Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My First Olympic Distance Triathlon


On Sunday, I competed in the Orange County International Triathlon in Mission Viejo. I signed up for this on May 1st, when I returned home from my 1/2 Ironman. I was so disspointed that I didn't complete the swim and this seemed like a good way to redeem myself. An Olympic distance triathlon is: 1.5/40/10 km or, in miles: .93/24.8/6.2. While the bike and run portions are a little more than 1/2 the distance, the swim is still almost a mile. I was excited when I hit 'submit' and paid the $183...confident I would get my training in. That's the thing about signing up for races: then you're obligated. Usually, the fear of not doing well motivates me to put in the hours of required training. I thought I would have plenty of time to get in an open water swim before race day when I signed up. But, I had Mother's Day and 15 miles one weekend, trip to LA and 18 miles the following weekend and - well, that was it - it was here!!! Excuses, I know, because you can always make time...but in any case, life happened and there I found myself: on the morning of, so nervous that I thought I was going to throw up.


I ran 14 miles on Saturday and made it to the expo just in time to pick up my race packet and drop off my shoes in T2 (transition area 2) just after 6pm. Ususally, there's one transition area and you set it all up the morning of, but this one had us biking to - and running from - a different area. They had someone stationed there, watching the shoes throughout night. When I got home, I started packing all my gear for the morning, since I would be short on time and half asleep. Before a marathon, I lay everything out the night before, careful not to forget anything. But, for a triathlon, there's so much more stuff! And, if you forget something like your hemet you're out.


My friend Delia picked me up at 5am, and we drove to pick Darra. It was still dark outside. When friends come out to support and cheer you on, it means a lot. When those friends have to get up at 4am in order to do so, it means even more. We parked by the lake and they helped me lug all my stuff to T1. Constantly, the only thing on my mind was the swim. Mom called and, knowing I was nervous, told me to imagine that Isis was on my back and would drown if I didn't finish. Darra said that if I didn't finish the swim she would drag me back out there. They both told me I could do it, yet I remained doubtful. I was in the third wave, at 7:10. As the first wave went, and then the second, I became more and more nervous...which you wouldn't really think was possible considering how nervous I already was. I can't even articulate how scared I was and what it felt like entering that water. Even now, remembering it, I get butterflies. Seeing where I had to swim made it even worse: to the other side of the lake, to the right and back. It seemed impossible.
I'm in there somewhere.
I started and just as expected, was out of breath while I was warming up. There are a lot of horrible feelings in life, but one of my personal top 10 is putting my face in the water when I can't breathe. My brother, who used to be a lifeguard suggested that if I experienced this, I should do the backstroke for awhile, allowing me to breathe to my lung's content. I'm sure this is very good advice for someone who can do the backstroke in a straight line. But, I was like a fly with one wing pulled off: I managed to turn myself around and was heading back to shore without even realizing it! When I popped my head out of the water, I saw that the lifeguard sitting on a surfboard was pointing in the other direction. Feeling a bit silly, I turned myself around.


I continued on, and the wave behind me passed me. All the faster guys. And then all the slower guys. And then, the next wave. I stayed to the right, in the water slow lane equivalent. By the time I made it to the first buoy I could tell I was going to make it. I stopped less and continued on. As I was approaching shore, I heard "Go Megan!" every time I stopped to orient myself. Delia, Darra and Ardy were standing on a dock, waving and cheering me on. Although I was one of the last ones out of the water, it felt so good to be back on land! If I could just get the swim over with, the rest would be a piece of cake.


Not true. I stripped off my wetsuit quickly, realizing almost all of the bikes were gone. As I started out on the bike, my legs were tired and it was difficult. The only person that I passed on the bike portion was missing a leg. I'm not kidding, he was operating a hand crank bike. The ride was stunning, through Santiago Canyon, which I have never been to! I could not wait to get off the bike.
He must've heard I was directionally challenged.
As I rode into transition, Darra, Delia & Ardy were there again. Darra told me to go get some roadkill, which is Ragnar Relay speak for people you pass. As I came up on each person I gave them some encouraging words and mentally added them up as my road kill. I passed 7 in total.
Nearing the finish line, I picked up my pace. And, I had a huge smile. It tooke me just over 4 hours and again, Delia and Darra were there. To my surprise there were no medals. I assumed there would be a medal, the thing cost enough! But instead, I have an experience I will never forget. There's a cheesy cliché about overcoming our fears in here somewhere, dying to come out, but I'll leave that to your imagination.
Delia, me, Darra
Over coffee and bagels loaded with avocado, tomato, eggs, cheese and Canadian bacon we shared stories of the morning. Like the guy who came into T2 on his bike, looking for his shoes. When he asked an official where his shoes were, he was told where he had dropped them off the day before. "But...I didn't do that...they are back where I left on my bike." Or, the lady who came into T2 and didn't slow down enough and fell over (not me!). Or the guy in the hand crank who went the wrong way on the course and didn't make it back in time for his runner to do the 10K. I knew I was gonna beat that guy!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Before & After

The main difference between just running and competing in a triathlon (when you actually finish the swim!) is that your entire body is sore, instead of just your legs. Yesterday, I completed my 1st Olympic distance triathlon in Lake Mission Viejo. And today, I'm having trouble getting around. Pretty sure it's compounded by the fact that I ran 14 miles the day before...but with the MT marathon fast approaching, I didn't really have a choice. When normal routines like opening your car door, shopping and checking your mail compel strangers to stop and ask if you're okay, you know you pushed yourself! And, my arms! Sadly, in this state, I couldn't be called on in class, hail a taxi or raise both arms if robbed while at a convenience store. More about my triathlon experience in my next post, but check out these pics. I was more nervous about the swim than I can even describe, especially since I've had two previous negative swim experiences: the Long Beach sprint distance triathlon before I learned to swim and then being pulled from the water a few weeks ago for my 1/2 ironman.  These two candids capture my apprehension followed by elation perfectly.
BEFORE:


AFTER:


Friday, May 13, 2011

Results - My First 1/2 Ironman!

When I saw that the total number of participants in the Napa Valley Half-Iron Distance Triathlon was only 500, I jokingly told people I might be last. But, I was kidding. I never really thought that I would really be one of the last participants to finish. 

On the drive up to Napa I started getting anxious about the swim portion of the race. Like, really anxious. I still get nervous before marathons, but this took my anxiety to a whole new level! While I had done the distance in a pool, I was used to the safety blanket of the wall and  knew that I had not put in enough time in the open water. Or rather: any time in the open water, other than a few hundred yards two days prior when I gave my wetsuit a test drive. And, I was really worried about the cut-off time of 70 minutes. I called and texted a few people who reassured me that I could do it. Kieth, who was my master's swim coach, said I should be able to do it in 55 minutes. But still, I was really worried. At this point, I was under the impression that if I dropped out of the swim, I would not be allowed to do the bike and run. What if my 5 months of training, this 1,000 mile round-trip drive, and this weekend was all for naught?

The thoughts were consuming me, and robbing me of enjoying the time with my Mom, Dad and brother. So I called Shari Todd, one of the most positive people I've ever met (check out her blog here). She told me about a quote, which really helped me:
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, ...who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat." ~ Theodore Roosevelt
I told myself that I was going to do my best, and tried to let it go. We checked in to our 'cabin' which ended up being about the size of a hotel room, and went for dinner in Winters.
Mom and Dad, in Winters
Which is bigger?



I knew I would have trouble sleeping, but it was worse than I thought. I took 2 sleeping pills and set my alarm for 5:20AM. Your alarm is set for 7 hours and 45 minutes from now my phone informed me. Lying there, trying to sleep, I kept thinking that is about how long I'm going to be out there swimming, biking and swimming. For almost 8 hours. Around midnight I took a third (!!!) sleeping pill and finally dozed off.

Right outside our cabin.
















When I woke up, my first thought was that I didn't want to do it. But on the 20 minute drive to the race I started to get a little excited. We parked and took all of my gear and bike to the transition area to set up and, seeing the other participants, I was even more excited.

Lake Berryessa, looking beautiful & harmless on the morning of the race.


At the check-in booth I asked the coordinator how I would know that I made the cut-off time. She said 'if you're not brought in by boat.' This was reassuring. I also found out that I would be allowed to complete the other portions if I didn't finish the swim. This was a HUGE relief.
As we were getting ready to start, I looked at the two buoys which marked where we needed to swim. One was out and over to the left, but the second one was way the hell out there, almost hard to see, forming a huge triangle. I also noticed whitecaps. Who knew a lake could have those? We started in waves, and knowing I would be one of the slowest, I started in the last wave. I waded into the water and started swimming. It was worse than I expected. The conditions were horrible...very windy which = choppy water. As expected, I was breathless at first. I tried doing the back stroke and water was washing over my face. I tried swimming and breathing every 3rd stroke. I floated for awhile in my wetsuit to catch my breath, and continued on. But guess who I was surrounded by? All of the other slow-pokes like me. All of the people who were also wishing this was a dualthlon. Two of us flagged down a kayak. The woman let us hang on for a bit, and told us "I've only ever seen the lake this this twice." After our break I told the woman "We can do this, let's stick together" and we continued on. After about 100 yards I looked around and was headed in a different direction than her. There was actually a current. She wasn't doing well either, and we flagged down a boat. There were already three other swimmers on there, and they brought us in. I felt disappointed, thinking of my parents and brother there waiting for me on the shore. They were of course surprised to see me, because I beat even the fastest swimmers! If they were disappointed, they didn't show it. Dad was very encouraging, as always. Figuring I had lots of time, I stayed and watched the first pack of swimmers come in.
More swimmers being brought in by boat.
Then, I took my time in transition, changing out of my wetsuit, into my biking gear, and chatting with my brother and parents. I talked to the guy next to me who expected to finish the swim in 45min. It took him an hour and he said this was worse than the Escape from Alcatraz swim, which he had previously completed. This made me feel better about 'giving up.' I talked to Mom, Dad and Glen, and by the time I was ready to go, almost everyone was out on their bikes! Whoops!
A sure sign you've spent too long in transition: you're standing there posing for a picture,
and everyone else is gone! No bikes!

Now, when I saw that the total number of participants was only 500, I jokingly said that I might be last. But, I was kidding. I never really thought I would be last. But the bike course was brutal: tons of hills, and it was really hot. I did fine on the uphill, but people were passing me on every downhill because I would break when I was going faster than 25mph. And, since the course was out and back I could see who was behind me: almost no one...only about 3 people. It was really hard to continue, knowing that I hadn't finished the swim and even though I might still be given a medal, I wasn't really earning it. Out there, alone for hours, I had a lot of time to think and my thoughts turned negative. And, unfortunately, not all of those negative thoughts were race-related. It sounds a little harsh, but I quite honestly felt like a failure and doubted myself in some major ways. At some points on the ride, there was no one around me for miles. Not one car, not one spectator, not one other person on a bike and I felt really, really alone.
Fake smile. And, am I really that white???
It took me 4 1/2 hours on the bike (4:35:29). Sure, they let me start the bike after not completing the swim...but, there was the cut-off time and now I was left wondering if they would I even be allowed to attempt the run? Or, even if they let me, did I want to start the run?

As I rolled into transition, completely exhausted, and asked one of the race volunteers "Can I start the run?" Their reply was "If you want to." I put my shoes on and started jogging. Before the race I had nicely laid out my running gear. But after being on the bike that long I did not feel l changing. I ran in my cycling shorts and jersey.

Running is obviously my strongest area of the three. And while I only had 3 people come in after me on the bike, I was able to pass a few runners during the half-marathon. One of the most difficult mental parts of the run was the fact that it was out and back and then out and back again! So, after just over an hour of running, I was at the finish line, but had to head back out and do it all over again. Again, I found myself thinking that I should cut it short, just finish since my medal would not be 'real' anyway. But I tried to turn that thinking around. Feeling a little less alone, feeling a little more confident, I thought of my parents and brother who were there supporting me and how I didn't want to have to tell them that I didn't make that portion either...and finished the run in 2hours, 17min.

Overcoming that self doubt, and pushing forward myself in spite the major swim setback was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I think the race was harder because I didn't finish the swim. Sometimes, we do everything right and there are still conditions we can't control. Not just in a race, but in life. Things happen to us that we don't deserve and life is not always fair. Over that, we have no control. What we can control is how we respond when things don't go our way; it is what we do with disappointment that makes up our character and determines who we really are. Do we let it hold us back? Or, do we use it as an impetus to push us forward and become stronger? The day started out as a huge disappointment turned into what I now view as a major triumph. And what about all those negative non-race related thoughts that I had out there on the bike, alone for hours? They were smaller. Not gone, but much smaller. Finishing this triathlon helped me believe that anything is possible. For me, and for my future. What I really want out of life really is attainable if I just keep moving toward it.
With my brother, at the finish.
When I got home, I registered for the OC Triathlon which is this coming Sunday. It's an Olympic distance triathlon, so while the bike is only 23 miles and the run is only 6.2, the swim is .93 which is very close to the 1.2 mile distance I didn't finish. And this time, I will finish the swim.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Q & A

Well, I still need to blog about how race day went, and how I ended up with 69.1 instead of the full 70.3. But, this has been a hectic week, and we had our first track meet yesterday so I was at work until 6pm...so, we'll just blame it on that. In the mean time, here's some questions I answered for a UCI student who is working on a script that includes a triathlete, and needed to interview someone that the character was based on. 



-Do you train in a group, by yourself, or with a trainer? Why?
I train with a group whenever possible, because it is less boring! When you're out there on a long run or ride, talking to someone helps the miles pass so much quicker! Even the best playlist or audio book doesn't compare to being able to talk to someone else. Sometimes, it's just knowing that they too want to stop and knowing that you can't let each other down. Sometimes, it helps motivating them to keep going, even when you don't want to! I try and plan all of my long runs with someone, and do them alone if I have to. I do some rides with other cyclists - we meet @ surf city cylcery on Sunday morning and go down PCH & up Newport Coast Drive. I don't ride in traffic unless I'm with other riders because you're safer in a group. When I ride solo I do the back bay trail or santa ana river trail because there's no traffic.

-Do you have any pre-race rituals or superstitions?
Rituals yes, superstitions, no. I always take sleeping pills 2 nights before the race! I get so nervous and excited I cannot sleep if I don't, especially if it's a destination race because I'm in unfamiliar surroundings. I also always have a good, big carbohydrate rich meal. I lay out all of my gear the night before.

-Can you tell me a story about a time during a race where you felt discouraged and what you did to overcome it?
I remember my first marathon, when I was at mile 20 and so happy that I 'only had 6 miles left' My next thought was 'oh, that's another HOUR of running!' I thought of how I was trained and had to tell myself I could do it, even though I didn't feel like it. Also, during this 1/2 ironman....I was extremely defeated after not completing the swim portion. Half way into the run, I thought of ending it early, because I hadn't completed the swim. The course was out & back and then out and back again! So, after 6 miles I was at the finsh, and had to head back out! I didn't want to. But, in times like that I think of all the people who know I'm doing it, and how I don't want to tell them I didn't finish! I ask to myself 'Do I want to keep going? No! Am I going to keep going? Yes!'

-What is your most memorable moment from a race?
Wow...so many to choose from. Usually, crossing the finish and seeing my friends or family. Or, during the run, seeing someone with only one leg (LA marathon) or, someone who is a senior citizen trucking along inspires me. Then there was the time that I drove to Vegas, forgot me special 'do not forget bag' with ALL of my gear, and only realized I left it at home in Redlands at 8pm the night before. I called my dad, who went to my apartment, picked up my bag and then we drove all night, meeting in Calico so I could get my stuff. And, I did the marathon!

-Do you find it hard to dedicate enough time to training? Does it compete
with other parts of your life?
Yes! I did 4 marathons while I was in graduate school and working full time! But, I could easily waste the same amount of time watching tv each night. Rather than compete with other areas of my life, it enhances them. I'm a better counselor, daughter, sister and friend because I train. It keeps me out of trouble! :)

-How do you manage your nerves before a race? Has pre-race excitement ever made you sick?
Ummm...sleeping pills! Ha! I still always get nervous. I've never been sick from it. I guess, in retrospect I like it. Makes me feel like a kid again.

 -Are most of your friends marathoners or triathletes as well? Or is that a separate part of your life?
I have two groups of friends - those who do endurance training and those who don't. It's easy to form a connection with a fellow marathoner quickly, because you have that common ground. I have some good friends that I met in a running group (Loma Linda Lopers, when I lived in Redlands) who I travel with to races. We did anchorage Alaska a few years ago, and are doing Missoula Montana in July. Communication is sporadic in between races, and we catch up and reconnect for the week surrounding the trip, sharing a hotel room, meals and stories.

-Is there anyone or anything in particular that inspires you to race?
Getting the most out of life. I never feel as alive as I do when in training. I feel like we've got one shot at it, as far as we know, and we might as well make the most of it. I will continue to complete marathons, and now triathlons, as long as I live.

 -Is there one part you excel at most in the triathlon (i.e.: swimming,
cycling, running) or one you must train harder for than the others?
Running! Swimming is one of the hardest things I have done, and I need to devote more time at it. In the 1/2 ironman, I feel behind in the bike because I'm new to that as well. Also, we had a lot of downhills and once I realized I was going 25mph I braked. But on the run, I passed a lot of people who had passed me on the bike. Swimming is intimidating, because I'm used to swimming in a pool where I have the safety net of the wall. Being in the open water is scary, and I need to practice that more.

 -Do you enjoy the competitive part of racing or do you prefer it for the
exercise?
Mostly, for exercise. But, during a race it helps to pick someone out, and try to stay with them or even pass them. I can be competitive when I know the person racing, like when I set the goal of beating both of my administrators in a recent 5K. I'm more competitive with myself, always hoping for a PR.