Tree-alities Part 3: On how to go out on a branch.... and come back again.

This last post was the hardest one for me to hit “Publish” on. I can speak in vague philosophical themes all day but when it comes to admitting to something I don’t want to come to terms with in a public fashion, I struggle. Don’t we all?

This decision was made about a month ago but since making the decision and discussing it with several close friends and family members, I’ve been going through a complexity of different emotions over my decision. I’ll first share my thoughts going into actually making the decision and I’ll finish with a few comments about how I’ve felt since making my choice.

From April 12:

I’ve been mulling over something for nearly a year now. Since getting a crushing blow about my knee last year, I’ve questioned my ability to race as a professional athlete. Since also taking a small step back from the sport last summer it gave me the chance to take a long hard look at what I want to do and how much commitment, focus, and luck was going to be required to reach my triathlon goals. If I have to be brutally honest with myself, I’m at best a “C” level pro (has a pro license but not making significant money or finishing well among their competitors) who could aspire to be at best, a “B” level pro (capable of winning smaller races, and potentially finishing well at higher level races) under current circumstances. To take the steps necessary to get to that point I have to put a lot of pressure on myself to train, recover, and make sacrifices in my social and professional life. I’ve never been able to fully commit myself except for maybe very early in my triathlon career when the shiny new professional triathlon goal still didn’t have any revealing limitations. I was having a lot of fun learning about the complexities of the sport and seeing myself make remarkable improvements week after week. Now that I’ve been plugging away for a few years, the shininess of being a professional triathlete has worn off. I started to realize the time and dedication it takes just to be considered a middle-tier professional in triathlon. It can be hard to want to dedicate your life to a sport where your livelihood can be dictated by your performance on a handful of days per year. Many of which rely on luck and perfect preparation.
So because of these things, I’ve decided to step away from racing as a “professional.” I’m rejoining the age-group ranks and trying to get back to the root of why I started doing this sport in the first place: to have fun, to train a lot (something I masochistically enjoy), to be around like-minded people, and to continue to cultivate my competitive drive. I’m tired of the self-inflicted social comparison to other pros and I’m tired of pouring my energy into a goal that for me, demands my 100% self at the cost of other things in my life. Doing this sport at the end of the day should only be a part of who I am. Not the whole of who I am. My successes and failures shouldn’t define me or my level of happiness. And as my former coach (and friend), David Tilbury-Davis has told me time and time again, if you lose sight of what made you passionate about the sport to begin with, it’s probably time to take a hard look at what you are doing and decide if it’s truly something of value to you.
The sport lost most of the “fun” for me. I don’t want this to seem like an ultimatum and that I’ll never race again. In fact, I plan on racing quite a bit this summer! I still love racing and love trying to get the best out of myself. But I also recognize that the self-inflicted pressure from standing on the tip of this one “awesome thing” branch, while fighting the monsters and men with saws that have tried to knock me off has become detrimental to my progress on other intertwined life and career goals. I chose my jobs over the last few years to enhance my ability to train because they were low-stress and flexible. They never paid well but they paid enough and let me be around a lot of like-minded people, both as coworkers and people I service, while getting in the training I set out to do. To reach my goals I also sacrificed a lot of social outings and opportunities so I wouldn’t set off the balance necessary for me to carry out my week-to-week training. Yes, I realize these sacrifices are necessary to achieve what I wanted to achieve – but the power of this one “branch” should not overwhelm the importance of my progress on other ultimate goal “limbs”. If I can take this step back and still continue to improve I may re-return to some of these goals I previously set - but never again at the cost what got me into sport in the first place: fun.

_______________________________

Following sharing this post with friends and family I went through a range of emotions. I’ve had a hard time actually letting go of my professional triathlete goals because there is always this part of me that asks, “what if?” What if this is my best year ever? What if I’m giving up on myself too soon? I set out about a year ago giving myself 5 years of still pursuing being a professional triathlete and here I am… just giving up on that. I’d wake up feeling like I lost purpose and drive and training seemed more like a chore than a joyful pursuit.

But then one day I swapped my elite license for an age group license. And then I signed up for a 70.3 relay with friends. Then I signed up for the local 5430 series. And then I started to remember how fun it was to race and train on my terms, which generally means racing all of the time; Not only in triathlons, but in bike races, run races, racing lane mates to the other end of the pool, or to the front of a buffet line. So to kick off my summer with a fresh spin on things, here’s the tentative schedule for the next couple of months:

6/3: Colorado Sprint

6/10: Best on Hess TT

6/15: Boulder Road Runners All-Comers 1 mile race

6/24: Loveland Olympic Triathlon

7/4: Superior Mile

7/9: Boulder Peaks Triathlon

7/16: Mount Evans Hill Climb

7/22: Sunshine Canyon Hill Climb (I like climbing things…..)

More races to come….

 

Confused on this talk of limbs, branches and trees? See posts one and two.

Tree-alities Part 2: Intricate branches

Today's post expands on the last post that introduced the "tree" for my life. As you read in my Part 1 article, I basically find I have three main goal categories of life (or limbs): Sport, Life, and Career. Each one has it's own unique goals and they always continue to grow as I continue along my path in life. For example:

But I want to expand on the different categories and how those areas of our life actually have many, many branches that we divert down as we travel across each of the category paths. First, to discuss "branches."  I’d like to think of each category path as a limb on a tree. As you continue to age and the years go by, that limb continues to grow. Your ultimate end goal becomes something longer and more distant as your goal category grows. Most of the time, what you picture at the ripe age of 20 on that goal line is something much more different than what you picture at age 40 (or even 28). For the sake of my metaphor, picture me as the below depicted, lasso girl. Now as we go along in life and continue to grow into the person we aim to be, we set sort of stepping-stones to help us reach our ultimate end goal. To us those stepping-stones are considered pretty awesome things. They are never as long of a reach as our ultimate goal and once we reach them we usually need to turn around and get back to our ultimate limb so we can continue to reach towards our ultimate goal. Sometimes along the way we set these awesome thing goals but some guy climbs up a ladder to set fire to and burn our awesome thing vision. No matter, though. While they seem like setbacks at the moment, as soon as we set our eyes back onto the ultimate goal we can carry on to the next awesome thing on our path to ultimate success.

Second, the interconnected-ness of all of the categories. For some reason we like to think of the different categories of our life as separate from one another. In college as a student athlete I would hear my fellow student athletes separate three areas of your student life: schoolwork, social life, and sport. Usually you could only do two well at once while the other one suffered. To do all three well at once was generally unheard of or short-lived. But I don’t see this so much as a balance of different areas of life. I think those three things are much more intertwined. In the example of a student athlete, say a close family member passes away. Not only do they feel that Godzilla has come to burn down a “life” branch, it’s likely that as a direct effect of what happened, their schoolwork and focus in their sport diminishes. Putting a lot of focus on one area of your life does not diminish the importance of other goals – it instead directly slows the progress of others. As a result, when things happen to you and the monsters come to wreak havoc on your path to one ultimate goal – you feel the effects on all of your ultimate goals.

This intertconnected-ness can be a positive thing as well. When something good happens you can feel how one awesome thing in one area of your life can enhance other awesome things in other parts of your life. Say our same student athlete does well in their competition. As a result their self-confidence is boosted, they are more likely to be a positive and outgoing person in social situations, and as a result blossom new friendships and relationships. It isn’t about picking one or two areas to put your entire focus on – the “tree-ality” is that it’s seeing how every part of your life intertwines and recognizing how choices and circumstances can enhance or seize different ultimate goals.

How do I feel this effects my life currently and what things are stirring around currently for me? Stay tuned....

Tree-alties Part 1: On what my tree looks like recognizing the balance between different areas of life.

I want to spend the next series of posts talking about something I’ve coined as the “Treealities.” I’ve given myself certain creative liberties to illustrate it – and yes they are intentionally crude. I’ll break this into three parts, first illustrating how I categorize different parts of my life, second explaining it’s complexity, and third, touching on a specific topic in my life and recognizing how it relates to these depicted complexities.

I feel like we like to think of our lives as having a very specific balance that follows one of several paths of our choosing. When I look at my life I feel like I’m always trying to balance between three different categories: Sport, Life, and Career.

  • Sport: over the last 8-10 years I’ve made this a big part of my life, first with running and later with triathlon. Always outside and always pursuing athletic things, I don’t see this being something I change now or anytime in the near future as it is an essential part of my sense of self. I have constantly evolving aspirations and goals and working to those goals whether I get there or not gives me a sense of purpose.
  • Life: This may be a broad statement. To put it simply, life goals are anything that has to do with people and sense of belonging. It’s the people I am friends and family with and how I want to impact their lives. It’s how I learn about my own identity in how I interact with people in my life. My goals here are where I picture myself with people in my life right now and into the future. I also want to expand this to a sense of “where I am in life.” Am I content still renting and living with roommates? Am I having meaningful and fulfilling relationships that grow me as a person? Am I making the right impact during my day-to-day life to the people around me? Is what I am doing making me happy?
  • Career: Self-explanatory. Is my current work helping me go in the right long-term career direction? Am I doing everything I can with my current position to create a positive impact to my company, coworkers, and people I serve?

Each of these self-created categories have starting points and end goals along an ever evolving continuum. Each one has it’s own monster to battle to get to where I want to be. See below:

While I think this illustration (sketchpad art created by yours truly) does a fine job showing the world that I have end goals and specific demons to battle to reach each one, I don’t think it properly illustrates the branches along that limb that are meaningful way-points by themselves. Nor does it illustrate the interconnectedness of all 3 categories of life and how each way-point or "branch" can actually have strong effects on other limbs and branches in a person's life.

I'll discuss this interconnectedness on my next post. Stay tuned...

The Leap of Fate

A friend brought to light the other day that my blog has left my readers and followers with a bit of a cliffhanger. I took this great risk and pulled myself up from a place where I was established to start a new life in a new place I’ve always dreamed of living. My athletic capabilities were questionable with the new diagnosis on my knee and I had to come to terms this summer with the fact that I wasn’t sure if could run for the rest of my life as I always pictured.

I suppose it is time to tie up some of these dangly knots! This won’t be one of my more though-provoking posts, but it hopefully is the stop-go necessary for me to proceed with writing the way I like to write..

Let’s talk first about what I so jokingly call, Rumspringa. If you’ve never heard of the term “Rumspringa,” let me spring it to life for you. In Amish culture, there is a period of time where adolescent Amish boys and girls are allowed to do all things non-Amish. They can drink alcohol, they can use the iIternet, they can drive cars, and generally fool around. They are given the opportunity to experience other parts of life outside of their culture while still living at home with their Amish parents. At the end of their Rumspringa they can make the decision to keep living their alternative life or be indoctrinated into the Amish church. Most of the time, due to their upbringings they end up deciding to return to the church. I think this in large part because they are given the liberty to step away for a while. They can lay out all of their options without being forced one way or another. More often than not we end up choosing our paths in life based on the experiences we’ve already had and the ways we’ve been brought up. We stick to what we know.

When I first moved to Boulder I decided to keep my mind open to new activities and ideas. I was 3 months out of shape, which I’d consider my longest lay-off from endurance training in 8 years. While I had some level of base fitness, I was not even close to being “fit” by my standards. I wanted to take very small steps to get back to shape. If I woke up and didn’t feel like working out, I wouldn’t. If a friend wanted to go hiking I’d nix my run and do that instead because it was social and something I wouldn’t normally do when I’m locked into my triathlon training regimen. Being in a new town and not knowing many people, this was particularly important to me. Like when someone wanted to go out on a Tuesday night and frolic all over Pearl Street, I’d go all in. With no real race goals on the horizon, I gave myself the liberty to act impulsively and not worry about missed sessions and getting out of my routine. I suppose this is what most normal 27-year olds do. But for those who have known me for a long time, it’s not my normal.

Being a shark. For the first of many times.

Being a shark. For the first of many times.

Impromptu sunrise hikes.

Impromptu sunrise hikes.

Going back to training, I can finally say am finally back into my groove. Despite a fairly horrific knee prognosis last year, with much thanks to a taping method called McConnell taping and a new training group through the Boulder Track Club I’m actually running… a lot! My run coach, Kathy Butler does a great job of accounting for my triathlon training while keeping in check where I’m coming from after a fairly long lay-off from running + adapting to altitude. It is a different style of training from what I’ve historically done and I dig it. It gets at one of the area I believe I’m the weakest at and really plays into the strength aspect of training at altitude. I’ve also joined one of the iconic triathlon gyms in Boulder to help get me motivated on the swim again and am embracing the KickR this winter through fun outlets like Zwift.

Chasing jerseys on Zwift.

Chasing jerseys on Zwift.

To summarize the last 4 months let’s put it this way: I’m thrilled with my decision to make a move to Colorado. Boulder is the right place for me to be right now in my life and I’m surrounded with like-minded, talented, beautiful people. My next year racing will be a big test in what my body can really handle and to see if I’m still cut out for professionally pursuing my passion.

Learning to survive a Boulder winter.

Learning to survive a Boulder winter.

I hope to write more moving forward. The last few months included of a lot of changes that I had to process. I wasn’t sure how to fully express them and I didn’t want to elaborate on them too much without talking myself into circles. I think I’ve written this post 3 times already but was never fully satisfied with what I wrote. I’m not even particularly satisfied with this post but I need to write something so I can get on with the other things I want to write about…. Like racing! But I’ll save that for another post.

What Things May Come.... part 2

Dreams. There's all different types of dreams. There are the dreams we have of who we want to be and what we want to do with our life. There are the dreams we have where the world is different from the current status quo. Then there are dreams we have that I'd classify more as a "yearning." It's not something that's unattainable but it's something that requires a great amount of change in order for it to be realized. I want to talk about that third kind of dream today.

Recently, life happened. It reminded me that I came to this place I am at for a temporary purpose. When I took a step back I realized I've probably fulfilled all I can fulfill in this place and it's time to move forward. So I started looking at my options. And I had a few:

1. I kept the opportunity to stay where I was and work on capitalizing on what I have. I've been fortunate to have a lot of help and support from my community and know there was more room to grow here given the opportunity.

2. Move to a familiar place. I also had an opportunity to move back to a place I left and essentially pick back up where I left off. This place always had a special place in my heart because it was where I attended University and the place that made me fall in love with running and eventually triathlon. The people there are the nicest people I've ever come across and my support team was very strong as it related to sport. There is also the crucial factor that there are young people there - something rather lacking where I currently live. There is definitely opportunity to grow here.

3. Take a leap of fate. While this choice involves the most uncertainty, is also holds could result in my greatest satisfaction. And it fulfills that yearning I've talked about.

So I have this dream. It's something I've thought about since I was a little girl. And it all started when my family would take trips to visit my Aunt and Uncle in the mountains in Colorado. I loved to go skiing and snowboarding all winter and play in the mountains all summer. But it was not just having the constant opportunity to play. I was always in awe of the mountains and their beauty. I'd love when summer thunderstorms would roll down the mountain out of nowhere and how people would huddle around warm bonfires in the winter. I love the smell of firewood. I loved being in little mountain towns with stone-lain streets and shops you could walk your dog into. I love the crispness in the air and the warmth of the plentiful days of sun. I'd cry every time I left. There is so much to love about this place for me.

Well life goes by and I find myself currently in the exact opposite type of place. A hot, humid, flat, industrial sprawl that really beckons at your imagination in order to feel much inspiration for the things you are doing. Sure, the people are nice and my family is close - but there are certain area of my life where I feel significantly deprived. It's like the time ticks by and all I can do is continue existing. I have great friendships and good opportunities where I am, but I feel as if I have continued to lose sense of the things I really want.

So I'm taking that leap of fate. The risky choice that could result in the greatest reward. I don't think God made this whole big world for me to sit on my hands and admire it from afar. I'm ready to take control of my situation and chase the things I really want.

One week from today I start that journey. Time to live my vacations every day!

What Things May Come.... part 1

Little did I know when I wrote my last blog, I was foreshadowing a conversation I was going to need to have with myself. These past few months I've had to personally come to terms with a few things in my life that needed change. Before rolling into this, I want to quickly dismiss the idea that I want to back off on my pursuit of racing as a professional triathlete. However, I am bringing to light the fact that in light of recent news, I'm going to have to reshape what sort of racing I pursue and how long I have left to be competitive in the sport.

About 2 weeks ago I got an MRI on a knee that has been nagging me for about a year and a half with off/on twinges + a constant state of being swollen. While it was something I've been able to manage, the fact that it never seemed to get better with rest and other conservative treatments made me think that it must be something more than just a minor injury. It was getting to a point where it was affecting my ability to both train and race to my full capacity. On the bike I was seeing anywhere from 20-40 watts lower than what I should be able to hold based on previous training and racing performances. And when running, I could tell I was getting to a point where I would decrease my stride in order to protect whatever mystery ailment I was having. Any efforts to tempo up or lengthen out were met with what I can only describe as an uncomfortable tightness.

Anyways... prepared to hear of some sort of injury like a meniscus tear that could easily be remedied with surgery, I was unprepared to hear the news I actually got. The results came back with a slue of maladies - all of which have something to do with how my patella is tracking over my knee. They found a lot of swelling on my bones and ligaments, as well as a stress reaction on the top of my tibia where the ACL attaches. All of these are things that can be cured easily with rest. What came back that was extremely concerning was a case of grade 3-4 chondromalacia underneath the lateral portion of my knee cap about the size of a bottle cap, matched with additional significant chondromalacia on the end of my femur. What in the world could that possibly be, you ask? Well chondro- stands for chondrocytes, the cells that make up your cartilage. -Malacia basically stands for an abnormal softening of the tissue. That's right, my cartilage has basically softened and rubbed away under my knee cap, to the point where I have reached near grade-4 wear. That's the level that means you've worn down your cartilage to the bone. Awesome. Sounds like something your grandma would get, right? Well.... yes. However it's actually very common for an active 20-somethings to get as well due to some sort of biomechanical issue. I should also mention there is no real proven procedure to re-grow cartilage and be able to return your knee to it's full level of operation. Also awesome.

Any quick search on Dr. Google also spells gloom and doom for my knee's future. In short, my running days are numbered, I could get arthritis one day, and a knee replacement may be in my future. Not something someone as active as I am with high-aspiring goals wants to see. As I'm sure you can imagine, I was basically the water-works for several days after finding out the news. I've had several people ask me about how I'm processing all of this. The optimist I am, I had to find a way to become resolute with my new state of being. Every injury I've ever had has been something that I can get over with rest and rehab. This is the first injury that ever made me step back and realize my own mortality. That I possibly can't do something because my body has an incurable limitation. Going forward, any twinge in my knee is something I cannot try to "push" through. It's something I absolutely have to step back on if I want to keep riding my bike when I'm 60. It's also something I plan on spending the rest of the year on so I can fix my biomechanical defficiency and avoid further damage to the joint.

So to make the best of my situation, I made a compromise with myself. I don't want to back off on pursuing my competitive goals and dreams just yet. My doctor seem to indicate this shouldn't be the case either. However I do want to put a deadline on myself as to how long I want to keep pushing my body the way I do. I'm giving myself 5 years. 5 more years to keep pursuing the sport I love, to chase dreams, and to look to get the most of out of my body. When I reach 5 years, I'll check myself again and decide if it's something worth continuing, or if I'd rather back down so I can simply enjoy the sport for the sake of doing it, rather than chasing dreams.

These 5 years I actually see as a blessing. With a deadline for my dreams, it takes away any opportunity I have to come up with excuses. It's a now or never attitude. It's a permission slip for me to pour my heart into something knowing I can come out on the other end content that I did everything I could. I can't guarantee that I'll even make 5 years pushing like this. I also can't guarantee I won't check myself at 5 years and want to go another 5. I am at a point of great uncertainty with my future but I need to stay resolute in my direction.

My racing may be done for the rest of the year while I sort out the biomechanical issues with my knee... but I'll continue to update here with new findings, goals, and aspirations as they come.

And stay tuned for part 2.... it's another pretty significant announcement I'm preparing to make.

Happiness

Happiness. What is happiness, really?

For me happiness has always been at the core of my being, the thing I strive for more than anything else. But is happiness a goal or more of a state of being? Do we work really hard for a single moment of extreme satisfaction or is there a way to change your mindset in a way that can give you an unwavering sense of peace and calm with yourself and what you are doing?

I think at least in American society, we are highly goal driven individuals. We put some sort of value on something we can't quite reach and when we reach it we assume it will make us feel fulfilled. Like our life has meaning beyond the day to day mundaneness that occupies our time. We believe that when we can reach these goals we can achieve a state of amelioration that makes us feel like we are a better person in all areas of life. But that's exactly the trap that pseudo-happiness wants to snare you in. When you work really hard and achieve that thing you so desperately desired, after the accolades, back pats, and high-fives and dispersed you realize you aren't any more of a person than you were before. That moment of extreme fulfillment is then replaced with this feeling of emptiness. Without something to strive for anymore you lose your sense of self and self-worth. Is this how happiness is supposed to feel?

And what if you don't even achieve that goal you so desperately sought? Human beings are imperfect, so we have to find something in which we can put ourselves on to provide a solid foundation. When you set your goal as that foundation you also bind your self-worth as a person to whether or not you achieve that thing. When any small thing goes wrong in your pursuit of a goal that foundation can be rocked to its core. You may never recover.

I sometimes lose touch of where I need to set my foundation. Everyone is a little different. Some may find the best foundation is setting your roots on a higher power. A God they can fall back on when everything else in life seems to go wrong. Others might find a more personal ethos or mantra. Something they can live their life by that at the end of the day gives them a greater sense of peace with themselves and those around them. Whatever that may be to you, having that is the first piece to finding what I think happiness truly is. Because happiness is not one single moment. Nor is achieving that state of happiness. It is not something you can control. In fact, finding true happiness usually comes when you least expect it at just the moment you weren't looking for it during the most mundane moments of life. I believe that is why happiness can be such a strong and overwhelming feeling. Expect nothing and you will be surprised by joy. The feeling of happiness is the closest feeling we can have to knowing what perfection feels like. 

To draw back to an earlier point, feeling perfection is often very closely related to whatever that thing is that we put our foundation on. Your foundation is much more than just an idea or a concept. It is the very core that you base your understanding of the world on and from which you devise your complex perspectives of the world as well as your emotions tied to all things. To give an example, happiness may come to an artist who believes it was their God-given gift to create art for all the world to see. It is when they create their art that they feel the most at peace because they feel they are doing exactly what they are meant to do. They feel a special connection with a pallet and can see a unique way of blending color and form that affirms that they are doing exactly what they are meant to do in life - and that feeling is what gives them their sense of happiness. 

We are all capable of feeling this. In fact, if you can read this and have one shred of logical reasoning in your brain, you probably already identified what your foundation might be. I hope you can identify that foundation as being something beyond something you want to achieve or someone you want to be. There was a time in my life when I did this and realizing it was perhaps one of the most enlightening times in my life.

In college I put my foundation on running. Specifically I set my foundation on making it to the NCAA National Track meet. My progress early in my career seemed to indicate this was possible and like a monk sworn to a vow of silence, I made it my mission to do all things in the name of achieving my goal. The harder I worked, the better I ate, and the more sleep I got, the better my chances were at achieving my goal. The factor I left out of play was the fragility of human nature. Time and time again I had to learn that sometimes you can put every fiber of yourself into something and still fall short. My most human quality was the complete fragility of my body. After setting out for this goal, time and time again I would find myself with torn tendons, fractured bones, and strained ligaments. Each time these things happened, My foundation was completely rocked. I became a shrewd, emotionally unstable, and completely frightened version of myself.

But that's what happens when you put your foundation on something that is so fragile to begin with. Seeking happiness through a man-made goal very rarely ends the way you want it. But seeking happiness though something so much greater than yourself will not only let you reach many moments of happiness, but you may even be surprised to find happiness in failure. When you submit yourself to your own imperfection, you can finally enjoy the process of life and find joy in much smaller things.

I realize this blog appears to have very little to do with myself, my racing, or what I've been doing lately. But I assure you, it actually does. The last few months I've had a lot of thoughts and emotions stirring around. Much of my emotions are rather closely tied to what I've mentioned above. For the moment, I'm still at a point of great uncertainty with my future. But I can say my outlook on how things will turnout is a lot less murky. I can't fully reveal details, as I still don't have any definitive answers. But I can say I have started taking the right steps to getting those answers and I am at much greater peace with how those things may turn out. True to my word, I'll reveal those things as they come. Stay tuned.

Galveston 57.2

Last weekend I had the chance to race my first 70.3 event put on by IRONMAN. Last year I had a unique look at how one of these events is run as I represented a vendor who was a partner to IRONMAN. I was able to see the entire event, from the start of the expo to the end of the event, when the very last finisher crossed the line. And let me tell you - those athletes who are staggering in at 8:29:13 at 5pm when 90% of the racers are already showered and off to their post-race dinners - those athletes are the toughest of them all. It's remarkable that an athlete can complete the distance in 3 hours and 40 minutes. It's beyond incredible that someone out there is trying just as hard as that athlete who can finish under 4 hours, and they're doing it for TWICE as long. Those people are the biggest winners of the day if you ask me. I'm always trying to get things done as quickly as possible so the pain can stop. They have to suffer for longer than I can ever imagine. It's something to be in awe of...

I'll preface my personal race recap with a look at how I planned this race to go. From the get-go, it was highly unlikely that I was going to complete the entire run. I've been battling a bit of posterior tibialis tendonitis for 2 months and my running outdoors has been at a minimum. More on that later. So the plan was to find some feet and swim with a group, per the advice of Tim with Magnolia Masters, bike really, really hard, and do just one loop of the run then assess where that gets me and decide if it's worth it to continue running (basically, if a top 10 finish was possible). Most importantly though, the goal was to get experience in an event I'm going to be doing quite a bit of over the next few months and years.

The swim went technically to plan, but not quite how I would have liked it in hindsight. We started out with one of the largest fields I've ever raced in. Somewhere around 30 girls were on the start line. The advantage I saw was the chance to have more people at my ability to swim with. Typically at my pro races so far, I've been lucky to have 10 people on the start line - and at least one of them is an Olympian, a World Champion, or has made the Olympic Trials in swimming, making it a challenge to stay on their feet. So with this advantage at play I knew if I found some feet I'd be in good shape. The swim went out hard with lots of feet grabbing, elbows, and thrashing. The pack started to separate and I found myself at the front of a third group with about 10 meters between me and the second group. I tried to bridge that gap but unable to, I had to settle in. I was at the lead of a group withgirls on my feet till the turn at the first bouy when one girl took a sharper turn and swam in front of me. I decided to let her do the work and save my energy. A good choice - and a bad choice. While I saved a lot of energy, I found myself zig-zagging trying to chase her as she zig-zagged from bouy to bouy. I finally just sat back a bit and kept my straight line while she went back and forth in front of me. We came out of the water 8 minutes down on the lead. Oof. Got some work to do.

Onto the bike and right from the get-go I could tell something wasn't right. My hips were super tight and immediately I could not find a comfortable place to stay situated on my saddle. My saddle has been a bit of an issue for a while now. I've tried a host of things to help alleviate it - from special butt cream to zip ties and nothing totally solved the problem. The problem is simple - my saddle is old and totally worn out. And at a race like Galveston the strong survive by sitting in one spot on their saddle, not moving much, and grinding away. With flat terrain and strong winds, you want to be as aerodynamic and still as humanly possible. When you can't sit still because you are in so much pain from saddle discomfort, you're in for a long day. To alleviate some of the pressure I started arching my back. At about mile 25 I sat up for a minute and some pretty intense pain started radiating down my lower back - to the point that tears were brought to my eyes. You can imagine how the rest of this ride went. I slowly watched my watts go from 10 watts under... to 20... to 30.... to 40, to the point where I was just trying to get back to transition so I can get off my bike and lay down.

You don't want problems like this to crop up on race day, but unfortunately I have this nasty habit of ignoring small problems and letting them become bigger ones at dramatic moments. Another lesson learned. Riding at race effort with endurance watts isn't very fun. Saddle discomfort can completely rob you of watts. It's actually remarkable how fast I rode considering the type of effort I put down when you look at the numbers. Promising, perhaps for my position and equipment (kudos to my bike from Bikeland and wheels from Cantu). Now... to get my rear (literally speaking) in gear.

Obviously after a back-breaking ride, I was in no condition to jump on the run. I decided to save my leg the extra stress and get to recovering as soon as possible.

I've seen progress with my injury recovery and I have to give much credit to a special and unique tool. I've been fortunate to start a new relationship with a company in the Woodlands called Relief Express, who has a host of recovery tools - from Cryotherapy chambers, to localized Cyrotherapy treatments, to Normatec boots, and nerve entrapment treatments. Though, the most important and useful tool for me has been the Alter-G Treadmill. If you aren't familiar with this magical machine, take a look at their website. Essentially, it's a treadmill where you can adjust your body weight down to as low as 20% to reduce the load you put on you muscles and joints. Imagine how easy on your body it would feel if you could run like you only weighted 20-40 pounds. With any skeletal or muscle injury from running, it's usually the load, not the actual muscle contraction or joint movement that causes pain. In my case, the muscle I've injured actually doesn't take on a lot of the load of running (actually as little as 15-20% of your weight), but any acute stress will aggravate it as the tendon is knotted up and tight. When I run the tendon twists and pulls away from the place on the bone where it attaches. Until my tendonitis calms down and the tightness of that tendon reduces, the pain from that tugging will continue and put me at risk for a fracture. Without a lot of blood flow to that area, the healing process will be slow. However, by reducing the percent the tendon can tug on that bone which increases as you increase your load (currently I feel nothing at about 80%) and still working out all other running muscles, I can continue to improve my running ability while minimizing the stress I put on my injury. Each week I've been incrementally increasing the amount of body weight I put on my leg to gradually reintroduce myself back into normal outdoor running at 100% of my body weight. Each week I see small improvements and feel like I'm still maintaining much of my speed. If you are a competitive athlete aspiring towards big goals but injury has limited you, you'd be wasting your time not to invest in running on this machine. Having used it several times in the past - I believe it heals you quicker than standard rest (healthy blood flow to muscles and joints + keeping your running muscles strong by still using them) and returns you to running MUCH quicker than the typical aqua-jogging route. Aqua-jogging can be effective - but it also demands a much slower return to running after being nearly weightless for weeks or months. When you stop your time on the alter-g and reach full recovery, you could be back to the mileage and speed you previously were at almost immediately. Most triathletes and runners are looking for that quick-fix. Running on the alter-g is about as quick a fix you can get when faced with a dream-crushing injury.

All that being said... It looks like I'm doing some things right. And other things I still need a lot of work on. But isn't that how it is for any of us? You can never trust an athlete who says everything about their training is clicking along well. There is always something that needs work and something to improve upon. A race is a mere snapshot into what I need to do/am doing to fix my problems.

Looking forward I have a few fun races to gear up for in the coming weeks and months. First... a local favorite (outside that other little triathlon in the Woodlands), the CB&I Triathlon where I will attempt to defend my title as the Queen of the Bubble World. And later in May I'll be heading to Tennessee (a bit of a homecoming for me, having started my triathlon career in Tennessee) to race IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga, this time healthy and with a less sore tush/back!

Open the floodgates...

I’ve been thinking for a while about how to frame this first post so I’m going to go in a few different directions. First, a mini-rant/coming-to-terms, followed by some excuse-making, and ending it with a more hopeful look into how I want this blog to look going forward. My apologies upfront for some of the randomness of this post – it’s been a while since I’ve put finger to keyboard to get out some of my thoughts.

Rant(ish): As a professional triathlete, your job is much more than just the swim, bike, run. You have a responsibility to the companies and individuals you represent to be a strong, moral, outspoken individual whether you are in contract with them or not. There are a lot of different techniques that people use to frame their self as a professional athlete. Most commonly, you see the athletes who like to “let their results speak for them.” “I ride this bike and use this wetsuit and am on the podium 6 times a year so you should use the same gear as me.” “I give thanks to my sponsors when I win with their gear and everyone can see how much I love to use it so they should, too.” (Apologies for my over-simplified pokes at plugs) While this tactic generates positive content for a company, it’s difficult to quantify from both the athlete and the investing company’s views. How many people read a post written by their favorite athlete and then turn around and buy the bike they ride? Do they do it immediately after they read the post or does it take several posts for that seed to be planted? And what actually makes them pull that trigger? Did they do a lot of research and compare their options after first seeing you using that product or did they decide to buy it right at your first exclamation? And how can that company really know that your posts are the reason they have a bump in sales? There’s no real way to be sure. Even tagging a specific discount code to an ambassador can only quantify so much.

Furthermore, representing a sponsor goes far beyond just how you use their product. You have to consider how you conduct yourself publicly and online. It is often the things you don’t think about that can get you into trouble, too. When I ran for a NCAA cross country team, this was something my coach always made very clear to us. When you are heading to meet with your team gear on, it’s easy to remember to be respectful to other teams, officials, or supporters. But when it’s a Friday night and your friend from Psychology is throwing a raging party, it’s easy to let your guard down for the sake of a good time. But when you decide to get completely plastered and some obscene picture makes it’s rounds on Facebook, then, yes… that reflects poorly on you and carries over to your team. People looking at that picture would identify you as the being that athlete on the college team, which eventually reflects poorly on the University as well. Though you aren’t an employee of the school, you have to act as if you are – because they can yank your scholarship right up from under your feet if you give them good enough reason to. The same goes for being a professional athlete. Just look at a some recent professional athletes who made some poor decisions and whose sponsors have completely abandoned them – Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and most recently Maria Sharapova to name a few.

On a more positive note, let’s look at someone I can admire for how well he conducts himself publicly, Andy Potts. I remember the first time I participated in a race with him; he literally stood outside the VIP tent just waiting for people to come talk to him. He is a very well liked triathlete who many admire and respect and he KNOWS this. But instead of sitting inside the VIP tent with his family or friends, eating a post-race meal, only to emerge when it was his time to go up on the podium, he took the time to talk to Joe Triathlete because he knows how much it means to them and how positively that reflects on him as an individual and a brand. You can ask most anyone who has met Andy and they’ll tell you “Oh, he’s such a nice guy!” He’s a nice guy who knows exactly what he’s doing. Big sponsors stick with him year in and year out because he can create content that people will read and get behind because they think Andy is a good guy.

Excuses: Admittedly, I don’t do a very good job of promoting my sponsors. And frankly, like a lot of professional athletes, it doesn’t come naturally for me to want to self-promote. I’m generally an introverted individual who prides herself in her quiet, hard work. I like my results to speak for me because I’m not extrinsically motivated. I don’t need to show others how hard I’m working to feel good about what I’m doing. So when I accomplish a new high in training, the first thing I’m thinking isn’t to give a shout out to company XYZ for helping me get there. I might go home and text my coach about the workout and how happy I am about it, but that’s about it.  I’ll then go to bed and get up the next morning with a new confidence that I can quietly carry into my next workouts going forwards. Most other professional triathletes – or even high-achieving athletes can attest to having similar attitudes.

Among other reasons I’ve done a poor job of it since becoming a professional athlete has to do with my injury streak. Injury is nothing unusual in triathlon and running. But I’ve had an unusually high number of them considering how smart I am about my run training (cautiously increasing mileage and intensity, rarely running over 35 miles a week, always wearing new shoes, spending time in therapy and on tools such as the alter-g, etc.). When I actually look back, I can’t say I’ve had more than 6 months of healthy run training without needing to take 1 month+ off of running in 7 years. Put into perspective, it’s remarkable how well I’ve been able to maintain my run speed given how little consistency I’ve had.

I’ve done this blogging thing several times over and I’ll do a good job of consistently writing until something happens that halts my improvement as an athlete. Most of the time it has had something to do with injury – so I go quiet for a while and come back months later with a post about my next “comeback” from injury. I can’t guarantee that this time around my creative juices will be flowing and I’ll have many more novel ideas to post about during my periods of non-racing. But I can promise a more genuine and open discussion on my part about the ups and downs of my triathlon career.

Another part of my hesitancy in writing a blog has to do with finding my voice – an idea encouraged by my coach. You see a lot of generic triathlon blogs out there. “This is my race report and here are some pictures of me riding my bike (insert link to bike website), oh look how pretty the swim start its blah blah blah.” Seriously, how many times have you read that? A triathlete I admire for putting together thorough and informative blogs is Cody Beals. He goes beyond just the surface of explaining what happened in the race but is honest about his decision-making process in the race. He’s open about the struggles he faces now and from the past and outlines how he got over it, or continues to be proactive about it. He has a lot of followers and is affectionately known as “the people’s pro.” Cody has found a voice for himself online and uses it effectively.

Hope: I can’t say I know what my voice is yet – or what direction I really want to go with this blog, but I figure this is a start. Being open and honest in both good times and bad times is crucial to what I'm trying to achieve here. Welcome to my blog and a little peek inside the mind of this triathlete.