Jay Road, that it would be a long gradual uphill.  I held a moderate pace, and much to my satisfaction, I passed a few people while going up that hill, which felt awesome!  I rode most of the race in my drops (I will be getting aerobars for IMLT, but didn’t have them for this race) and felt very strong.  Sarah and I had ridden the course a week before and rode 54+ miles of it, in 2:58.  I thought that going sub-3 hours would be well within my grasp, so I just pedaled at a good effort for the 56 miles.  Though I got passed often by folks zooming past me on their triathlon bikes in their very aero position(s) and their aero helmets, it also gave me some confidence that I could still hang with most of the group, while still being on my road bike.  I felt good throughout most of the ride, and took a Gu Peanut Butter gel every 45 minutes and had a drink (Skratch labs lemon-lime) every 5 miles or so.  At around mile 40, I was riding and started to come close-ish to another athlete.  He was going just slow enough that I started to get into his “drafting zone,” but he was going too fast for me, to straight-up pass him.  I figured…well, maybe I’ll just try and ride “next” to him.  I didn’t want to slow down myself, and figured that maybe over time, I could pass him? We were about 2 bike lengths away from each other, but next to each other.

WRONG MOVE.  Soon after, a motorcycle referee pulled up next to me and waved a yellow card at me.  WTF!  He yelled at me, something about a penalty, something about drafting, and I could barely hear him because of the wind .  I was SO MAD, mostly because my “drafting” was not on purpose, and I was trying to leave enough space between us so that I wouldn’t be drafting off him and play by the rules.  I tried to tell the referee that I wasn’t drafting, that it wasn’t intentional, etc.  Particularly since there were LARGE packs of people that were constantly passing me all day long (blatant drafting drives me nuts!!!) and knowing that it was unlikely that they got drafting penalties, I was really, really, really aggravated.  I wasn’t sure what my “penalty” would be, but I knew that I’d have to stop the next time I saw the yellow “penalty tent” and then likely wait 2-4 minutes while the rest of the racers passed me by.

Before the race started, I had vowed to stay positive throughout the race, to not talk myself down, etc., so after this happened, I tried to turn it into a positive–I knew that I’d have to stop and wait, so I figured that I’d try and make up some of that time on the course and ride a little harder for the remainder of the 15 miles.  I saw the “penalty tent” around mile 47 or so, and then stopped.  I told the referees (one of them being Jimmy Riccitello) my number, and that I had received a yellow card.  He asked if I was sure if it was yellow, which I said I was pretty sure (I didn’t think I imagined it, but you never know…) and then he said for me to just go ahead.  Whaaaaaaa?  I was so confused, but because Jimmy (the head referee) was there, I thought–well if he says it’s okay, then I’ll go on ahead!  As it turns out, I probably lost about 30 seconds of overall time with that stop, and when I was telling Greg about it later, he said I had received a “stop-and-go” penalty–like a warning one–and most likely, I had received the penalty for a poor position (i.e. “blocking” or something, and not drafting specifically).  Relieved that I didn’t have to wait on the side of the road for 4 minutes while other people passed me by, I got back out onto the course.  As I pulled into the Boulder Res, I noticed that my watch time said 2:48…wellllllll under 3 hours!  Boo-yah!  I was excited!

The Run:

And then there was the run.

While I was excited to get off my bike, my legs definitely felt like bricks, coming off the bike.  Luckily, there was an aid station immediately after transition, and I was able to down some water and stuff as much ice as I could, down my sportbra and tri top.  The first few miles were uphill (I keenly recall saying “mother of God!” repeatedly to myself during the hills) and thankfully, there were plentiful aid stations, so I usually had a surplus of cold sponges and ice throughout the run.

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(I was excited that this picture resembles actual running! Score!)

I saw my teammate Nicole on one of the short out-and-back turnarounds and could see she was catching up to me…she passed me while we were on the sudden death canal, but didn’t seem to pass me completely standing still.  She was about 10 strides ahead of me, and then I decided to try and run with her.  I figured, I’d try and stick it out and run with her for as long as I could, just to see if I could match her pace.  I caught up to her and told her of my plans🙂 and we then proceeded to run together for the next ~6+ miles!  It was AWESOME.  Having her, having my teammate, and having someone to help me along made ALL OF THE DIFFERENCE to just get through the brutally HOT run!  We even got a couple sweet pictures as we passed through the finish line area on the first lap:

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Image(Sweet socks, eh?)

I was able to stick with Nicole, until we got back around to the spot that I met up with her on (mile 10-ish?) and my legs just started to give out.  I think part of it was not eating anything on the run (I could only manage some cola) and losing a little too much salt.  When I crossed the finish line, though, it was a very happy feeling, knowing that I had broken a 5:30 time and finished in 5:29:33.  Just under!  Although my run certainly didn’t set any records, I was happy to be done, I was happy to survive, and now I know that I need to eat a little bit more on the run.  I think in the future, I’m going to try and incorporate a little more salt and other things in my training, just to see how they might go over on the big day.  Oh, and big bonus, I found out after I finished, that I was in the top 10 in my age group for women 25-29!  I barely squeaked in there (I was #10), but hey–in a field as tough as Boulder, I’ll take it!  :-D

I was also excited to see my friend Brian at the finish line, who will also be doing Ironman Lake Tahoe with me, who killed it!  I can’t remember his official time, but I know he exceeded his expectations by 18 minutes+, and was well under 5 hours, so look out Tahoe!

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All in all, I was very happy with my result…with beating my previous time of 5:54 at Wildflower (yes, it’s a hilly course, but still!) by quite a bit, and I *did* get the validation from my training, that I so desperately wanted.  I was very happy to do that tune-up race, to know where I need to improve, and to know what things are just right, right now.

It felt good to race on Sunday, after so many years of not racing triathlon…and in fact, I had so much fun, I decided to do my first ever mountain bike race, the Lory XC Mountain Bike race put on by local nonprofit Ciclismo, last night (just for fun!) with my friends Robin and Suzie!

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The 10+ mile course felt long, and although I felt very good on the uphills, I realized very quickly that I will never be a downhiller…once we hit the downhill, I turned into a very cautious rider and there were several switchbacks that had me saying “nope nope nope nope nope!”  With Ironman Lake Tahoe in less than 2 months, I definitely have no need to break my arm during a fun mountain bike ride.  :)

With this past weekend really doing a lot to help with my own self-esteem, I can’t say enough how I truly appreciate all of my IMF-Newton Running Ambassador Triathlon Teammates.  I never expected to connect so much to a team that had team members spread so far across the states–I am so very fortunate and grateful to have the support and confidence as an athlete from all of them.  From hearing them cheer me on as they passed me on the bike (Ahem, Larkin and Scott), to running stride by stride with Nicole to get me through the tough half-marathon, to just sharing funny comments online (like George’s finisher picture–he’s the one completely hidden, hilarious!)–

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Being part of this team has been one of the most amazing and rewarding things I’ve experienced and I am blessed to have found a place on this fantastic team.

Going into the last bits of my training for Ironman Lake Tahoe, being on this team has given me the motivation to stay focused, to keep my eye on the prize, and to suffer through the hard training days–because it will all be worth it in the end!

A special shout-out to Greg (who also raced!) for helping me through this whole journey, for listening to me and my fears, to zipping me into my wetsuit, and for being the calm element in this relationship…you have to have at least 1 calm one, right?

Big thanks to my Mom , who wrote me a long list of positive things to say to myself during the race…( “I am great!  I am super!” became my mantra during the run when all I wanted to do was walk–true story!), who is my #1 supporter and always sends me such encouraging words and thoughts!

And last but not least, big thanks to Coach JD–without you and your awesome training plans, advice, and talks, I wouldn’t have been able to make it to the line this Sunday and have such a PR!  :)  BEST coach in the world!

It’s been three years since I’ve done a triathlon…

And that was Ironman Lake Placid, in 2010.  Needless to say, I’m a little nervous about racing Boulder 70.3 this weekend.

Although…last week, I got to hear about (and see pictures of) my awesome coach John Dahlz WIN the Vineman Full, an Ironman-distance triathlon in Napa Valley.  With his 9:06 time, it was the third time that he’s won Vineman Full, and I couldn’t have been prouder of him!  :)  It also gave me an extra boost of motivation while I was training last weekend, scouting the Boulder 70.3 bike and run course with my friend Sarah, as we did 1 loop of each over the weekend.  I think there’s something about knowing that your coach has toed the line and worked his butt off for 9+ hours, that really gives the extra motivation and encouragement to do well.

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So, with this past weekend having a really high point–having your coach win, it’s also had a few low points.  All in all, it’s been a really difficult couple weeks.  My training has been decent, but I’ve had a constant feeling/lingering feeling of being pretty tired (which is normal, right–for Ironman training…?  Being tired all of the time?).  I’ve had a couple stand-out workouts, but the rest have been a little mediocre.  When we rode the bike course, I just felt tired.  My legs felt tired, I didn’t have that “pop” in my step–something has just been feeling a little off.  I’m trying to cling onto the moments that feel good, to keep me motivated for this sunday (like track, this past week), but I’m definitely struggling.  To top that off, I’ve had a couple issues with my teeth lately, and my Monday workout was canceled because the night before I had a temporary crown fall out–which exposed the tooth and nerve–no way could I swim when I couldn’t breath air in, without feeling the nerve being agitated.  I got it fixed on Tuesday, but then on Wednesday, it fell out again(!) right before Greg and I were going to go on a bike ride.  Ugh!  We rode anyways, but it quickly turned into a sobfest.  It started with a few sniffles, then launched into full-on bawling.  When we were riding, all I could think about was that I just wanted to throw my bike in a ditch and be done, completely of the whole thing (kind of like during tennis, when all you want to do is just break your racquet).  Greg pulled up to me, with a “are you crying? Let’s pull over. Uhhh, how can I make this better?” and he got to deal with my complete meltdown and tears.  But, amidst the weepies, he got me to figure out what I was so upset about.  It had been welling up inside of me, and with my tooth hurting when I was exhausted, but still had to ride according to my training plan, it was the last straw.

The gist of it?  I’m scared.  I’m scared about Boulder 70.3.  I’m scared that I’m going to let myself down.  I’m scared that I’m going to let Coach JD down.  I’m scared that it’s not going to be good enough.  I’m scared that I’m not going to measure up to the rest of the Ironman Foundation Newton Running Ambassador Triathlon Team–and I’m scared that I am going to let them down.  It seems like practically everyone on the team podiums and qualifies for Kona–I feel very much a “slowpoke” when I look at everyone else’s results and I wish I could get myself on that podium, but sadly–winning races and/or placing, in my age group–it’s just not something I’ve ever really done, since I was 19 (back when the 18-24 age group was particularly sparse…and it was the early 2000’s, when no one did triathlon…).

It’s been three years since I’ve done a triathlon–three years since I’ve put that wetsuit on, and walked to a starting line.  I’m worried that I’m going to crumble on race day, that I won’t feel good going up the hills on the bike.  I’m worried that just like Lake Placid, I am going to get passed by every single person while on the bike.  True story–I did not pass a single person on the bike at Ironman Lake Placid, for 112 miles.  How’s that for demoralizing?  I cried on the bike during that ride, too.

To me, there’s a lot that I have riding on this race…more than anything, I need this race to help me–to help me validate my training–to make up for all of the times I’ve had to get up at 5 or 6 a.m.  To verify to me that yes–you have been working hard.  I know that I’ve built up this race in my head too much–I think about it all of the time, I look at previous times of mine, and it gets so, so, so overwhelming, that I stress myself out.  I know that at the end of the day, the person that is going to be hardest on me, is 100% me.  I have always been someone to put myself down, to not always believe in myself, or to just be really hard on myself.  Maybe it’s in my blood:

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I really appreciate my meltdown with Greg on the side of the road this past Wednesday.  After I cried my eyes out, he helped me to realize that I need to stop putting so much pressure on myself.  It’s unnecessary.  That I shouldn’t look at my past Wildflower Long Course times and try to beat them all–this race on Sunday will be a different beast–the course is completely different, and, I’m at a really different place in my life right now.  I’m not training specifically for half-Ironmans right now, I’m training for an Ironman.  If I’m not “fast” by my standards, that’s okay–because, I’m not even training for speed right now, I’m training to finish a 140.6 mile race in September.  And that’s okay.

Since Wednesday night, I took Thursday off, played some doubles tennis with Greg, Robin, and BD, and this morning, I swam master’s with Robin.  It was a much needed break, and I love having Robin and BD in Fort Collins because I really miss (all of my) Berkeley friends.  :)

Although I can’t change overnight and certainly still have a lot of the fears about Boulder 70.3, I am going to try and approach the race with less expectations.

I’m going to take time throughout the day to be present–to be thankful for having the legs and the strength to get me through the day.

I am going to extend any KOKUA or support to any athletes that I might come across that might need my help.

I am going to tell myself that I can do it, when it’s getting difficult.  Negative talk will not be allowed on Sunday.

I am going to be strong, because I have danced beneath the lights.

I am going to go BIG…or go HOME!

wfcl  WFGoBears

Wildflower Long Course 2008🙂

 

Desiderata – Max Ehrmann

I just touched on this poem the other day (I can’t believe I had never read it!), and it was too beautiful not to share.  Here are a couple of my favorite lines from it that I just love and find so relatable:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time…Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune…Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should…With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

You all have a right to be here. 

And on that note, happy weekend, everyone.  :-D