Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sleep or Swim?

I woke up begrudgingly at 5:30 this morning for a 6:00 am swim workout. I was packed and ready to go. I was looking forward to it. As I showered, dressed, and ate a quick breakfast, I kept waiting for the cobwebs to clear. They didn't. I felt like crap--plan and simple. I remembered what my nutritionist had said yesterday: "You're walking on a tightrope now. If you have to choose between, let's say, a master's swim and more sleep, choose sleep." For better or worse, her words echoed in my head. Depressed and pissed off at missing my swim, I went back to bed.

....and slept soundly for 3 hours. Hmmm. Maybe that wasn't such a bad idea afterall?

It's a recovery week, I keep reminding myself. If I don't feel fresh and eager in my workouts, I will get absolutely no benefit. I'm trying to listen to my body. It's hard. I don't like it. I got on the trainer Wednesday morning. Told myself if I didn't feel better after 10 minutes, I could quit. After 20 minutes of toiling in a low gear, unable to produce any quality power, I got off. And stretched for 30 minutes.

I hope my body will thank me for it.
And feel better already!
Afterall, it's Thursday!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Aftermath

"Not too bad for someone training for an Ironman, huh?" I asked my massage therapist, in reference to how tight my muscles were. She paused before responding, choosing her words carefully.
"Not too bad...for someone training for an Ironman."
Hmmm. Guess for anyone else...really bad! My body must be more torn up than I thought.

I felt pretty good on Sunday afternoon and Monday. Sunday, I was still giddy from the endorphins. I had run 20 miles. 20 miles! I was happy I could still walk. No matter that I needed to pop ibuprofen in order to squeeze my swollen feet into shoes. No matter I needed to hold onto the railing to make it down the stairs like an old lady. My expectations were pretty low.

Monday, I still felt pretty good. However, I was thankful it was an off day. I only needed 2 ibuprofen to get me going in the morning. And I could walk around, no problem. Only minor tightness in the hip. I was tired but had no problem working all day in lab. I thought I was in the clear.

Until I hit the pool Tuesday morning. As I swam, my shoulders hurt, my neck hurt, my hips hurt. Everything felt tight and locked up. I felt sluggish and slow. I could feel my SI joint threatening to jam when I kicked during the breaststroke. There was a weird tightness in my left shoulder. Luckily, I had no ambition to go fast anyway; I felt very lethargic. I just focused on getting through the workout. Instead of doing descending sets, I worked on maintaining my time. I focused on my technique and form. I practiced bilateral breathing. It was all about compromise. At the end of the workout, I still felt tired but a little looser. It was a good recovery workout. I think my body thanked me for it.

This afternoon, I struggled through a 4 mile run. Knowing it was a recovery run, I listened to my body and settled into a relaxed rhythm. The first mile was the hardest. My SI joint in my right hip seized up. I thought seriously about turning back. I decided to slow down and see if it would loosen up. I focused on form, watching my footfall and my posture. Surprisingly, half a mile later, my hips loosened up. I settled into a comfortable pace. I lost myself in the rhythm for a few miles. The warm spring air settled around my arms. It felt wonderful.

Afterwards, I stretched...and called the chiropracter. Just in case. The run made me feel better. I feel looser. More energized. I'm learning that during a recovery week, I still need to do the workouts but I need to compromise. Swap the track workouts for a recovery run. Do less yardage in the pool and focus on technique. I felt like crap the first 10 minutes. I told myself if I still hurt after 10 minutes, I could quit. Amazingly, after 10 minutes, I was a different person. I felt great.

Thank God it's a recovery week.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Borrego Springs Ironman Training Weekend

It's getting down to the wire. Ironman Arizona is only 7 weeks away now. I decided it was time for a weekend of "race simulation" training. I took a trip out to Borrego Springs this weekend for some good, old-fashioned desert training. In addition, the weather in San Diego was forecasted to be gray and rainy. Borrego Springs? Sunny and 70. It was a no-brainer.

Borrego Springs is nestled in the Anza-Borrego Desert, 30 miles west of the Salton Sea, south of Palm Springs, just north of Julian. It's less than 2 hours from San Diego and since there are no major highways that lead directly into this area, it's definitely off the beaten path.

Side Note--Julian:
Julian is one of my favorite SD day trips, a little western mountain town (4000 feet) by Mt. Cuyamaca and Mt. Laguna. I always stop for apple pie at the Julian Pie Co., the best apple pie in the world, hands-down. This trip was no exception--after wolfing down a piece, I bought an entire pie to keep me company in the hotel room after my grueling training ride and run. It was cold and rainy in Julian, as usual, and was literally hiding in a cloud at the top of the mountain, giving it a mystical feel.

The Ride:
Saturday morning, we all gathered for the unofficial "Borrego Springs Century" I had mapped out. I was sort of nervous. 100 miles in the desert in the middle of nowhere--no aid stations, no support. I was unfamiliar with the area and the terrain and had dragged some buddies out to suffer with me. Not only did I have doubts about getting myself through the ride, but I was also nervous about getting everyone else through it safely as well. I kept my fears to myself, resolved myself to the ride, and we set out.

Pre-ride pic: Denise, Brent, Rachel, Desi, Eme, & John (left to right)

We set out at a conservative pace, heading to the Salton Sea. The air was dry, and the sun was out. I was able to ditch my arm and leg warmers for the first time all year. It felt wonderful. There was no wind to speak of, and the roads were open, flat, and wide.

Heading out

The first 30 miles felt like a breeze. I was soft-pedaling at 20-25 mph. I knew we were either going downhill or had a tailwind. I prayed for the former, fearing the return. The desert stretched out on all sides to the horizon. Even after all the rainfall, I found the stark barrenness of the desert landscape intimidating. The desert was as green as it gets--small patches of brown-green grass; peppered with happy cacti. I relished in the tiny purple, white, and yellow wildflowers sparsely dotting the reddish dirt, thriving after such a wet winter.

Anza Borrego Desert

The enormous expanse of the blue sky enveloped us like a dome. I could feel the intense sunlight browning my skin, piercing easily through the thin air. I was thankful for my SPF 50 sunblock and sunglasses. Even though it was only 70 degrees, the sunlight felt hotter since the desert offered no shelter or respite from the sun's rays. I sipped eagerly from my aero bottle; I had been thirsty since arriving in Borrego last night; the arid climate sucking moisture from my skin, leaching it from my body. Unfortunately, I had mixed my sports drink at way too high a concentration and was getting big chunks of it in my water. This did not bode well.

We reached the first stop at mile 30 uneventfully at a conveniently-placed gas station in Salton City. I resisted the urge to down a few burritos at a stand outside the gas station. Not wise with a finicky stomach. After a brief potty break, we continued the final 2 miles to the banks of the Salton Sea. As we rode down from Borrego Springs, we could see the enormous body of water approaching from the distance. I could smell it before we reached it; the pungent odor of salt and sulfur burned my nostrils. It looked like we had stepped onto the sands of Dubai--the body of water stretched ominously for miles but the surrounding banks were completely barren and desolate. It literally looks like a dead sea. However, I did note the large numbers of birds floating on the water's surface and flying happily through the air.

John, Denise, me, and Brent stopping briefly at the Salton Sea
(Thanks Desi for taking the pic!)

Note on Salton Sea History:
Located 220 feet below sea level, the Salton Sea is the largest lake in California (376 square miles). The Salton Sea was an accidental man-made creation during the early 1900s from an irrigation disaster when mismanagement of irrigation routes from the Colorado River resulted in flooding for 2 years into what is now the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea disaster was a major impetus behind the multiple dams on the Colorado River, including the Hoover Dam. Run-off from agriculture continues to sustain the Salton Sea today. The Salton Sea is also considered a bird's paradise. Over 400 different species of birds have been documented, and 30% of the remaining population of American White Pelican live there. The rising salinity of the Salton Sea (due to run-off) threatens the eco-system of fish and birds that currently thrive there.

We continued on our way, riding back towards Borrego. A mild wind blew from the north (sidewind); however, the next 30 miles were a gradual climb, sharply reminding me that, no, it is not normal for me to soft-pedal at 23 mph for 30 miles. I ate my humble pie and toiled onward. Give me a steep grade any day; I prefer it over the demoralizing false flats that take stabs at your pride for endless miles. I looked back at Denise and John. "We're going uphill, right?"
"No, it's normal to be struggling to maintain a 13 mph pace," John replied.
This made me feel better. Ah, the benefits of company. Why is suffering together so much more bearable than suffering alone?

The road became bumpy. Very bumpy. I couldn't feel my arms; they were vibrating so hard. I looked down in disbelief. I couldn't see the jackhammer in my hands. I couldn't even believe my arms were still attached to my shoulders. I slowed down in agony. Even through Torch's sleek carbon frame, the bumps in the road still reverberated through my body like torturous, mini-seizures. Brent lost his sponge from his aero bottle and 2 gel packs. Down the road, a water bottle leaped out of his jersey. The rough road was relentless! The desert heat had done a number on the asphalt; it was lined with bumps and cracks like large scales from the repetitious expanding and cooling experienced over the multiple extreme temperature fluctuations offered by desert weather. I can't believe how much a difference a smooth road makes.

By the time we had all climbed back to Borrego and weathered the endlessly bumpy road, we were exhausted. The 2nd "aid station" (gas station) at mile 65 was a much-needed desert oasis. Plus, after a too-concentrated sports drink in conjunction with BUMPS for 60 miles, my stomach had begun to launch a mini rebellion. I quickly downed a ton of straight, pure water at the gas station, thinning out the salt and carbs sloshing in my gut. I then thinned out my solutions. From there on out, I had 1 bottle of pure water, 1 bottle of diluted sports drink, and 1 bottle of the more concentrated form. I avoided the concentrated one as if it were poison. This worked wonders. I couldn't believe how much better I felt just by drinking straight water. This was a very valuable lesson learned. Water. It's an amazing new sports drink I've discovered. It's called WATER!!! I'm thinking of naming it H2O and taking out a patent. I think it's going to make me rich. I wonder if it's an illegal substance.

After copious amounts of water, a chicken salad sandwich and a Drumstick (a heavenly vanilla ice cream cone with a caramel center and covered in chocolate and peanuts; it called to me---mmmmmm!), I felt right as rain. We were on our way again for the final 35 miles. I couldn't believe how much better I felt! The roads were still rough but the hard part was over, and we only had 35 to go. Only problem was my ass was really beginning to hurt. How many saddles do I need to go through before finding the right one when training for an Ironman? Is this a trick question? I was joking with my friends on the ride, "I experience burning when I urinate. Either I need a new seat, or I have gonorrhea."
"Let's hope it's the former!" Denise replied.

A cute girl on a gorgeous Guru rode up with 2 other guys and asked, "Are you Rachel?" Turned out to be Shannon, from Blog Land! It was very surreal. What are the odds of running into someone who knows you in the middle of nowhere? Talk about random! The three of them joined our group, and we chatted easily. All of us were training for IM-AZ, and Shannon is also in research and from TCSD so we had tons in common. The dynamics of the entire ride were changed, injected with tons of positive energy. The miles flew by. It was magic--pure and simple.

As we neared Hwy 78, a sharp climb rose up before us. A road sign warned truckers of the 10% grade. 10%? Alright! I fought my way up the steep but short climb and whipped out a Twix bar at the top.
"I deserve a Twix after that!" I shouted triumphantly. How could I be so hungry again? Amazingly, I felt good. My stomach had settled down, and I was eating and drinking well. Oddly enough, the mix of some hills at mile 80 seemed to energize me. Guess I needed a little 10% climb to wake me up.

At the top of one of the climbs.

We wound our way back into town. When we reached the hotel, my computer read 98.2 miles. Oh, no. We were going to keep going until it rolled over to 3 digits. I continued down the road a mile before turning around, shouting out the distance every 0.2 miles. I hollered and hooted when the computer read 100. We made it! The hotel hot tub felt sooooo good and well-deserved. We definitely earned it!

That night, we ate at Carlee's, a local little bar and grill in town. It's the happening place to be in Borrego Springs. I scarfed down a tender steak and baked potato, chasing it with some delicious mud pie. Meanwhile, patrons took turns doing karaoke to songs before my time. We were definitely the youngest group in the joint. Everyone was ultra friendly, and we had a lot of fun. You can't find places with this much character just anywhere.

I could see every star that night in Borrego Spring's giant sky, glittering ostentatiously against the wispy milky way galaxy. The waning moon, just recently full, was large and orange in the eastern sky, slightly lopsided as if air was slowly leaking out of it. I was awakened from my deep slumber that night twice by coyotes. At first, I thought it was a gang of teenagers having a party in the desert. Hooligans. After listening a bit more closely to the hoots and hollers, I heard distinct yelps, yips, and long, drawn-out howls. It sounded as if the entire desert was teeming with packs of coyotes. Their howls sent eerie shivers down my spine.

The Run:
The next morning, I slowly tied my running shoes to my feet and dragged myself out the door. I didn't really feel like running, much less 20 miles in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, Brent had agreed to run the first 14 with me and helped get that first foot in front of the other. That was all I needed.

I had mild GI distress for the first few miles and eagerly utilized a roadside Port-a-Potty and gas station before heading out of town. Luckily, my stomach calmed down a bit after that.

The weather changed frequently during the few hours we ran. It started cool and misty--almost humid. Large, dark thunderheads rolled in. I was certain it was going to rain. It had rained the night before; the roads were cool and wet. I almost stepped on a large, fat toad at mile 3. I stopped, scooped him up in my hands, and placed him carefully on the side of the road before continuing on my way. I didn't want him to become roadkill!

At mile 8, the clouds disappeared, and the sun came out. Without any wind, the blazing sun beat down on us. I gulped water from my FuelBelt. At mile 11, the winds picked up. A gusty tailwind pushed me forward. I felt like my feet had wings. I soared down the road. A nagging thought in the back of my head reminded me that it was going to be difficult.

I passed the hotel at mile 14. Brent headed in, and I continued onward. 6 more miles to go. 3 out, 3 back. I had a good rhythm and didn't question it. Mile 14 to 15 went easily. I had a tailwind at my back and good tunes in my ears. Mile 15-17 were agonizing. The road turned and the tailwind became a sidewind. I fought to prevent myself from being pushed into the middle of the road where pickup trucks roared by. My feet hurt. My hips hurt. And I was out of water. I kept glancing at my watch. I focused on the turn-around at mile 17. That was the only thing on my mind. Each minute elapsed at an agonizingly slow pace. I forbid myself to look at my watch, trying not to focus on the pain, second by second. I played little games with myself. I found a landmark in the distance and focused on reaching that point. At the tree, I can look at my watch. At the road sign, I can look at my watch. The fence post. The stick in the road. Every minute, I found a new object. My goal was to reach it. Amazingly, this tactic worked. All of a sudden, I had reached mile 17. I could turn around! In disbelief at having reached this point, I turned around and made my way back.

The gusty headwind hit me full-force like being punched in the stomach. I fought to move my legs forward, leaning against the wind like pushing against a brick wall. It was almost comical. Almost. I found a good song, turned up the volume and kept on running. It didn't matter how slowly I was going. All that mattered was that I kept going. One foot in front of the other. I thought about quitting. I thought about walking. But if I started walking, I knew I wouldn't be able to start running again. And I wanted to get this over with. There was only one way back, and it was on foot. Just me, my feet, and the road.

At mile 18.5, I started feeling good. There was still a headwind but my feet regained their rhythm, and I was floating down the road again. When you start to feel good after mile 18, you start to feel really good. Because, dammit, I've run 18 miles! And I feel good? That just made me feel awesome. I let the snowball effect carry me. I picked up the pace.

At mile 19, my right hip locked up. Searing pain knifed through my right hip, shooting down my leg. I limped along. You got to be kidding me? Just when I'm feeling good? I walked for a few paces, unable to continue running; the pain was so bad. A car passed; one of the few vehicles out there, and it had to pass just at that low point, windows down, heads turned, mouths agape. I ignored them and tried shuffling. That worked. I tried jogging. Still okay. I fell into a run again a bit more conservatively this time. C'mon. Only a mile. You can do this. The pain in my hip was still there but it had ebbed to a dull ache. I still am not sure what locked up at mile 19. All I know is that it was deep and searing. Nerve pain? Not sure. Didn't care. I was still running. I saw the hotel in the distance. I was going to make it. I felt elated.

Even after turning into the hotel, I kept running. I had started to feel good again. It's amazing all the highs and lows I feel on a long run. Luckily, I've been ending on a good note. Only thing I've noticed is that it's really hard to walk after running for such a hard time. I wanted to stop running once I reached the hotel parking lot. But it wasn't easy. My body couldn't seem to remember how. I felt stuck in drive. I had to slowly shift to a jog. Then a shuffle. The first few steps of walking were agonizing. I limped slowly to the room. A few hours later, walking was still painful. So was putting on shoes. Thank God for Ibuprofen. It's a miracle drug.

Amazingly, after my 100 mile bike on Saturday and 20 mile run on Sunday, I feel pretty good today (Monday). Not too sore, and only a little tired. However, I'm looking forward to my massage tonight. Today is an "off" day. And thank God it's a recovery week!

(Thanks to Brent for all the pics!)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tri Girl Goes to the Nutritionist

I don't want to lose weight but since I've suffered from GI distress in most of my big races, I wanted to make sure I really dialed in on my nutrition for Ironman Arizona. So after much research, I went to a very well-recommended nutritionist for endurance sports in the San Diego area.

For the initial consultation, she calculated my daily calorie needs based on my weight, height, age, sex, and activity level. I also kept a food diary for 2 week days and 1 weekend day. She then constructed a 12-week meal plan to help me hone in on daily nutrition.

I have learned that it's not so much what you eat on race day or even the night before that affects performance; it's what you eat the weeks and months leading up to race day that matter. When I don't eat right, my performance suffers during training, and I have a hard time recovering. It can take up to a week to dig myself out of a hole--nutrition-wise or hydration-wise.

"case study":
30 year-old female, 5'8", 130 lbs
Goal--hone in on Ironman nutrition for both training & race-day while maintaining optimum health, energy and fitness gains (gain muscle; no overall weight loss)
Specifics--figure out what works with a sensitive stomach
Energy Needs at baseline (not taking into account training): 2050 calories/day
55% carbs
20% protein
25% fat
Broad Recommendations:
1. eat several meals/day (4-6, 350-500 calories/meal)
2. eat a variety of foods (lots of different colors)
3. Hydrate properly (~65 ounces fluid a day at baseline, not including exercise; lots of water but juice and other fluids count as well)
Specific Recommendations:
1. cut back on sweets and saturated fats (who doesn't need to do this?)
2. increase fruits and especially veggies (again, who doesn't need to do this?)
3. increase protein (Yippee! More sushi!!!)
4. cut back on calcium (WTF? Apparently, with my love of dairy and calcium supplement (1000 mg/day), I was getting TOO much. Too much calcium can contribute to GI distress and actually leach calcium out of your bones. Who knew?)
Nutritional Considerations for Training:
Before: If workout lasts under an hour, need nothing. Beyond this, aim for 200-300 calories (mainly carbs) before starting. Personally, I love oatmeal and bananas. Also consume 1/2 liter of fluid. Do this 1-2 hours prior to workout.
During: Beyond 60 minutes of excercise, I need to replenish glycogen to prevent blood sugar from dropping (and the dreaded bonk). Aim for 200-250 cals/hr.
After: To speed recovery, eat within 30 minutes afer a workout (1/2 g carb; 1/8 g protein per pound of lean body weight; don't forget fluids and electrolytes! Chocolate milk is a complete post-workout recovery drink and meal)
Adjustments to Baseline Caloric Needs: For every 60 min of anaerobic and 90 of aerobic training, add 400 calories per day to my 2050 total caloric needs. Maintain same ratios of carbs:protein:fat. Don't forget electrolyte and fluid replacement! (See below).

On average, athletes lose 16 ounces of fluid (1/2 liters) per hour of exercise under cool conditions. 16 ounces=1 pound. (I'm not a big sweater, thankfully). The best way to calculate sweat rate is to weigh yourself before and after a workout. Don't forget to account for fluids taken in during the workout. You will sweat exponentially more when it's hotter. Performance likewise declines exponentially as fluid is lost. At 3% dehydration (3.9 lbs lost for me), performance has already decreased by 15%! Dehydration can lead to illness or even death so it is VERY important to hydrate properly. Unfortunately, or thirst response doesn't kick in until then, emphasizing the importance of drinking BEFORE you are thirsty.
1. Start your workout properly hydrated. This means drinking lots of water during the hours (and days) before workouts (eg 65 ounces daily, at baseline). It is recommended to drink 16 ounces of fluid 1 hour prior to exercise. Addition of 1/2-1 gram of salt in conjunction with water can increase absorption of fluid.
2. During exercise, drink 5-12 ounces of fluid every 15-20 minutes of exercise. A sports drink (containing elecrolytes and often carbs as well) is recommended for workouts lasting more than an hour. Remember, addition of electrolytes is just as important to prevent dehydration and can also increase fluid absorption and prevent GI distress.
3. Calculate your fluid needs based on weight lost during a workout. If you lose 16 ounces of fluid/hour, aim to sip 4 ounces every 15 minutes.
4. Adjust for conditions. Your need for fluid and electrolytes increases exponentially during hot conditions. The best way to calculate this is to weigh yourself before and after a workout in very hot conditions. Ironman Arizona will be hot and dry. Average temps are in the mid to upper 80s for the high in mid-April. I can expect need to 32-50 ounces of fluid an hour on the bike.

Race Day Nutrition:
I will get more into this as race day comes closer. Most of the nutrition is done on the bike since gastric absorption decreases so much on the run. Everyone's needs are different. But here's my preliminary plan:
InfinIT sports drink (contains complete set of carbs, protein, and electrolytes, customized for my needs)
Cliff Blocks
Cliff Bars
Nuun Electrolyte Tablets
For the bike--at 17 mph, will take 6.5 hours. Need 1650 calories on the bike. Aero bottle will have straight water, which I can replenish at aid stations. 2 bottles on down tube and seat post will have InfinIT (3 heaping scoops/bottle=400 cals/bottle). Will replenish 2 InfinIT bottles at Special Needs.
For the run--will use 4-bottle Fuel Belt (each bottle has 8 ounces) containing water+InfinIT (low concentration). Supplement with Cliff Blocks (used 4-6 on 20 mile run at 62 degrees).
Race day will be hot, meaning I will have to rely more on liquid calories.

Thought this might help some of you guys out there training for an upcoming IM!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tough Love Weekend

This weekend was good Ironman training. Saturday was the "tough love" ride. 70 miles of hills. Several thousand feet of climbing. 10 of us started out from Carmel Valley. It was chilly but we were going inland and would be climbing so conditions were favorable.

pre-ride talk--making sure we all know where we're going

We headed through Rancho Santa Fe and up Del Dios Highway towards Lake Hodges. Let the climbing begin! Del Dios is a long, gradual climb, and I relaxed and took it easy. I felt good and was happy; that climb used to kill me. The hills were covered in a thick, green velvet. I have never seen San Diego so green. Guess that's one of the benefits of a devastating fall fire and a very wet winter. Patches of wildflowers dotted the grass. I can't wait to get out to the desert for some IM training this weekend--I bet the wildflowers this year will be spectacular.

At the top of Del Dios, a small group of us spotted a Port-a-Potty and made a dash for it in a moment of unified "group think". It was the heavenly blue oasis. It even had toilet paper. How luxurious. We then wound our way into Escondido, regrouping for a quick photo-op, thanks to Brent, my new designated blog photograhper.

Left to right: Alex, Harper, me, Carlo, Brent, and Greg

We were quickly on our way again, winding past several stretches of farmland and a temptating winery (Orfila). Hmmm, do you think a few glasses of wine would dull the pain of the tortorous hills that were looming in the distance? Beside the winery was an emu and ostrich farm. They are such large birds! They were very active too--maybe it was the cold weather; maybe it was the strange creatures with wheels for legs riding past. Whatever the reason, they all started running--sprinting--down the pasture! It was absolutely hysterical. Can I take one home? I thoroughly enjoyed riding by all the farms, cattle, and horses. We even got to go by the famous Wild Animal Park (unfortunately, none of the animals were visible from Hwy 78).

We then turned down Bandy Canyon Rd. Let the climbing begin! A steep hill rose straight up before us. It spiraled up and up into the heavens; I trusted that this mountain had a peak somewhere above. My heart leapt into my throat. Could I do this? As we started climbing, Alex said jokingly, "Rachel, I hate you." I focused on nothing but turning the pedals over. Timed getting up out of the saddle for the steepest pitches. Finally, we crested and struggled to recover.

We turned on Highland Valley Rd and headed towards Ramona. Another steep ascent, just as steep as Bandy Canyon appeared out of nowhere. We were climbing again. I remembered looking at the elevation of these climbs--one alone had been 1200 feet. Hmm. This is what 1200 feet in a mile feels like. Got it. I felt as if I was at a 90 degree angle on Torch. I was gripping onto the handlebars for dear life, praying I wouldn't flip over backwards, willing each pedal down for each excruciating stroke. And then we crested. We barely had time to recover before another climb would appear.

After about 4 of these, the road flattened out, and I realized we were almost into Ramona. I breathed a big sigh of relief. "Rachel, I don't hate you anymore," Alex said. I laughed at him. I had forgotten his earlier statement. Agonizing, gut-wrenching hills do that, I guess.
"It's like a shot of Jack. Tastes like crap going down but you feel great 5 minutes later," Alex commented on the hills.
"Wanna do them again?" I replied. No one took me up on this offer.

We regrouped again at a little market off of Hwy 67. I downed a Twix, Red Vines, and half a Red Bull. I would pay for this mistake later. The rest of the ride was very pleasant. All the hard climbing was over. We headed down Poway Road, a wicked fun descent. Then, we went up Pomerado and headed home on the 56 bike path. I didn't feel too cold or too hot. However, I did get a funny-looking arm warmer and leg warmer tan. What would Style Man say?

We enjoyed a post-ride meal at Soup Plantation in Carmel Valley. I was quite pleased at how good I felt.
"I thought the ride would be harder," I commented. I got several dirty looks.
"It was hard enough!" Rick replied (one of the members of our group). I paid for thi scomment dearly. My stomach, after all the crap I had eaten, began rebelling. I guess I was past due. Unfortunately, I was unable to eat properly the rest of the day due to gastric distress. This did not bode well for my long Sunday run.

Sunday, I woke up and met my group at the train station in Solana Beach. I was nervous--this was to be my longest run ever (18), and my stomach had been bothering me. I hadn't been able to eat enough the day before and knew I would be sluggish, at best. We hopped on the train and rode up to Oceanside. Most of the group would run back to Encinitas (12 miles). I was to go back to Solana Beach (16) and add two more. Gulp. I was equipped with my Cliff Blocks and Fuel Belt (filled with InfinIT--a complete carb/protein/electrolyte drink). The weather was very pleasant--low 60s with a cool breeze--perfect for running.

I felt pretty good surprisingly and ran with the easily with the group. At mile 5, I noticed the callouses on my feet were burning. They have been getting bigger and bigger lately, forming blood blisters under the callouses on my long runs. It felt like I had rocks in my shoes. I told myself it would go away eventually. Eventually, when my hips started aching, I didn't even notice the pain in my feet. See? It worked. No more foot pain.

I found a little dirt path alongside the road and picked up my pace. I zoned out and enjoyed the ride for a few miles. Hooked up with one of my running buds and turned down Neptune, a very scenic coastal stretch in Leucadia. The pavement was very rough, and the road was slanted. My feet and IT bands started bugging me. We were only at mile 10. How was I going to make it to 18?

A steep descent led towards Moonlight Beach, and I slowed to a shuffle as my knees and quads reminded me sharply of my ride the day before. Then, a steep ascent rose up before me, and I slowed to a walk without question. My running buds all dropped off at the parking lot. They were done. I had 6 more to go. It seemed like a long way. This was the lowest point of the entire run. I gave them the finger and told them I would see them in a bit at Naked Cafe. Then, almost ceremoniously, I started running.

When I hit the coast again, the low had passed, and I felt good again. How did that happen? I didn't care. I let my mind drift into oblivion as my legs kept chugging along. There's a quote out there about Ironman: "If you feel good during an Ironman, don't worry. You'll get over it." I reversed it on this run to help me get through the lows: "If you feel bad during a long run, don't worry. You'll get over it." This helped me immensely. I could simply wait out the pain, the lows, the agony, knowing in a few minutes, it would be gone, and I would be numb again. I fell quickly into my zone, somewhere between this universe and the next, slipping into the cracks of time, like the individual grains of sand in an overturned hourglass.

I fell in and out of a rhythm. Lows and highs. During the lows, everything would hurt. I felt sluggish. I realized 18 miles was a verrry long way to run. I felt like I had been running for a looong time. I wanted to share with people I passed on the street. I had to remind myself they probably didn't care about the crazy girl deliriously running down the street for a very long time. Instead, I smiled at them and counted the number of people who smiled back. Their smiles warmed and energized me, fueling me onward.

At mile 16, I hit another low point as I passed the Solana Beach train station, where I had started. I had to stop at a light, and I felt all the muscles in my legs seize up. When the light turned green, I coaxed my legs forward into a shuffle. Surprisingly, after a few moments, my legs found their rhythm again, and I was running easily down the road. 17 miles passed uneventfully, and I realized I was going to make it. The last mile flew by; I felt exhilarated. When I reached mile 18, something inside me wanted to keep going. I made myself stop. We can run farther next time, I told myself.

And I will....

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Checking In (& My Two Cents--not that you asked)

This week has been pretty good, training-wise. I've completely recovered from my cold (and San Dieguito on Sunday) and have been hitting all my workouts feeling refreshed and energized.

masters swim (3000 total) am
hard weights pm (never do weights angry--I SO paid for that on Tuesday!)
easy 20 mile bike am
really solid track practice pm (6x800, not including warm up and cool-down; San Diego Track Club rocks!)
masters swim (3200 total)
included a 400 time trial; I did 6:55, even though I felt sluggish, shaving 13 seconds off my previous timed 400, only 2 weeks ago!!!
brick workout--60 minutes on trainer (Spinervals Time Trial Special), followed by 4 mi tempo run. Felt great! Aren't your legs supposed to hurt on a brick?

My Two Cents:
Can I just say that I hate Valentine's Day? It's a Hallmark Holiday. A marketing ploy for suckers to spend a bunch of money on stuff that is meaningless. But I may be a little jaded on the whole subject. Not really ready for full disclosure just yet. But I DO hate VD-Day.

Upcoming Posts to Get Excited About:
1. Tri Girl Goes to the Nutritionist (Ironman nutrition anyone? I've been learning LOTS and want to share. Working on this...)
2. New addition to the family. A Look 585 Elle!!! Hot, baby, so hot! Cannot WAIT to post some new baby pics.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

San Dieguito Half Marathon Race Report

It had been a long, long time since I had gone "fast" in a half-marathon. I had been unable to touch my PR, set in my very first half-marathon, back in 2003, the Silicon Valley Half Marathon, which I had run with a strained hip abductor. Embarrassing. True, I had been working on my base, and since running was my strength, had been focusing on my limiters--the swim and the bike. But saying goodbye to speed was so hard. Frustrated at losing so much of my strength, I decided to try a new experiment--if running was my strength, maybe it wouldn't be too hard to try and get some speed back? I had decided to test this new hypothesis with speed work. I know. Groundbreaking. After hearing the miraculous wonders of the track over and over, I had decided to give that a try.

After 6 weeks of putting in a weekly track workout, I was excited about the San Dieguito Half Marathon. Delusions of grandeur of a speedy half-marathon danced in my head like sugarplum fairies until I was informed how difficult the course would be--full of hills. Lots and lots of hills. Damn! Okay, so I worked on hills. I would just have to play it by ear. Last weekend, I did a 16-mile long run at base pace and felt great. Maybe for the San Dieguito Half, I could do a 13.1-mile tempo run and up the intensity. Did I just say 13.1 mile tempo run? I must be crazy.

Wednesday before the race, I woke up with aches, chills, and a fever. Great. My first flu of the season. I bumped my race goal for San Dieguito down to a training run. Afterall, this was not an "A" race. Indeed, it really was just a training run for IM-AZ, which is now only 9 weeks away. How did that happen? I rested most of the week to get rid of my nasty cold. Saturday, I went for an "easy" 50 mile bike ride at a very conservative pace. Since when did a 50 mile ride become easy? The virus had taken its toll, and my body let me know on every hill with weakened muscles and respiratory system.

Someone asked what my goal was for Sunday's race. I knew I was at least going to run. Based on my cold, I figured it would probably be a training run. But a voice nagged at the back of my head. Maybe I had rested just enough. Maybe my cold was gone. I was a dark horse for Sunday.

After a fitfull night of sleep, I roused at 5:45 am. Had some oatmeal and a banana. Changed outfits a few times. I knew it would warm up to the 70s (wow!) but had underestimated the cold start (50s). I opted for shorts and a thin, long-sleeved technical tee. Arrived at the start with an hour to spare. I had time to stretch, scope out the scene, go to the bathroom 4x, and thoroughly freeze my ass off. The race was based out of the San Dieguito Park and took you through the heart of Rancho Santa Fe. It's boasted as one of the most beautiful half-marathons ever, and after running it, I have to agree.

Brent & me freezing our asses off before the start.

Two Red Bull cars pulled up. Again! That's two for two weekends! I must have the magic touch. I usually don't do caffeine before a race. I know. Nothing new on race day. But I decided to live dangerously. I sipped half a can and trotted towards the start.

Juicing up by the Red Bull car before the start.

Knowing the first mile of this hilly course was downhill, I seeded myself toward the front. I'm not fast but it wasn't chip-timed, and I was going to be damned if I was going to get caught behind the walkers on the first descent of the course. I knew I had a strong enough base to push it from the start. Plus, have I mentioned how much I love downhills? I absolutely dig them. I was going to use every single one. My strategy has always been to push it on the downhills and recover on the uphills. Sort of backwards but it works for me.

I looked around. It was a small field, only about 1,200 runners, which gave it a cozy, intimate feel. The gun went off, and within 20 seconds I was crossing over the start line. All that needless worry about not being chip-timed went out the window. I weaved in and out of the slower runners in front of me with ease and very quickly settled into a comfortable pace. I felt good. My feet felt light and quick, and my breathing was slow and even. This was going to be fun.

I hit mile 1 and glanced at my watch. 8:00 even. Shit! I was going to have to slow down! Too fast, too fast! The 2nd mile flattened out, and I slowed slightly. Mile 2--8:30. I was smokin'! I worried that I had started way too fast. Afterall, 9:00 min/miles are usually aggressive for me for long runs. But I felt soooo good! Okay, mental check: breathing? Slow. Legs? Quick. Stomach? Silent. All systems go. I decided to hit it hard. Apparently the virus had left the building and was not going to do an encore. Thank God. Alright, then. 13.1-mile tempo run, here we go. I was a little nervous. I had never tried to go all out for a half-marathon in my life. I had always held back, paced myself, saved it for the end. Not this time. Gotta live a little, right? I would go as hard as comfortably possible. If I blew up at mile 10, then I would learn something, right?

The hills began, steeply winding above me like a serpent. Thankfully, the course held no surprises for me because I had previewed the course on my bike earlier that week. Having a mental picture in my head was enormously helpful. I knew this hill was steep but I knew it was followed by a false flat afterwards, where I could recover somewhat. I worked hard, maintaining my rhythm uphill, allowing my breathing to become more rapid and shallow. I focused on reaching the top. Reaching the false flat, I allowed myself to slow and recover. Mile 3--9:00. Not bad, not bad at all. My goal was to average 9:00, and that was a hilly one. I'll take it.

All of a sudden, a steep descent appeared before me. My pulse quickened in anticipation. "Alright!" Have I mentioned how much I love downhills? I elongated my stride for a few footfalls, preparing my legs for the descent. I leaned into the decline, allowing gravity to take me forward. I focused on landing on my toes as lightly as possible, picking my feet up as quickly as they landed. My tempo increased as the grade increased. I felt like I was dancing. Controlled falling, isn't that what they say? My lungs felt great, only a slight burn in my quads and hip flexors, as if I was doing lunges. Hmmmm. Strength work? I weaved in and out of runners as I flew by. It felt like cheating. I was just letting the descent do all the work. Mile 4 flew by, and I glanced at my watch in disbelief. 7:15? I wasn't scared anymore. I was letting my legs take the reins and luckily, I had been invited along for the ride.

The road flattened out, and I took in the view. Amazing, ridiculously ostentatious mansions with pristine gardens commanded attention from every corner. I drank in the view, feeling as if I were watching an episode of the Rich and Famous. The pristine San Dieguito Reservoir sparkled to my left. Perched atop the gate of a resident's mansion was a beautiful, snow-white egret, dozing in the warm morning sun. I passed mile 5 unkowningly, deep in the zone, forgetting to look at my watch.

The temperatures were beginning to rise, reaching the upper 60s, very warm for my wimpy San Diego skin after 6 weeks of winter running in low 50s. However, the abundance of shady trees lining the streets of Rancho Santa Fe generously shielded me from the warm spring day. I was sweating and slightly warm but did not feel overheated. I diligently sipped from my Fuel Belt every 15 minutes and did not feel thirsty.

Several people had ominously warned me of the unsually high temperatures forecasted for race day. It was going to be in the 70s! I just have to laugh sometimes at how spoiled we are for living here. Who complains about 70-degree weather? Seriously. After living for several years in Wisconsin and St. Louis, I've vowed to kick myself if I ever slip and complain about the weather. It was another typical day in San Diego--beautiful day, warm, sunny, with a blazing blue cloudless sky. However, after a particularly chilly, wet winter, I reveled in the perfect San Diego weather I sometimes take for granted.

Mile 6 flew by. Already halfway done? This was going by so fast! Apparently, friends were waving and calling my name, as I was informed afterwards, but I do not remember seeing or hearing anything. My legs were zipping along. The rest of me was somewhere else in the universe. It was quite wonderful.

At mile 10, I did a recheck. My legs were quite sore from flying down the dowhills but my lungs felt fine, and I had a lot of energy. I suggested to a friend that the course wasn't long enough, irritating several runners within earshot. Maybe we should do it twice? I realized even if I bombed and ran 10:00 min/miles at this point, I would still PR. I felt both elated and relaxed. I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Like a really good book, I felt almost disappointed at the thought of reaching the end.

A few girls flew by me at mile 11. Grrrr. I stayed within my zone and let them go, keeping them within my sights. Wait for it, wait for it....Mile 12 came and went. 1 mile left to go. Okay, I told myself. If you have it, you can go for it. I began to chase down my prey. Slowly, I began to gain. I reached the long, gradual ascent up El Camino Real. I visualized the finish line. This is it. The last hill. There is nothing after this. You can push it. I made an executive decision to burn a little fuel and began the final attack. I reached my first victim, girl in pink shirt. Continuing my hunt, I passed young girl, and for a moment, just for a moment, felt guilty about passing her. We had run almost the same pace the entire way, and she couldn't be more than 12 years old. She was fantastic. I urged her on as I passed, "Almost there. Final stretch." She smiled. Okay, final victim, girl with pigtails. She was my #1 prey. We had been passing each other, shoulder to shoulder, glancing elbows, for the past 6 miles, and I had been extremely irritated when she flew by me at mile 11. I wanted to hunt her down so badly, I was salivating. I picked up the pace, digging into the hill. My legs ached and my lungs burned but it didn't matter. I was gaining, she was fading. I passed her with 1/2 mile to go. Now, I was the hunted, and she was the hunter. I continued accelerating. Gone was the aggression I had felt on the chase. Instead, it had not been replaced with fear. Fear a rabbit experiences when chased by a coyote. Not as fun as chasing but being chased is still good motivation for picking up your legs faster.

I reached the park and turned in to go down the chute. This was it. My running partner accelerated, right on my heels. Where did he come from? I don't think so! That was all I needed. Boom! I took off sprinting, kicking into turbo gear. Where did that come from? Spectators cheered me on as I sprinted down the chute, dropping my pursuer. I flew across the finish line for a glorious PR, shaving 7:00 from my previous best half-marathon time. Sweet, sweet victory. I am still savoring that moment.

Nick, me & Brent with our medals at the finish.

Bethany & me. All done!

This was my best ever half marathon. It felt effortless. The miles flew by, and I was almost sorry to reach the finish. I learned that I am "good" at downhill running. Who knew? In addition, mentally, I enjoy the variation of a rolling course. Plus, since it's considered a challenging course, it was a much-needed boost to my confidence. I think the best PRs are the unintentional ones. Everything clicked for me on this race. I was simply "on". Guess the key to a PR is to get sick mid-week to force a good taper. I love the never-ending flood of self discovery afforded by triathlon.

Total Time: 1:51:05
Pace: 8:29

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Epic Weekend (2/2/08)

With all the stress in my life right now, training could go either one of two ways:
a) shut it down
b) go full throttle
I chose option b) in order to maintain my sanity and sleep at night.

Saturday (2/2), an intimate group of 4 of us did the Train Ride. We took the train up to Anaheim to ride the 80 miles back to Solana Beach. This is the 2nd time I've done this ride, and it only gets better each time.

Train: On the train (a little over an hour), I sipped my coffee and slammed a chocolate glazed donut to make sure I didn't start the ride hungry. The heat inside the cabin warmed my muscles, lulling me into a drowsy, false sense of security. As we kept traveling north, we all looked at each other anxiously. "Dude. We are a looong way from home!"

Warm Up:
We disembarked in Anaheim and were rudely awakened into the chilly morning. After a quick stop at the toilet, we eased into the saddle and were off. Shivering, we made our way to the Santa Ana River Bike Trail. We hit the trail and started cruising. I love this trail! It leads directly to the coast, avoiding all roads and traffic. There's no wind, and it's verrry flat. It's the easiest 13 miles I've ever done--perfect warm up.

We were in good spirits and joking around. "Are we there yet?" All of us had the same goal in mind--ride at base pace but with as few stops as possible. Two of us were training for IM-AZ in April, and the other two for CA 70.3 at the end of March. We were well-matched. The cohesion between the 4 of us was magical. There are pluses to riding in a big group but also a lot of advantages to a smaller, more intimate group. I enjoy mixing it up.

Newport Beach:
We hit the coast and made our way through the busy streets of Newport Beach. Luckily, on an early Saturday morning in February, the streets were fairly empty. We spotted the regular Orange County pelotons zipping through, the OC versions of SDBC and Swami's. Always comforting to ride on a regular bike corridor.

12 Different Cities:
As we rode through the different coastal cities, we experienced different spectrums of weather conditions--each niche had its own unique weather biome. Perhaps it was because the ride took so long. But also maybe because we rode such a long way! Anaheim was chilly and misty, Newport Beach was gray, Laguna Beach was sunny and pleasant. Dana Point was cold and windy. San Clemente was cloudy but still. Camp Pendleton was extremely WINDY! Oceanside was cloudy. Carlsbad was sunny and slightly pleasant. Next up were Leucadia, Encinitas, Cardiff, and finally Solana Beach. We rode through 12 different cities!

Laguna, DP, & San Clemente:
Laguna Beach was soooo beautiful. Lots of secluded coves and pristine beaches. Rolling hills and moutains flanking the ocean to the east. After all the rain SoCal has received this winter, the hills were carpeted in a brilliant, velvety emerald-green. I've never seen SoCal so green and in bloom before!

Every street sign in Dana Point ends in "Lantern." I particularly like "Green Lantern" because it reminds of the villain in Spiderman. We wound through the side streets in San Clemente, which felt like a roller coaster--constantly up, then down, back up, and down again. We stopped at the market at the end of town to grab a sandwich, Pepsi, and red vines (my own personal touch). Oh, and a Twix. The Cliff Blocks, InfinIT, and Cliff Bars just weren't doing it for me.

Red Bull Gives You Wings!
In Camp Pendleton, we decided to do "extra credit." I had wanted to do about ~85 miles but felt good at 60 so I didn't mind when 1 of the riders wanted to shoot for a full century. Is that weird? Let's do an accidental 100 miles today. I'm officially nuts. We headed into the base down Christianitos Road. A Red Bull car was sitting on the shoulder. Huh? I've seen Red Bull cars at races like 5Ks and sprints but we were in the middle of nowhere. There's very little traffic in Camp Pendleton, and it was dead-quiet.We rode past the Red Bull car, and 2 girls handed each of us a Red Bull! How's that for a support vehicle? Good aid station! We were rewarded for our "extra credit" loop. Pretty random stuff. I knew at that point someone from above was smiling down on us on that ride.

We headed down the Trestles Bike Path and entered the base, adding yet an extra loop on Las Pulgas. We cruised out to the turn-around oblivious to the wicked tail-wind. Then we turned around. Damn! Just when I get tricked into thinking I'm this bad-ass cyclist, the wind pokes me on the shoulder and knocks me down a few pegs. We all battled our way back to Stuart Mesa Road.

My ass was beginning to hurt, and my leg warmers were chafing my thighs but I was able to block it out and maintain a good rhythm. Besides, I knew everyone else had the same issues. With the Red Bull, Red Vines, and Twix in my system, I couldn't really be that miserable, eh?
Around mile 75, K. passed me.
"Red Bull gives you wings!"
"C'mon! You can do better than that!" he teased.
Oh, no he didn't, I thought to myself. I took off, blasting by everyone up the next hill. Take that! Ha! It felt so good to feel so good at mile 75. Funny, how positivity can snowball.

Mile 80, we exited the base and rode through Oceanside Harbor. I couldn't believe what good time we were making. In Carlsbad (mile 85), I got left behind at 2 verrrry long lights that took absolutely forever. I lost 5-7 minutes. Dammit! I knew we only had 10 miles left to go. I decided to test my limits and see if I could catch up. I took off, mustering a crazy (for me) 20 mph while muttering, "Drop the hammer, drop the hammer," repeatedly. It was my mantra. It was early afternoon, and most of the riders left on the road were the easy-going Sunday-driver types. I blasted by....I was on a mission. I did pretty well at maintaining that pace until I hit Cardiff, right outside Solana Beach. I just barely missed catching the group at the very end and arrived back at the train station, completely exhausted. Still, I was very pleased that I could find that high-octane speed so late in the game.

Sunday, I woke up feeling surprisingly fresh and not sore. It was windy and rainy outside. Stubbornly, I pulled on my tights and long-sleeved running shirt and showed up to meet 3 other guys as stubborn as me. They were going 10. I was going 16. Rain? Wind? So? We started in Solana Beach and rain north on the coast to Encinitas. On 101 in Cardiff, where there's no protection from the ocean, the wind

Friday, February 01, 2008

Celebrity Sightings at TCSD Meeting!

I went to our monthly Tri Club San Diego meeting on Thursday, where a good time is always guaranteed. Nothing better than catching up with friends and enjoying a good speaker. Last night was great--Bob Babbit (of Competitor magazine and radio) interviewed Samantha McGlone.

Who is Sam McGlone? Just the winner of the Ironman 70.3 World Champion and 2004 Olympian for the Canadian Triathlon team. Oh, and she also came in 2nd place in Kona this year. In a nutshell, an awesome athlete and after hearing her speak, a glowing personality. She told us the story of how she got into running....when she was 5 years old! She begged her father to let her go running with him but he said she was too little. She wanted so desperately to join him on his 2 mile runs that she decided to prove to him that she could do it by running laps up and back on their driveway, which was something crazy like 44 laps. So at 5 years old, she ran the 44 laps on the driveway, after which, her father had to oblige her by taking her on his runs. About a year later, she was dropping him! Good stuff.

In addition to seeing Sam McGlone, David Goggins, amazing UltraMan (double Ironman in Kona) and ultra marathon runner (5th place 2006 Badwater) also attended the meeting. How cool is that?

Finally, I got to meet Saul Raisin, one of my heroes! This guy was an amazing young pro cyclist for Credit Agricole, bringing both talent, enthusiasm, and purity to the sport of cycling, which it so desperately needs. I was putting my money behind this bright star to be the next Lance Armstrong of the future.

However, these hopes were dashed in 2006 when he crashed during the first stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe. In the hospital, he developed massive swelling in his brain and lapsed into a coma, at which time his parents were contacted and asked to sign the documents for organ donation. The doctors informed his parents that he would probably not survive, and that if he did, he would probably be paralyzed. Miraculously, not only did Saul survive, he awakened from his coma, and after a long, rough period of vigorous therapy, was able to make a full recovery--both in his physical and cognitive skills. He's back on the TT bike, and although can no longer ride for Credit Agricole, is making big plans for his future.

I had a chance to "catch up" with him at the tri club meeting. I asked what he was going to do now that he could no longer ride for the team. His response gave invaluable insight into his amazing perspective and positive attitude on life--much wiser than his 25 years:

"When one door closes, another one opens. Cycling will always be a part of my life. I ride every day. But it's not my whole life. There are more things to life than just cycling."

Saul has started a foundation to raise money for research on brain injuries. He received an award at this year's Competitor Endurance Sports Awards for the "Comeback Athlete of the Year". His next stop is Washington D.C. where he will be meeting with members of the US Air Force to discuss ways to treat soldiers coming back from Iraq that have suffered brain injuries. And athletic plans for the future? He revealed to me that he has been adding swimming and running to his regime of workouts. Hmmmm........

I feel so fortunate to have meet Saul. Not only is he physically gifted athletically, but expresses a unique combination of charisma, wisdom, altruism, and passion for life that is truly a rare find. I wish Saul the best of luck in his endeavers and will be following his progress; I know his future will be nothing short of earth-shattering. If you want to find out more about Saul, read his book, Tour de Life (which I'm currently enjoying), on his experiences. Also, check out his blog to check his progress.

From Saul's blog:
"...I now have a normal life and have pledged to give back and help others that have brain and spinal cord injuries or any other major illness. I want to grow my Raisin Hope fund into a foundation. I hope to have shown people to never give up and always fight to the finish. I have been truly blessed with a loving family, friends, and the best support group on earth."