Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Riding with Chris Carmichael

Yesterday was Day 2 of feeling happy. Still don't know if the meds are finally working or the exercise or both, but I really don't care. After my 10+ mile run home on Monday, I was pretty sore (read--VERY sore) Tuesday morning. I was glad I could bike in and didn't have to run the 10 miles back to work. I cruised to work on Pandora, only really huffing and puffing as I struggled up the inside of Torrey Pines. I did have to stop at the top to pop my hip back; my hips are not very happy with me. God, I'm out of shape! It's amazing how 4 weeks of doing almost nothing can reduce you from superwoman to slush. It also made me realize how ironic it is that I train day in and day out for 6 months to get in the best shape of my life, and then, in 1 day (the Ironman), I completely annihilate and destroy my body and everything I worked so hard for. The body is truly amazing. What else can you beat into a pulp only to have it come back stronger?

That afternoon, I joined the Triathlon Club of San Diego (www.triclubsandiego.org) for a fun, 25-mile ride with Lance Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael. I was a bit worried. Afterall, I'm out of shape, and completely dead from jumping back into training too fast too soon (is there any other way to do it?). My worries were quickly soothed as we rode out at a social pace. There must have been over 50 of us! We chatted easily as we cruised through Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe. The roads were rolling but rewarding, and I was very pleased that I could effortlessly keep up with the pack. Phew! I marveled at the stars among us: Chris, of course, but also Bob Babbitt, and John Howard! How lucky I am to live in San Diego! (Jessi Stensland showed up at the meeting afterwards as well). After we were done, I scarfed down a few tacos before listening to Chris's story at the meeting.

Things are looking up. Today is Day 3, and I think it's going to be a good one.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Run Commute--running my way to salvation

I decided to run home from work last night. I was excited about it all day. Maybe the antidepressants are kicking in, or maybe I was just feeling better about getting back to training but who cares?

Aside:
By the way, I'm not going to get into a long drawn-out argument to fight the stigma of antidepressants but they do help some people, especially those with a chemical imbalance. And I would much rather put something into my body that's been through the rigors of clinical trials and FDA approval than something unproven and anecdotal....like herbal remedies. I guess I'm too much of a scientist. Okay, enough of my two cents.

At 5:00, I changed into my running clothes and began the 10+ mile run home. As the miles ticked by, I felt oddly calm and at ease. Something I hadn't felt for a month. Peace. My mind was quiet and blank. No thoughts plagued me. I was a soft oberserver, watching the universe unfold before me, living in the moment. I savored the fleeting moment of flight between each footstep that felt eerily like floating, then sought to repeat the sensation, over and over. Like an infant being rocked to sleep, my footsteps were a lullaby to my troubled mind. I smiled at the other runners, walkers and cyclists around me. They all eagerly smiled back, as if we all knew the secret we shared. I watched the line of cars, crawling on the freeway. Even though it would take me longer to get home on foot than by car today, time would elapse in the blink of an eye. I drank in the waves rolling onto the beach, softly crashing into white foam like soap bubbles. I watched the sunset surfers riding the final waves to shore before darkness consumed them.

My toes began to blister. Sharp pain stabbed my feet, reminding me of the blood blister on the bottom of my big toe from running barefoot in the sand the week before. I ignored the physical pain easily. A small price to pay to be free from the inner turmoil that had been churning within. After mile 7, my body began to protest. Afterall, my longest run for the last month had been 4 miles. I kept pushing. My hips began to lock up, shortening my stride considerably. I kept pushing through. The pain didn't bother me. The slower pace my legs were reduced to didn't bother me. As long as I could keep moving forward. At mile 9, I thought I was going to die. Luckily, I could see the bridge leading towards home. Not much longer.

And then, I had made it. I hobbled towards the house. My body was not happy but my mind was free and my soul was blissful. As I sank into my ice bath upstairs, I smiled. I'm thankful my body could withstand the punishment I needed to feel happy. Time to get back into shape!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hibernation

I've been AWOL lately. I guess I figured if I didn't have anything nice to say, I should remain mute. But the brutal honesty is ripping out of me. Right on schedule, Post-Ironman Blues, paid me a visit. Except that calling them something as quaint as "blues" is nothing short of a grossly underestimated euphemism. You'd think because I've been through this before, I'd have it mastered by now. Not the case. Maybe it's because this is the worst case of post-race "blues" I've ever had (read: depression). Perhaps it was the mix of being depleted from the Ironman, not exercising for a few weeks (which I rely on for my daily boost of serotonin), or the start of my off-season, or a mix of all three. Whatever the cause, I could barely see through the foggy haze of my chemically-depleted state. I desperately needed to exercise but couldn't muster the energy to leave the comfy depths of the pillows of the sofa that swallowed me. I was hell-bent on destroying every relationship that mattered to me as well (poor Brent). Dark thoughts plagued my mind, racing through my head endlessly. The only thing I could do was work. Preoccupying my brain with the multitude of minutiae that dominate in lab was soothing and numbing. Needless to say, I've gotten loads of work done. I'm tired of all the energy it takes for me to be happy. I've complained to my doctor and to my therapist. There has to be an easier way. I've decided to try anti-depressants. They have helped in the past. With any luck, a little chemical boost can make me feel like myself again (of course, for the past 2 weeks, I've just been suffering from nasty side effects). I'm still waiting. Am I happy yet? In the meantime, I've written up a new training plan, trying to keep me from getting totally derailed. Time to shock this body back into action and flood the brain with good ole' endorphins.

...Am I happy yet?

Monday, September 14, 2009

What I Learned--Ironman Canada

Before the memories of Ironman Canada become hazy with time, I want to reflect on the lessons I learned. So many people told me how sorry they were that my experience was so full of suffering and pain. But I'm not sorry. I believe my 2nd Ironman was meant to be that way and because of it, I learned invaluable life lessons much more meaningful than if it had been easy. Each Ironman is a unique journey with different lessons to teach me. My Ironmans are deep spiritual quests for personal growth and inner strength. That is the essence of why I do them. Therefore, I am thankful for the hard-earned lessons learned in Ironman Canada. Yes, I suffered more than I ever have before. But I wouldn't have learned them any other way.

1. Thou Shalt be Humble
I trained more than I ever had before, and I was in the best shape of my life coming into Ironman Canada. I had worked hard to increase my speed and was proud of the level I had achieved. I had high expectations coming into this race. I was certain I could PR, given that my first Ironman had been in brutal conditions (high heat and wind). I was quickly stripped of all ego in this race as my sick stomach wracked my body with twisting pain and contortions throughout the day. I was soundly humbled by the Ironman gods. I had to throw away all preconceived notions of speed and hang onto the goal of just finishing. Ego only hurts you in an Ironman. Just get rid of it.

2. Thou Shalt have NO Expectations
As I mentioned above, I had high expectations. I dreamed of a huge PR. It was not to be. No matter how much you've planned, trained, or prepared, you just don't know what the Ironman gods have in store for you on race day. You can't control how you're going to feel or what the weather is going to be like. It's dangerous to have time goals. Unless you're fine with dropping out if you don't meet your time goals, you MUST have other goals that take precedence over time. In other words, the goal of just finishing. I would have liked to add "Just finish and have a good time in the process" but unfortunately, having a good time was not in the cards for me. But I had other rewards.

3. Thou Shalt be Tested
I had been told there would be a point on the course where I would go through an extreme low. I had experienced this before. Just not that low. I've never experienced such suffering in a race or training before. I was warned I would ask myself at some point, "Why the hell am I doing this?" I scoffed. I'm not going to ask myself that, I naively believed. I love doing this. I love Ironmans. But no one loves Ironmans when doing an Ironman. All you have to do is watch the pained grimaces and vacant stares of the athletes doing one of the races to know that an immense amount of pain and suffering is experienced in one of these races. No matter how fast you are, well-trained, or strong you are, you will ask yourself at some point, "Why am I here? Is this worth it?" And that's when you discover the stuff you are made of. How strong you are. And why you really are out there to begin with and whether or not it's worth it.

4. Thou Shalt have Compassion
I am deeply embarrassed to admit that I used to silently tease others who DNF'ed or even struggled to come in just before midnight on an Ironman. I am so sorry I ever felt that way. I was ignorant. Each athlete's Ironman journey is done alone. Even though spectators are cheering you on, they cheer from the outside, like someone peering through the glass of an aquarium. Even the athletes that run side by side on the course are alone. No one understands what you are going through but you. The struggles you experience, the pain you suffer, the thoughts that plague you, those are yours and yours alone. So to those of you who don't finish, or don't make the cut-off, my heart goes out to you. I am so sorry I ever thought less of you. I am sorry I used to think anyone could finish an Ironman. Because I was wrong. So very wrong. Finishing an Ironman is H.A.R.D. No matter what. As a matter of fact, I now realize that those who drop out or miss the cutt-off suffer leagues more than those who finish, and especially those who finish under 14 hours. Because those athletes are having an incredibly tough, incredibly unfortunate day. I cannot fathom the amount of suffering those athletes must be feeling.

All in all, I am grateful for the lessons Ironman Canada taught me. Never again will I underestimate how hard an Ironman is, no matter how many I've done. I've never experienced such pain and suffering before, and I definitely had my God moment out there on the bike course, my revelation, stripped of everything but my soul, nothing else remaining. And I rose up from the ashes, and continued to put one foot in front of the other. When I reached the finish line, it was nothing short of glorious, victorious, triumphant rapture. I'd like to believe, I am a stronger, more humble, more compassionate person on the other side of that finish line. Nothing comes easy, that's for sure. But I'm glad. Because I wouldn't reap all the gains and benefits if it was easy.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ride for the Cure


My mother has had breast cancer. Twice. This has affected her, me and our family so deeply that when I found out my good friend, Audrey, was doing the 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk, I wanted to help. Her sister is also a breast cancer survivor. Audrey and her sisters will walk 60 miles in 3 days (no small feat) for the 2nd year in a row. Along the way, she raises money to donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, whose sole purpose is to help fight breast cancer.

This year, I am helping Audrey by organizing a ride to help raise money for her walk. If anyone in the area would like to participate, I hope you will join us! It's a fully supported ride, offering 20, 40, and 60 mile distances of increasing difficulty. The route offers spectacular views of the Cabrillo National Monument, Sunset Cliffs, Mt. Soledad, La Jolla Shores, and Torrey Pines (bring your camera!). Come out, ride, have a good time and donate as much or as little as you want. More information about the ride can be found here:
http://sdbikeroutes.blogspot.com/2009/07/ride-for-cure.html
Here is the link for the map:
http://www.mapmyride.com/route/us/ca/mission%20bay%2c%20point%20loma%2c%20la%20jolla%2c%20torrey%20pines/952125244561476957

Also, if you prefer to donate directly to Audrey's website, here is the link:
http://www.the3day.org/site/TR/Walk/SanDiegoEvent2009?px=1992011&pg=personal&fr_id=1298


Ride for the Cure Success!!!

Thanks so much to all the riders that came out and also to the wonderful volunteers who made the ride possible. Audrey has met her goal for the 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk! You guys are the best!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Thank You

Completing an Ironman may seem like a solo journey but that is far from the truth. I would have never been able to cross that finish line, especially in my ailing state, without the army of support that carried me throughout the day.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
(in no particular order)

1. The Volunteers
Without you, I wouldn't have finished. Simple as that. Especially to the amazing volunteers in T2 who wouldn't let me quit, even when I wanted to. And to the wonderful volunteers who caught me in the finishing chute as I sobbed into their embracing arms. Without such amazing, tireless, enthusiastic volunteers, there would be no Ironman races. Period.

2. The Spectators
You made me feel like a celebrity. You lied and told me I looked good when we all know I looked like death. You spent all day in the heat, wind, and fire yelling until your throat was hoarse, wearing ridiculous costumes and blasting the same Rocky song over and over without the promise of a medal at the end or any other reward. Pure selflessness. You gave me energy when my tank was empty. Your ridiculous antics and comedic routines and props (thanks to the girls with Stan the blow-up doll!!!) made me smile through and through in my darkest hour when I thought I would never feel joy again.

3. The Citizens of Penticton
You made me feel SO welcome in your hometown. I truly felt like a celebrity. Before I even got off the plane, Pentictonions were asking if they could help make me feel at home. "What's your number so I can cheer for you on Sunday?" "Do you need directions?" "Is there anything you need?" I was overwhelmed with genuine kindness. All the local stores and restaurants stayed open late and provided discounts to Ironman athletes. There was even an Ironman Street Fair on Friday night! Every hotel sign, church sign, and school sign said: "Good luck Ironman Athletes!" It was unbelievable.

4. My Fellow Bloggers
Your positive, warm thoughts and energy helped me accomplish what seemed like an impossible feat. I believe everyone's good wishes and prayers caused favorable vibrations to hum through the universe that day, making it possible for me to overcome the most difficult hurdle I've ever been faced with. Thank you for your undying support.

5. My Friends
I received countless e-mails, texts, and phone calls during the weeks leading up to the race from friends wide and far, old and new, triathlete fanatics and normal people too. Thank you so much for thinking of me! Thank you so much for supporting me and my crazy habit!

6. My Co-workers and Professor
Thank you for tirelessly listening to every detail of every workout! Thank you for all your support. Thank you looking the other way as I sneak off to lunchtime swim or late afternoon ride. Thank you for understanding. Thanks especially to Audrey (who is doing the 3-day Breast Cancer Walk in a few months), Karen, and Linda.

7. UCSD Masters Program (http://recreation.ucsd.edu/mstr)
Thanks especially to Sickie and Terry Martin (winner of 1994 Ironman Canada) for making me a better swimmer and triathlete overall. Thanks to Sickie for making workouts fun and something I look forward to! Thanks for knowing when to push me, when to piss me off, when to placate me, when to encourage me, and when to back off. You truly have a gift. Thanks to Terry for making the noon workouts notoriously wicked! Thanks for always knowing the right thing to say to build my confidence. Thanks for all the tips on the Ironman Canada course and giving me advice on how to train ("just do Palomar until it's easy").

8. Triathlon Club of San Diego (TCSD; www.triclubsandiego.org)
I cannot thank you enough. The resources, training opportunities, and motivation provided by this club are phenomenal. There is no other club in the world that compares. I've met so many of my friends, my triathlon "family", and the love of my life through this club. I've gleaned countless tips and training advice from club experts: Craig Zelent, Ironman Coach; Mark Kenny, trail running expert; Bob Rosen, Ironman Canada veteran; Rick Summers, triathlon veteran....If I continued, the list would run on for 9 pages. Thank you!

9. Alternative Saturday Bike Riders
You came out with me week after week on what you knew would be a hellacious ride. You trusted me to get you back to the start as we forged new bike routes. You learned not to believe me when I said the ride would be only "moderately hilly" (break out the triple), "rolling hills" (er, mountains), "not that hard" (bring money for a cab), or "not that long" (at least 100 miles). You showed up anyway, at the crack of dawn, smiling. Thank you for motivating me to get my long ride in every Saturday! Thank you for the camaraderie. You guys make it fun. I've met so many of my friends on these rides: Michelle, Mark, Mary (now in Ohio, sniff, sniff), Alex, Monica, Steve, TJ, Brad....I'm sorry I can't list everyone!!!

10. Julie's Sunday Running Group
You guys taught me how to run long when I thought a half marathon was a big deal. You guys made it fun and taught me there is so much more to running than speed. I've deepened my love for running and made some wonderful friends in the process. Thank you for motivating me to get up early every Sunday, legs dead from Saturday's long ride, and run. I look forward to my Sunday runs all week. I would have never made it this far without you. Thanks so much to Julie, Li, Ann, Beth, Joe, Lauren, Matt, and Greg!

11. B&L Bike Shop (http://www.blbikes.com)
Thanks for helping me with my bike every time I thought I heard a funny creak or felt an unusual, mysterious twinge in Torch. Thanks for expertly tuning up my bike whenever needed and convincing me not to when it didn't. You never oversold anything to me and actually talked me out of getting a new bike just because I felt like it. You guys are honest, expert bike mechanics, and always make me feel welcome. Thanks especially to the Matts and the BEST bike fitter in San Diego, hands-down, Dan-O Rock, one of the original Ironman.

12. Sabine Grossmann, massage therapist
I can't believe you're leaving me to move to Denver!!! I wouldn't have been able to recover so quickly from my crazy-hard workouts and stay injury-free without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you! What am I going to do without you? Denver, you are a very lucky place.

13. Jennifer Janis, acupuncturist
Thank you for being such a gifted healer. I think with your skills, I will be just fine. Not only did you help calm my IBS, heal any pre-injuries, and soothe any aches and pains but you always inject me with an overwhelming amount of confidence and positive energy. I always leave your home feeling like a superstar!

14. Dr. John Martinez of Coastal Sports and Wellness (http://coastalsportsmedicine.com)
Dr. Martinez provides a full-service facility from sports medicine to physical therapy to super-hard, triathlon-specific spin classes. This is the first place I go when I have a strange ache or pain (or actual injury) that doesn't seem to be going away.

15. Dr. Jay Berenter, podiatrist (Scripps Health)
This guy is an expert at what he does and treats Olympic marathoners like Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi. In addition, he has great bedside manner. He has enabled me to run marathons and complete Ironmans pain- and injury-free, despite my imperfect biomechanics.

16. Pia Weber, yoga instructor (http://piaweber.com)
Thank you for helping me loosen my body, relax, and de-stress during lunchtime Yoga at Scripps. You are a very gifted teacher. I always left feeling calm, relaxed, and at peace. I always feel like I just had a massage!

17. Kim Mueller, sports nutritionist, (http://www.fuel-factor.com/founder.html)
The education and training I learned from Kim was invaluable. I will never forget these tools, which enabled me to finish 2 Ironmans. She knows her stuff!

18. My Family, mom, dad, and Erin
Thanks so much for all your support. I know you think I'm crazy but you love me anyway. Thank you for believing in me and loving me no matter what.

19. Alec
Thank you for being proud of me and making me feel strong. I can't tell you how proud I am of you when I see you do your triathlons. I'm so glad we can share our love for this sport. Thank you especially for finishing my final 20-mile run with me while doing your Yoda impressions and making me laugh. You are a very special little guy.

20. Babs & Taz
I love nothing more than cuddling up next to you after a long day and stroking your impossibly soft fur. You two are so special. Thank you for helping me relax and de-stress. Thank you for always looking at me with those soft, warm, brown, loving eyes.

21. Brent
Last but not least, the love of my life. I could not have done this without you. You supported me day in and day out, through the highs and lows of my training. Sometimes, I was too exhausted to do anything but eat, sleep, and train. You picked up the slack and never complained. You understood when I was gone for 8 hours on a long bike ride. You supported me when I got sick or injured. You put up with me during my taper and all the other times I became impossible and threw temper tantrums. I don't know how you do it. Finally, your undying support in Canada got me to the finish line when I was sure I wouldn't finish. You selflessly put me first all weekend. You cheered me on until you had no voice and were weak and dehydrated. You stayed out on the course with me all day. You believed in me even when I didn't. You always knew exactly what to say and exactly where to be, in an almost eerie way. You carried me through my lowest lows when I didn't have enough strength left in my body to keep going. You are amazing. Thank you. I love you.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Ironman Canada Race Report--A Gut-Wrenching Experience

Pre-Pre Race:
The Calm Before the Storm


--arriving at the race site at Okanagan Lake in Penticton.

--the entire town provided undying support for the athletes.

--hanging out at the infamous Peach.

--feeling calm and collected days before the race.
Little did I know what I had in store for me.
Pre-Race:
The alarm blared at 4:00 am. I bolted upright in bed, shaking my hands. I had been dreaming that parasitic worms were bursting out of my forearms. Not a good omen. My stomach instantly began to churn. My stomach normally feels nasty in the morning and pre-race nerves don’t help but this wasn’t normal. Something was wrong. Acid poured into my stomach, making it feel like it was on fire. My guts twisted and cramped. Something was very wrong. I took my usual morning Prilosec and tried in vain to eat breakfast. I knew if I could eat, I would feel better. But I couldn’t. Each bite was torture, sending waves of nausea through my body, and I struggled not to vomit. I got down a banana. A single measly banana. Then, I lay on the bed, trying to soothe my stomach. At 5:00 am, my stomach was not improved. But it was time to go.

Halfway to the race site, I made Brent turn the car around. I needed a bathroom. Like yesterday. I made it back to the hotel bathroom. I popped an Immodium and sat on the edge of the bed with my head between my hands, tears rolling down my cheeks. This was beyond nerves, beyond a simple IBS flare-up. I had a stomach bug. How on earth was I going to do an Ironman like this?

Brent kept telling me I would feel better once I started. Maybe he was right. I desperately wanted to believe he was right. But I had a sinking feeling. I knew my stomach too well. I checked in my Special Needs Bags, walking slowly to quell the waves of nausea passing through me. I pumped my tires and lay down by my bike, trying to settle my stomach, trying not to vomit. A very sweet girl asked if I was okay. “Is this your first one?” I got that a lot that morning. Everyone though I had pre-race nerves. Yeah, I was nervous. Nervous about doing an Ironman with a stomach bug!

I slowly slipped into my wetsuit, kissed Brent goodbye, and waded into Okanagan Lake. I prayed I didn’t end up in the medical tent or worse. My stomach felt like I had swallowed a switchblade, and my body was very weak and tired. I was sick. I wanted so much to enjoy my race. The whole town had come out to support the race. Shops and stores had been open late, giving discounts to Ironman athletes on the days leading up to the race. The town had even put on an Ironman Street Fair. The course was amazingly beautiful, and the lake was crisp and clean. It seemed like so much fun. I mourned, knowing I would be exempt from any fun that day. I would be racing with a monkey on my back. Except it was more like I had eaten the monkey and it was trying to claw its way out of my bowels with tooth and claw. I thought about all the training I had done. How hard I had worked to get here. I had to at least start.

I listened to a beautiful siren voice singing the Canadian national anthem. Momentarily, my stomach was soothed. I seeded myself to the back, left-hand side of the start on the shore of Okanagan Lake. The water was crystal clear and tasted as fresh as spring water. The temperature was a perfect 68 degrees. As the clock counted down to 0, I got chills. Here goes nothing, I thought. The gun went off, and I began my 2nd Ironman in Penticton, Canada with a stomach bug.

Swim:
We waded into the lake until it was deep enough to swim. The bubble of athletes surrounding me was courteous and friendly. I had seeded myself just right. The faster, more aggressive athletes had already departed, leaving a strong, favorable wake behind, ready to pull us slower athletes forward and give us a helping hand. We started swimming, and I relaxed. I felt comfortable and smooth. I barely had to exert any effort to slip along in the water. I counted to 10, sighted, switch sides, counted to 10, sighted, switched sides. The monotony of these motions calmed and soothed me, putting me into a meditative rhythm. The buoys flew by. I reached the turn-around and became a little disoriented by the absence of the usual, large, triangular, yellow buoy I’m accustomed to. In its place was a small, round, orange buoy, identical to all the others. Turn here? Here? What about here? I relied on the other athletes around me to guide me. Although sighting off only one other swimmer is a bad idea, sighting off 20 to 30 swimmers is actually very useful.

Finally, I made the final turn and began the long stretch back to shore. About 1 mile left to go. Not once, did I wonder my usual, panicked, How much further? Are we there yet? Are we there yet!? I was now swimming directly east, and the rising sun was blinding. Luckily, I was wearing tinted goggles and was able to use two, tall towers directly behind shore, an ideal landmark. Unfortunately, my stomach was beginning to remind me that it was still sick. Each time I briefly lifted my head to sight, it lurched and cramped. I decided to rely on the swimmers to each side of me to avoid sighting. As long as I kept my head down and maintained my easy, relaxed rhythm, my stomach was mostly quiet. The inferno in my belly was reduced to hot embers. I passed the final buoy and headed into the beach. I trotted out of the water, undoing my wetsuit, and smiled when I saw my time, 1:22, a minute faster than my first Ironman.
--2600 athletes line up at the start of Okanagan Lake.
--the gun goes off and the athletes, like soldiers, march into battle.
--the 2.4 mile swim is underway in the clear, clean waters.

--me in the pink cap finished with the swim.
This would be the best part of my entire day.
--Brent--my support crew, my photographer, my undying support, my angel, and my love. Thank you for everything. I couldn't have done it without you.
T1:
I sat on the ground before a wetsuit stripper, and she easily got my wetsuit off with one strong tug. Grabbing my bag, I trotted to the changing tent. Inside, it was packed, and I had to search for an open seat in the back. Instantly, I began munching on a PB&J, trying to make up for my missed breakfast. The swim had made me a little hungry, and the sandwich felt good inside my churning tummy, sopping up some of the acid. For a few brief moments, I had delusions of grandeur of being able to finish the rest of the race with a calm, sedated tummy. Although I didn’t feel like I was hurrying or rushing, I must have been pretty efficient. I was out of T1 and on my bike in 7 minutes, about 50 seconds faster than last year.

The Bike:

I hesitate to even write this section as just thinking about it makes my stomach churn, even several days later. Do I really want to relive the most miserable 7+ hours of my life? The first 40 miles were flat and fast. These were the best moments of the entire bike that day. I climbed up the short, steep hill on McLean Rd about 10 miles into the bike. It felt good to get out of the saddle and stretch my legs. I hunkered back into my aerobars and flew down the descent before zooming down the flat road past Skaha Lake. I would have normally enjoyed the free speed but the bent over aero position was causing my stomach to cramp.

The course was gorgeous, lined with apple, peach, and cherry orchards, vineyards, cattle, and horses. Gentle hills rolled through the valley, surrounded by massive, rocky mountains. Although there were many beautiful streams and lakes and the valley was green, the surrounding area was dry and brown. The air was extremely arid, making the temperatures seem deceivingly cool.
--The course was devastatingly beautiful. I wish I could have enjoyed it.
--Vineyards in the valley on the bike course in Okanagan Valley.
--Dry rolling hillsides and mountains surrounded the bike course.

The acid began creeping back into my stomach so I instantly popped 2 Tums. Knowing the beginning of the bike would be the best opportunity to get food into my depleted system, I finished the rest of my PB&J, ate a few Cliff Blocks, and nibbled on a Cliff Nectar Bar, downing it with copious amounts of water. I tried, in vain, to drink my InfinIT sports drink, upon which I normally depend on for 90% of my calories and electrolytes when racing. Each sip caused my stomach to lurch revoltingly, threatening to empty its contents. When one of my bottles fell off my bike as I went over a bump, I didn’t even pause. Good riddance. I decided right then and there I wouldn’t drink another drop of InfinIT the rest of the day.

Finally, around mile 40, I turned west in Osoyoos and began the long climb up Richter Pass. Since I had driven the course the day before and been warned about the climb by many, I was more than ready. In all honesty, the hill itself wasn’t that bad. As I began climbing, I sat up in the hoods of my tri bike, giving my cramping, burning stomach some relief. I didn’t care about my speed and allowed my weak body to slowly spin up the hill. Spectators lined the entire road, cheering us on. Some danced as they blared music from portable stereos. Many were wearing colorful costumes and wigs. I paused to read the signs they held. My favorite was “It Beats Working!”. At that point, I agreed. I chatted with the other athletes around me, breaking up the monotony of the long day. Richter Pass felt good. It gave me something to focus on other than my stomach.
--still able to fake a smile for the camera up Richter.

Finally, I reached the long descent on the other side. My bladder was very full but it wasn’t because I was well hydrated. Unfortunately, all the stomach medicine I had been taking has significant diuretic side effects. As I rushed down the other side of Richter in my aerobars at 38 mph, I peed profusely in my shorts, on the bike. It was nasty and disgusting but I didn’t care. I couldn’t make it to the aid station. Besides, the stomach meds were making me have to pee A LOT. I simply couldn’t justify stopping to get off and pee every 10 minutes. I must have peed 8-10 times on the bike that day. I didn’t care. If the meds made my stomach feel better, I would take excessive peeing over an upset stomach any day.

I proceeded up the many rollers between Richter and Cawston. Everything is a blur. I went numb, trying to block out the pain of my cramping stomach. I felt my ailing body become progressively weaker and more fatigued. I vaguely remember feeling hot. It was 93 degrees out there, afterall. I seem to remember a building headwind as well, as I proceeded northwest. My calves began cramping slightly and a building headache alerted me that I was becoming dangerously dehydrated. I began popping salt pills. I had been drinking only water and desperately needed the electrolytes. I was able to slightly dig myself out of the trench I was falling into. Not being able to consume any of my pre-planned race food, I began gobbling bananas. They were the only thing I could keep down. They felt wonderful on my stomach, a small bucket of water on the raging flames, and I was blessed with a few minutes of quiet and peace.

In Cawston, I finally reached the 7 mile out-and-back, leading to Special Needs at mile 75. I was glad I knew ahead of time it would take 7 miles to get there. It stretched on for an eternity. I became increasingly more despondent as my stomach became progressively worse, the temperatures rose, and the headwind strengthened. Brent cheered me on, during this particularly difficult section. I grimaced as he snapped my picture. I wanted to tell him how miserable I felt. How much I was suffering. How sick I was. That I wasn’t sure I could finish. That I no longer wanted to do this. But I couldn’t get the words out. I was too sick even to speak.
--suffering in Cawston up a small roller.

I made it to Special Needs. The volunteer tried to put new, cold bottle of InfinIT on my bike but I refused. Simply glancing at the bottle of InfinIT triggered my gag reflex. I tried to get down some a bar but it just wouldn’t go down. Finally, I found my secret stash of gummy worms. I cautiously chewed on one. Yummy. I had found something palatable. Sucking on gummy worms, I kept pedaling, making the long, slow stretch to Keremos, the base of Yellow Lake.

I was now hunched over in my aerobars on an endless false flat, pedaling into a strong headwind as the heat rose into the 90s. My stomach churned, lurched, and cramped with stabbing, bloated pain. I felt like I had swallowed a balloon and someone kept pumping air into it. Below and above the balloons, sharp blades stabbed my gut with every weak pedal stroke. On top of this, waves of nausea racked my body. Was this hell?

I heard lots of things about the bike course that day. They said the bike course was very pretty. That it was hilly. Hot. Windy. I don’t really remember any of those things. I vaguely remember some heat and wind. I don’t remember the hills at all. I don’t remember the scenery whatsoever. It’s like asking Mrs. Lincoln how the play was. All I could stare at was the white line ahead of my front wheel. I couldn’t focus on anything external. I wish I could have focused on the hills or the wind, anything outside of the internal war going on in my stomach and then in my head. I vaguely remember my head hurting from dehydration. My neck and shoulders aching from being locked in the aero position hour after hour. My right foot throbbing inside a too-tight shoe. But all these sensations paled in comparison to the blinding, all-consuming wretched pain in my gut.

I finally reached the base of Yellow Lake at mile 94. Brent was there again, and I blurted out how sick I was to him. He just kept urging me on. He believed in me. More than I believed in myself. I was consumed with doubt. Spectators cheered me on up the hill. Even though I looked like death, they all lied and told me I looked fantastic, cheering me on more enthusiastically than the others. I saw the same signs from the same spectators I had seen early on Richter Pass. This time, when I saw, “It Beats Working!”, I silently disagreed. At that moment, I would have preferred a root canal. As I crawled up the long, slow, gradual ascent to the top of Yellow Lake, the air became thick with smoke. Wildfires were burning nearby, making the air hot and ashy. Consumed gut-wrenching agony, I barely noticed.



--Yellow Lake. The water is actually yellow. Like piss? Vomit?
--suffering at a crawl up Yellow Lake.

Somewhere between the climb up to Yellow Lake and then the 2nd torturous climb up to Twin Lakes (which no one bothered to warn me about, and I had conveniently forgotten), I decided to drop out. I was finished. It just wasn’t worth it anymore. I was going to quit. Tears rolled silently down my cheeks as I grieved the loss of my race. I felt like I was mourning a death. I cried about the medal I would never earn, the jersey I would never wear, and the finisher’s shirt I would never receive. I cried over the months and months of training, the planning, the inordinate cost to get here, and all the mental preparation that had gone into this race. I cried because I felt like a failure. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. But I was just too far gone at that point for any of those things to matter. I was done. I was surrendering.

--in my own private hell crawling to Twin Lakes at mile 97.

I reached the final aid station and stopped to down some more bananas. I must have had 8 bananas that day. Honestly, I don’t ever want to see another banana in my life. I lamented to a volunteer about my misery. He offered me a chair. I refused. I knew if I sat down, it would be over. I guess I’m not very good at quitting. I pedaled on.

I dug deeper than I ever have before over those last 12 miles. They had said the last 12 miles were all downhill. That I wouldn’t have to take a single pedal stroke. As I weakly struggled up some more false flats and rollers into a strong headwind, I realized they had lied. I had been deceived. I faced my ugliest, most inner demons on those last 12 miles. I had been warned that I would ask myself during an Ironman, “Why the hell am I doing this?” but I had naively scoffed. I wasn’t going to ask myself that. I didn’t need to. I loved Ironmans. I had passion. It was my spiritual journey. My metaphor for life. Now here I was asking myself, “Is this really worth it? All this suffering?” All of those rational reasons for doing it that sounded good on paper simply rang hollow during my darkest hour. I couldn’t seem to come up with a reason to continue. I ached to lie down and sleep. To return to my hotel where a shower and clean bed awaited. My sick body was weak and exhausted. I had felt like that from the moment I had awoken and it had grown exponentially worse throughout the day. I decided to ride into T2 and quit.

I focused on just finishing the bike after that. Making it back to the hotel where I could end the agony. I was numb and emotionless. I didn’t care anymore. Then, I would hit a descent and coast. My body would recover somewhat, my stomach settle. An unfamiliar feeling began to rise within: a glimmer of hope. Maybe I could do this. I asked myself again, “Why am I doing this?” I reasoned I wasn’t doing it because I had to. No one was forcing me. Obviously, I was doing this because I wanted to. The glimmer of hope rose. I was getting somewhere. “Why do I want to do this?” It certainly wasn’t about speed, although I realized I had begun this race with higher expectations. It was my 2nd Ironman. It seemed reasonable, especially given the horrid conditions of my first (IMAZ April ’08), to expect faster times. This expectation was a fatal flaw. Ironman was completely stripping me of all expectations and ego. I was soundly humbled. Today was just not my day. The Ironman gods had decided that this journey was going to be about something deeper, something much more personal and meaningful than superficial speed. I certainly had no choice in the matter. The only choice that lay before me was to continue and try to finish, or drop out. It was not a simple choice.

As I peeled back layer after layer, I realized I wanted to finish. My reason for doing this suddenly resounded loud and clear: because it makes me feel strong. Completing an Ironman makes me feel like a superhero. I’ve been accused for being weak and sickly because of my sensitive stomach my entire life. What better way to epitomize strength than to cross that finish line in spite of a full-blown stomach illness? Something hit a chord with me, and the lightbulb went on. I kept telling myself, “I am strong, I am strong,” all the way to Main Street. Suddenly, I had hope, and it was like an angel coming to rescue me from abject destitution. As long as I had hope, I could keep going.

On Main Street, the headwind became a full-force gale, and I was reduced to a pathetic crawl. The bike course overlapped the run course at this point, and I watched runners struggling in the marathon. My hope vanished like a flame being extinguished. Ugh. I did NOT want to do that! I instantly decided to quit again.
T2:
I reached T2 and limped into transition. My right foot had swollen up like a balloon, making it difficult to walk. I took off my bike shoes and wobbled across the timing mat. I felt like crap. Surely, a volunteer or medic will see how bad I looked and pull me off the course? I hoped. A volunteer grabbed my bike. Two more volunteers cheered me on, telling me I looked great. I became silently infuriated at the blatant lie but I was too exhausted to protest. Another volunteer led me to my bag and handed me off to another volunteer, who directed me to the changing tent. Okay, I’ll sit down in the changing tent and think this over, I thought, knowing full well I was going to convince myself to drop out. I never had the opportunity. A sixth volunteer changed me and a seventh shoved me out onto the running course. If the volunteers in T2 had not been so encouraging, efficient and downright spectacular, I would have never continued.

Run:
Dazed, I trotted along the first few miles of the run course. How the hell did I get here? I wondered. I thought I was going to drop out! Now that I was on the run course, I figured I could at least try to keep going. After a long day of nothing but bananas and gummy worms, I looked forward to the aid stations on the run. They would be fully stocked with cola, chicken broth, and pretzels. Maybe I could catch up on some calories, fluids, and electrolytes while settling my stomach? The hope rose again.

As I ran, my stomach lurched with each footstep. I felt like I had swallowed a machete and the blade was cutting deeper and deeper with each footstep. I began walking. I focused on reaching Brent, who was waiting at mile 4. I’ll get to Brent at mile 4, tell him how bad I feel, and he’ll pull me off the course. He’ll stop me. He doesn’t want to see me suffer like this, I hoped. Thankfully, he hadn’t been waiting in T2. If he had been, I’m almost certain I would have dropped out that day.

I must have gone numb because mile 4 came very quickly. Brent kept trying to snap my picture. I yelled at him vehemently, “Don’t you dare!” I didn’t want documentation to remind me of the pain I was in. I began venting my frustrations and despair, “I’m completely miserable. I have a stomach bug and can’t eat or drinking anything. This sucks! I HATE this! I’m NEVER doing this AGAIN!!!”
“Okay. I’ll see you at the turn-around. You’re doing great, baby! You can do it!” And Brent was gone. What?! The turn-around? Mile 13? Had he not heard me? But I’m miserable! Well, I better keep going, I reasoned.

I kept sipping on cola and chicken broth while nibbling grapes and pretzels at the aid stations. My stomach was still grossly bloated and on fire but the nausea had passed. I had maxed out on all the stomach medicine I could safely take in one day, including: 1 Prilosec, 2 Immodium, 2 GasX, 2 Pepcid, 6 BeanO, 8 Tums, and a partridge in a pear tree. The chicken broth and cola seemed to be helping more than the drugs. Plus, my stomach clearly preferred the upright position of walking to the hunched over aero position on the bike. I found walking actually helped to settle my stomach a little. Running, on the other hand, was simple and utter agony.

I fell into a run-walk rhythm and focused on breaking down the marathon course, mile by mile. My attitude began to shift, and I became more positive. Hope rose. “I’m strong, I’m strong,” I told myself, “I can do this. I want to finish. I want to finish.” As I walk/ran along Skaha Lake, my mind became soft and relaxed, and I settled into a rhythm. I chatted with other runners on the course, who were also in their own personal hell. We commiserated, each one of us trying to convince the other that our pain and agony was greater than the other. I learned a new life lesson: when selecting a strange running partner on a race course, be sure they are slower than you so that when (not if) they become annoying, you can tell them, “Have a good race! You’re doing great!” and trot off down the road.
--Running whenever I could.


--Walking when I must.
Note the smoke-filled air behind me covering Skaha Lake.
--Running through the pain, full grimace evident.

At each mile marker, I threw my arms into the air and cheered. “Mile 8!” I cried much to the annoyed grumbles of surrounding runners. I was thinking of each mile. They were thinking, “I still have 18.2 miles to go.” I did it again at mile 9 and some other runners joined in. So did the spectators. The spectators were fantastic. I waved and smiled and they returned the positive vibes tenfold, filling me with positive energy. I told each runner I passed, “Good job. Looking strong!” They always returned the favor. It made me feel better, even if just for a moment. A group of female spectators held up a male, plastic blow-up doll, clad in a skimpy bikini. I smiled a genuine, ear-to-ear smile that reached inside and out. It felt good to smile. They smiled and laughed.
“Want to give Stan a high-five?” they asked.
“Do I!” I replied, slapping Stan’s floppy arm.
I am eternally grateful to the wonderful support of the spectators. They were out there with us in the heat, wind and fire all day long, cheering us on with undying support. They held signs that read, “You’re an inspiration to us all” or “You are my HERO!”, and it just filled me with power. They all believed in me, even when I didn’t.
--giving Stan a high-five (courtesy of Tammy and her pals, among some of the wonderful spectators on the course. Here is their link with lots more awesome pics.)
--Stan the blow-up doll.
--Some other fabulous spectators. I just can't thank you enough!

I ran for a bit, passing some athletes and walked. Then they would pass me as they ran for a bit before they walked, and I passed them yet again. And so it went on and on like that for miles, until we all felt connected as if by a series of invisible rubber bands. There was a strong sense of camaraderie among us. None of us had an easy day. But all of us wanted to finish. I now wanted to finish desperately. I was still in pain but it had lessened. My lowest low had passed. It would be a long day, and I was exhausted but I wanted to finish.

I reached the halfway point. Brent was there waiting. He asked how I felt.
“I want to finish. It won’t be pretty but I think I can finish.”
“Of course you can finish,” he said. Encouraging me, he fueled me onward and sent me up the road. I was on the return home now. Only 13.1 miles left to go. Somehow, this made me feel better.

Daylight was fading fast. The smoke-filled air was building, irritating the lungs of many athletes around me. I was grateful only my stomach was upset. It was going to be a starless night. Something bright glowed through the ash in the sky. I peered carefully. It was a waxing, blood-red moon, veiled in smoke. It seemed ghastly and ominous.

When I walked now, I walked briskly. I marched. I had a mission. I walked with a purpose. “Way to fight it out!” one spectator cheered. I smiled at him. I was fighting. I felt like a soldier. I hadn’t trained to walk this far; I had trained to run. Muscles unaccustomed to this much walking cried out in pain. Unusual blisters formed on my feet. My hips ached, and my feet burned. I walked until the pain seared through my legs, and then I ran. I ran until waves of nausea rose through my body, and then I walked. I ran as much as I possibly could. It felt much better on my body to run than to walk. I focused on relaxing the stabbing feeling in my stomach, pretending it was just really sore from 1,000 sit-ups rather than intestinal spasms. It seemed to help numb the pain somewhat.

I picked an object up ahead on the road to run to: the lamppost, the mailbox, the stop sign. I ran to the landmark, telling myself I could stop and walk at that point if I needed to. Sometimes the pain in my gut became so bad, I stopped and walked. Sometimes, the pain subsided, and I picked another point further up the road to run to. I ran as much as I could. I walked when I had to. Sometimes I ran for ¼ mile and walked for 10 seconds before running again. Sometimes I walked for ¼ mile before attempting to run again. Sometimes, I ran as much as 1 entire mile before having to stop. I was making progress, slowly but surely.

At mile 21, Brent appeared again. I was still in good spirits but very, very tired. He walked with me for a bit. In my extreme state of fatigue, I felt very emotional.
“I’m going to make it!”
“Of course you are,” he replied.
“But I was going to drop out!”
“And now you’re going to finish. You’re going to finish your Ironman. I’ll see you at the finish!”
I marched onward. I noticed I was having a hard time focusing. I was very, very sleepy. My vision was blurred. Was I really weaving and having a hard time walking in a straight line, or was it just my imagination? My mind was playing tricks on me. My stomach was beginning to feel very upset again. How could this be? I was so close. I walked more and more. I didn’t want to push it and risk not finishing. At mile 24.5, I got diarrhea. Are you kidding me? Luckily, I was very close to the aid station and dashed into the Port-a-Potty. Only 1.5 miles to go, I told myself. After my stomach was through, I coaxed myself into a run. I was going to be able to run the last 1.5 miles. It felt wonderful to run.

The Finish:
I turned down Lakeshore and began the final 1K to the finish. I heard Steve King calling out finisher’s names. I began to get chills. I was going to finish! I was going to finish! Despite everything I had gone through, I was going to finish! I wasn’t going to drop out or quit. How was that possible? How did I get here? I was going to cross that finish line! I reflected over my long, torturous day and thought about how much I had gone through to get here. I silently thanked all the good fortune that had brought me to this moment—the enthusiastic spectators, the incredible aid offered by all the volunteers, the undying support from Brent. If it hadn’t been for them, I would most definitely have thrown in the towel.
Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks. I shook my head in disbelief. I couldn’t believe I was going to make it. I raised my arms over my head as I ran down the chute. The crowd screamed and cheered in an uproar. I was grinning wildly with unbridled happiness. I crossed the finish line and exuberantly grabbed the finishing tape and held it proudly over my head. I had done it! I had done an Ironman, despite being ill! My total time was 15:08. I didn’t really care. I’m very proud of one single thing…crossing that finish line. That single accomplishment was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.
--crossing the finish line victoriously.

video
--watch me finish!
Brent helped me return to the hotel room where I had the most wonderful shower of my life. Funny how the simplest things are amazingly spectacular after an Ironman. Like a cool glass of water. I watched the athletes cross the finish line on t.v. until midnight. I got to see Sister Madonna cross the finish line a few minutes before midnight. She looked amazing. I watched 4 athletes sprint across, seconds before the cut-off. In the distance, I caught a glimpse of a few other athletes, struggling desperately to make it to the finish before midnight. The live feed cut out and the t.v. went blank. Tears welled up in my eyes. Those athletes had suffered out there for hours longer than I had. And they didn’t make it.
My 2nd Iron Journey was a very personal one. It was an internal struggle the entire way. I believe it was meant to be that way. I learned more about myself on that single, intense day than I ever have before. I battled my inner demons and was stripped to my very core. I will never again assume that finishing an Ironman is in the bag. You never know what kind of conditions you’ll have on race day, or how you will feel. Nothing is certain. Oh, and, yes, I’m doing another one. Ironman Utah, May, 2010.

--the day after with the most-awesome Brent and me, donning my well-earned shwag.