Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pikes Peak- One Revolution at a Time. One Breath at a Time.

Pikes Peak- One Revolution at a Time. One Breath at a Time.

A few years ago, after reading an article in Bicycling about cycling Pikes Peak, I added the Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb to my list of bike endeavors after completing Ironman. 12 miles climbing up the Pikes Peak Highway to the summit at 14,100’ elevation. That would be a long way off but I always kept it in the back of my mind.

I signed up for a medical conference and well what do you know?! Pikes Peak is right there.  Could I ride up to the summit? I don’t have time to train for the official Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb which happens to be the same weekend- it would take a long time for that but I could ride a small part of the peak while there. I could at least check it out. I booked a bike rental and committed. I obsessed over the map of Pikes Peak Highway, weather, grades, other peoples' cycling experiences,  and anything else I could for weeks before I left. I checked the live webcam every day 2 weeks before my arrival noting when the clouds and rain rolled in. I needed to start up the mountain no later than noon. Early morning is best but my flight in precluded that and I only had one day to do this before my conference.


As the day grew closer, I realized just how hard this really is. I knew this would be the hardest thing I have ever done on the bike, hell it would be harder than any half Ironman or marathon. Initially, I committed to just "check it out" which turned into the need to ride to the top. I realize I am getting way over my head here. My fears were clear- weather, no cell service for emergencies, hypothermia, pulmonary edema at altitude, altitude sickness, getting to the top and having no way down the mountain, absolute solitude (I have no idea how many and what type of people are on this mountain), descending in the rain, falling off the mountain and failure to complete the task. I even voiced a few days before- what if I die? This is something that never crossed my mind in previous events, ever.

The day of the ride I have the map of the road and every stopping point memorized. My plan is to get off the plane, get the car and bike and head immediately to the mountain. I really need to start no later than 12:30pm. The drive takes much longer than anticipated so I  start several hours later. I did have a plan B set up. If I did not make it or only made a part of the ride, I could attempt the Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb  Sunday and start really early and skip the last day of my conference. The race organizer was super nice and said it was fine if I registered late. The benefit would be that there would be people and a ride down the mountain. The risk is the timing. I fly out that day. I have no idea how long it will take me with the altitude. So it really is a last resort. My plan C was to ride as far up as I could before the rains and dark and come back early each morning and ride a bit before the conference  adding it all up. Not ideal because I would likely continue on and skip the conference. I really did want to attend this conference. After all it was a Medicine of Cycling conference!

Once I was in Colorado Springs I could see the daunting peak. Wow, it's pretty powerful to see. And it really does seem to touch the clouds. As I drive closer I am excited and intimidated. I arrive at the road and go through the gate. The ranger there is really nice. I ask her how the weather looks at the top and let her know this is my first time riding up and I will be alone. She radios to the summit and weather looks great.

I decide to start my ride 6.5 miles from the summit at 11,000 ft elevation at Glen Cove.  I will ride to each parking area and re-evaluate. It's a race against time,  mother nature and my inner demons. The rental bike is not carbon and it is a double. My non carbon bike at home at least has a triple and is an awesome climbing bike. The shifters are different so I ride a few circles in the parking lot and learn them.

Let's do this.

There is an immediate perceived steep climb on the road and 10 minutes in. I am questioning everything. What did I just get myself into? What was I thinking? I am not at all trained for this. Seriously, I really did not train for this. I stop at the switch back and gather myself and my breath. I remind myself that I am tougher than I always think I am and I can do this however I want whether it is in pieces or not. At least I am here. I am toe-ing the line. The next section of the ride is much better. Less steep. It also helped to realize I was shifting the gears the wrong way. A car drives by and the people yell out at me "Awesome! You are an animal!" Wow, thanks,  that felt great. I needed that because I felt like a total baby here.

The grade increases. WTF? I am only 1/2 mile further? My legs were on fire, breathing was tough and my heart was pounding through the top of my head. I remember reading someone's blog about their climb and this is exactly the heartbeat they referenced. It is a strange feeling. I fought myself a bit and let it all go. One revolution at a time. That's all this is. One more pedal gets me closer to my goal.

One revolution at a time.


The first part of the ride is all crazy switchbacks with varying grades. Some I welcomed, others I dreaded. The grades are far more pronounced at altitude. There is a formula that adjusts grades based on altitude. Basically a nice little 6% at sea level feels like a 12% at high altitude. I look up and see even more switchbacks. I'm disheartened.  There is a dark cloud in the direction of the summit. The rain is coming. I really did start too late. A part of me is hoping it starts raining. That is my cue to turn around and go to the hotel. Then I'm done. Come on rain, we can end this whole thing now. 

Then again I want to do this. I don't want to give up. The cloud is darker. I will ride to the next parking area even if it rains. It looks like I will be going to plan C.  I can finish this in pieces over the next 3 days. I am definitely going to do it that way. I continue riding. My heart is pounding through my ears. I'm nauseas. I stop. Rest. My heart rate settles down and I can take in some nutrition and enjoy the view. It is stunningly beautiful. Time to go; but, it is way too steep to clip back in my pedals. I walk up further and take some pictures. Clip in and go.

Cars continue to drive by. More than I thought. All are driving safe, slow and are so polite. Everyone is verbalizing words of encouragement. I am getting pretty emotionally labile. I cry when someone says something nice. People are so nice here. I feel safe. With each 500' elevation gain it gets harder.

A ranger stops to see if I am ok. I ask about the dark cloud. He says so far at the top no rain and assures me that the descent is faster than the climb. Just a few more switchbacks then the road mellows out until the last mile. I look up at those last switchbacks and they look brutal but I do see where it gets better. The last mile is the hardest he tells me but I will have a break shortly.  He is really encouraging and says he'll look out for me. I remember reviews of the last mile- a solid 10.5% grade to the top. I am definitely stopping at the next parking area (Devil's Playground is the name) and resuming there tomorrow.

The dark cloud starts moving in and I am feeling some sprinkles.  I am not sure if I will make it to Devil's Playground in time. "Oh no you don't" I shout at the cloud. I am going to make it to the next spot.  I realize I am not going to make it to the summit. The cloud is darker. It's a matter of safety. I am fine with it though I seem to be going all over the place mentally. This ride is bigger than I ever imagined and I want to get to the top any way that I can.

I finish the switchbacks. The ride is much easier but the air is growing thinner. Devils Playground! There it is along a somewhat flat  or at least more humane grade strip of road. I even shifted gears to the big ring and am flying. I finally get in some riding and speed. Even a little spin. Incredible. The landscape is incredible.  I have a renewed energy now. I want to keep going.  I fly past the next parking area called "Bottomless Pit"  and then comes an ascent.


It doesn't look steep but I'm dying here. That renewed energy was very short lived.

I stop to look at my map. I'm going to go to the next parking area, "Boulder Park" which is 1.5 mile from the summit. I can do this and then only have 1.5 miles to piece together tomorrow.

The ride is getting hard. I ride, stop, fight with my cleats, walk, ride, fuss and repeat. Walking is harder than riding. I am having an internal discussion with myself. If I go to Boulder Park, why not keep going? Only 1.5 miles left after that.  Why not? Well because that last part is STEEP! While 10.5% is not horrible at sea level, it is horrible at 13,000+'. Everything is different at elevation.


Here it is. Boulder Park. It is not clear where the parking area is. I'm confused. I'm starting to lose it. I remind myself that it is normal this high up. I'm going to be loopy. There is an interpretive sign at Boulder Creek. I stop to read it. It says: "Feeling spacey?" Um yeah, I say aloud. Sure I'm dizzy but that is to be expected. "Short of Breath?" Of course. "There is 40% less oxygen." Yeah, you think? Thanks for the validation. "you have reached the harshest environment on Pikes Peak. Even trees do not grow here ... winds, temperature." That made me cry. How did you know, interpretive sign? Yes- it DOES feel harsh! The landscape looks like the damn moon. The wind is cold. I'm freezing. My fingers hurt. In the midst of  all of this fussing I look at that moonscape and see the sun. The dark cloud has moved past the summit. I snap out of the funk and move forward. One revolution at a time. One breath at a time. Leaving the tears behind.


Ride. Unclip. Fight the clips. Walk. Walking hurts.

The reviews said max grade on the this road was 10.5%. They are wrong. My Garmin is holding at 12.5% which sux. Even walking in cleats dragging a bike uphill hurts at this grade and elevation.  The grade decreases a bit- just enough so I can clip in and ride.

Elevation 13,500'

It becomes a monumental task to even clip in my first foot. WTF? Why? Why do my feet feel weak? Seriously?  I sob aloud, "13,500' is mean. Just mean." I give myself permission to continue to talk to myself. It's a moonscape and lonely. I don't even see any critters. Nothing except me. A car stops and kindly offers me a ride to the top. NO! While I told myself I'd reach that summit  by any means, I did NOT mean a car. Its bike or by foot. I must do this. I think of Dean Karnazes, the ultrarunner whose father told him "Run, if you can't run, walk, if you can't walk, then crawl." How do I crawl lugging a bike? Who cares, its not an option. I am getting to the summit TODAY.

I notice a very small plant in the moonscape. I applaud it's tenacity. I tear up thinking just how awesome and badass that little plant is. Where on earth is my tenacity because I'm not feeling it. I feel beaten up by the figurative 13,500'.

Another ranger stops, I'll name her "Ranger 2." I immediately tell her, "I'm fine, just acclimating." She tells me the peak closes at7pm. I think it is about 4 right now. I ask her if she thinks I can make it in time because it is right up there as I point in the general direction. While I do not see the peak I have it in my head it is just up and around the corner. She says, the peak is further than that, a little more around. She reminds me again the park closes at 7pm. I only have a mile left. She drives away. I clip back in and ride. I do not feel encouraged by her. I liked the other ranger better.

I'm crushed. REALLY crushed. I cry. I'm very cold. My feet, hamstrings and quads hurt. I can't breathe. I can breathe but when I ride I only ride a few feet and get short of breath. I get tired even walking. I hate you 13,500'. I hate you more than 12,000'. I hate you Ranger 2. While you were nice, you did burst my bubble. The first ranger was encouraging and so were all of the drivers.  Drivers would yell out "you're almost there!" or "You're doing great!" or "you rock!" I received more cheering from strangers here than in any race I have done. Just about every car that passed up or down cheered me on. It was incredible.  Some offered me rides. Of course I declined. But Ranger 2. She made me feel doubtful. What if the last mile is really bad and I don't make it by 7? Is there something she knows that I don't? What if I fall down the mountain? What if I get hypothermia? What will another 500' feet elevation do to me? I cry...again.. like a child. Does she not know I can do this? Does she not know my overall fitness level? DO I look like a slug? Maybe I do.  She seems to be the voice of reason because I sure am not.

1 more mile.

Enough of this self pity. Move forward.

I have my kids and spouse who are expecting me to do this. I can not and will not go home with a story of failure. I complete the job I set out to do. I set an example for them.  I want them to be proud.  It's a mile, I have already done 5.5! I just then realized that.

Ride- one revolution after another. One breath after another. Dig deep because I have arrived at that steep part. The shit is going down now.  I calculate the altitude- 600' left. That is harder than Double Peak at home which is 600' in 1.5 miles. This mountain feels like one long Double Peak and then some. No mercy.

I look up, another switch back and it is nasty.
Dig deeper.
Almost there.
I am blessed. The weather is beautiful. It is cold , freezing cold but beautiful. The nasty cloud is gone.


Climb, ride, short walk, climb, ride.

Last switch back. I still do not see the top but I smell food. OMG food! I giggle. French fries sound fabulous. I am SO getting those at the top.

Last hill. Ride this MF-er no matter how steep. Mash it. Dig deep, deeper, the deepest ever. I can do this, It is the last one and the steepest of the whole damn mountain. I have NOTHING left. Dig even deeper. Count. Count in any language you want, I tell myself. One, two, three, four,, dos, tres, quattro, cinco, now french--- un, deux, trois, quat, cinq. Hungarian- screw that. I looked down the whole time focusing as hard as I could. And what do I see?  a hand made painted sign saying:

"14,100 feet. You did it!"

I sobbed and could not stop.

I'm here? really? I absolutely cannot breathe from the sobbing. I look up and see the dirt parking lot. I studied this entire area online before. I see people. I see cars. I am shocked, disoriented and still sobbing. Two cyclists ride up behind me. They look incredible. They ask me how far I went. I tell them "not far" since I did not start at the bottom and proceed to ask them how far they rode. They started 1/2 mile down from here. I then proudly tell them I started at Glen Cove. They say "Impressive, very impressive. Congratulations!"

I look for the Pikes Peak sign. The sign where I dreamed of holding my bike up noting my accomplishment. I also wanted to find the cog train camera in hopes that James could log onto the live cam and see me.

There is the sign! Still sobbing. Can't stop. Can't breathe.

I park my bike and ask someone to take a picture. I can't very well do a selfie holding a bike can I? They say, "Absolutely! Did you ride up?" Yes I did. "Wow." Then a whole bunch of people come over and also took my picture. "Did I hear you RODE up ?" People treated me like a rock star. Suddenly a mass of people were taking my picture. Someone asked if they could take a picture with me. He said "you're a celebrity to me." I am proud. I tell them it was the hardest thing I have ever done and I live at sea level.

While I am enjoying all of this I am getting colder fast. I am at hypothermia's doorstep. I need to go inside.

Oh how I loved the warmth of the gift shop and restaurant. I milled around shivering for quite a while. I was thrilled to see they were selling Pikes Peak patches. I have a patch from the Solvang Century on my commuter bag. This is perfect. This is my finisher's medal.  I step outside to the other side of the building and find the webcam. Wow! It is so strange to be here after obsessively checking the webcam multiple times a day prior to my trip. I text James and tell him I am waving at it. 


It's really getting cold. The forecast was in the 30's. I go back inside and get my warm gear out. I start my warmers and keep walking around. No fries. Kitchen was closing. I snack on my own snacks, talk with several people who are impressed with my ride up. Another person hears my story and offers to drive me down the mountain. I thankfully decline. I earned that ride down. I'm not warming up as fast as I'd like. I know I need to go soon especially after I see I had been milling about for a long time. One of the workers tells me his dream of riding down Pikes Peak. He drives up every day to work there. I tell him to just do it.

Ranger 2 is in the shop. She is kicking everyone out announcing closing time. Wow, it's already 6:30!It's time. I'm worried about being too cold for the descent. The temperature dropped rapidly in the last few hours and despite hand, foot, body warmers, hot tea  and thermals I'm not warm. Maybe I should get a ride- it would be smart.

That same woman who just offered me a ride is getting ready to go. She asks me again and assures me she has a lot of room in her car. I'm tempted. I tell her I really did earn this descent and have to try to ride. She smiles and says she will check on me as I descend and can get a ride anytime. She was true to her word. All the way down she stopped at the turns and waited for me to pass despite Ranger 2.

I get going. Thrilled at the fact that I just rode UP to the summit of Pikes Peak.  Ranger 2 is behind me in the ranger SUV. The descent is hard and brutal. The reviews say to stop and rest the brakes or they will burn. Already, I am not accustomed to the fork on this rental bike. It feels floppy and loose. The distance to the brakes is too far for my stubby fingers. As a result my fingers and hands are hurting. I stop at a switchback turn to check brakes and give my hands a break. Over a megaphone, Ranger 2 is telling me "You are the last person on this mountain. You cannot stop. Keep moving."  Damn, Ranger 2. I needed you when I was going UP the mountain.  I continue riding. Oh this is a quick, painful and scary descent. There are a lot of places to fall off the mountain. My neck and scapula are piercing and burning. That woman who offered me the ride was waiting for me as I descended. Ranger 2 tells her to she is not allowed to stop too over the megaphone.  Switchback, switchback... I see Glen Cove, where I started a few switchbacks away... I am so happy to see it.

I get to my car, take a deep breath and look up at the peak. I am proud.

My dream is to participate in the full Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb with far less drama and stops. I will do this after Ironman. I will train for it for real.

As for my fears- The weather remained nice. I did not fall off the mountain. I had cell service the entire time. I am ever so thankful for James who texted me through the hard parts, no pulmonary edema (there was a blogger who attempted to ride but had to stop because of this once) and I'm still here. Overall, physically I felt fine- just a wee bit emotional. I think I am allowed to have that given that I started at 11,000' and ended at 14,100'!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mental Strengthening

Train hard
Keep out of your own way

I have this on my phone to remind me every day -- my mantra for the next year. This month has been about mental strength. At times I am strong and others I am not. When I am not I tend to self-sabotage. I tend to get in my own way. I do this through self-doubt which leads to inaction on my part. I tend to compare myself unfairly with others. I beat myself up and waste energy. I stop focusing on the goal and wallow in the immediate illusion of failure.

I have been making a practice of not allowing that into my world. I am embracing my strength. Embracing how far I have come. Embracing my badass-ness. I am allowing myself to claim it. It’s a lot of work to remain focused on that. It is harder than any physical test.  It feels as challenging as meditation – which, well may be the next step in mental training for me.

November was the Thanks & Planks challenge at Title Boxing Club. Each day we complete a plank. The times increase as the month goes on with the final day being 5 min. I have never been good at planks. However my plan was from Oct-Dec I would increase my upper body strength and finally do the work to strengthen my core. Core work was something I always conveniently left out of my training. Yes I know it is good for runners, blah blah, blah. But it is way out of my comfort zone. WAY out. Give me a bike and I’ll do anything. Core? No thanks.

This year is different. I have a lot riding on what choices I make now that will affect my Ironman success next year. I only have one chance at Ironman- there is no re-do if I DNF.  Because I am going into Ironman with a long term knee injury the core work is vital to my success. So I committed to the Thanks & Planks challenge 100%.  Lets see how far I can go. First day 20s. Easy. Looking at the plan- by the end I would be doing 5 min. No way. Here I go attempting to get in my own way by already telling myself I can NOT do it. I find a balance in the month of just enough self-doubt to push me forward. As I moved on and held planks longer, I saw that I could do it. I saw that it’s all a mental game. I am not only doing this for my core I am doing this for mental stamina. THAT’s the hard part. Some days it took up to 5 tries to complete. In the old days of self-sabotage I would have given up after the first try and accepted that I was not ready for this or I was somehow special and just can’t do it for some reason or another. Sure I’d get angry when I dropped but I also knew I could try later. That was key for me. It was not either-or on the first try. As a result, I always completed the assigned plank that day.

I was finally able to leave my false dichotomous world. I know somewhere there really is a physical and mental limit. I gave myself permission to accept that when and if it came. But I am wired to push the envelope and see how far I can go. As a child my mom would tell me “There is no such word as can’t.”  That’s why I do the things the way I do in my life.  The limits are far beyond our comprehension. We can go further than our mind allows. With the planks I decided that no matter what, I will do it whether it takes multiple tries or I need to extend the challenge past the month for more time. Whatever I needed to do to make it happen I could. I am allowed to do that. I don’t need to beat myself up. I don’t need to tell myself I can’t do it. The bottom line is getting it done. I can evaluate what went wrong. What internal and external conditions may have played in dropping or holding. I can be kind to myself and hold myself accountable at the same time. I can learn and move forward.

Today, I dropped early at the final plank challenge at my boxing gym. During the plank, I was distracted. I could not find “the mode.” Despite my music and attempts at distraction I knew exactly what was happening all around me and within me. It was too much. I did not feel like I had control over my shaky legs. I did not feel like I had any mental control or focus. The music became noise. I dropped.

After the drop, I was angry. Very angry.  My initial instinct as soon as I dropped was to go home and wallow in failure. I instead stayed for class and channeled that anger into boxing which gave me a great hard session today. I may have dropped, but I worked on increasing that cardio and upper body strength. And as a result of working hard and following the plank schedule 100% I won a massage, haircut and personal training session.  Thanks Title Boxing Club!

There are still many hours left in the day. My goal was 5 min, not necessarily publicly at class. I did not commit to winning the challenge. I remained clear on that. I was not limiting myself either. Certainly if I went past 5 I’d do what I could to hang on. But my bottom line was 5min. And I will do it today.

In evaluating today and moving forward, I will continue planking this month without the music and create many external stimuli training my brain to work past it in increments. I’m sure I could take advantage of my teen and preteen bickering and throw down a plank in the middle of their dispute. Now THAT would be an accomplishment!

Monday, November 10, 2014

IRONMAN AZ- Here we gooooooo!

Over 7 years I began the triathlon journey, unplanned, completely surprising myself. I couldn't even pronounce it. I couldn't even swim a half lap across the pool without putting my feet down in desperation. And I certainly could not run. Yet I did it. I completed my first sprint triathlon with so much support. My coach had finished more than one Ironman. I was in awe. Part of me wanted to do one and the rest of me said hell no. I will never get THAT fit. That's a pipe dream. But it kept creeping in. Maybe in a few years, like 5 or 10. I'l have to run a marathon first then a century then swim that awful distance of 2.4miles individually.
Over the years I did just that  - multiple times.
Over the years I completed 4 half Ironman races with the last one essentially being phoned in with 2 injuries.
I was feeling good about doing 70.3's. At this point the pipe dream was getting closer. Yes one day I will do one, but in a few years when I'm really ready. I am definitely not confident yet. I need to actually believe in myself.
Then one evening after a few drinks, my triathlete friends and I were talking Ironman 2016- together. At that moment the lightbulb went off. I CAN do one. I have the physical and mental capacity to finish one. It's time. 2016 it is.
The knee injury and diagnosis was in the middle of this. I had to do some soul searching and frank discussion with my orthopedic. I want to finish 1 Ironman, just one then I promise no more running. I dreamed of doing Ironman Canada or Ironman Tahoe- lots of beautiful scenery and mountains. I like cycling hills. Seriously, I do. And if I do one and only one Ironman it has to be beautiful.
But my knee is the unknown -- meaning I may need to walk if it decides otherwise. That means I have to cut time off the bike- a lot and have enough leg power to do what it takes on the run to finish. I'm not going in with any possibility of a DNF. There is no signing up again after this. Therefore I will not sign up unless I know 100% I can finish.
Perhaps a flat course someone suggested. Are you nuts? That's boring.
What is the goal here? What is the reality with my knee? Yes perhaps a flat course where I can guarantee a fast bike and have ample time for the run.
Ironman AZ it is. It's close to home. I have family there and I want all of my family there. Ok. IMAZ 2016.
Im feeling anxious to move forward. Im feeling like I may not have a lot of years left with this knee before really needing surgery. I know in my heart it's time. I know in my heart I can finish.
I receive an email form Tri Club- guaranteed entry slots, send an email to the TCSD president. I do this but too late. Oh well. I check in just in case and I'm on the list.
Im on the list for
Wait. I made the list? Seriously?
Wow! So that means since the IMAZ fills so fast, I don't have to go the year before to the race and volunteer- saving me a lot of time, money and hassle. I don't have to risk not getting in. Im in. wow. But its a year earlier than planned. Do I go for it? Is it too soon?
Do it!
My knee will thank me.
I trust that the universe dropped this in my lap for a reason.
It's time.

So I wait many many months for the announcement from WTC. I plan my schedule. I'll have a few days to sign up and pay for my spot before general entry opens. I anxiously wait, get pretty neurotic the week before and today
around 9 am t
here is the WTC mail.
I pause to open it
Maybe its telling me I cannot sign up for some reason or anther.
I open and there it is.
The link.
Hell yeah Im signing up!
I'm ready.
I'm really ready.
My heart is pounding as I press the "complete" button.
I'm in.
IMAZ 11/15/15.

7 years later, I signed up for a full Ironman. The pipe dream becoming a reality. The idea that others do these but not my lazy ass. Funny thing is when I signed up and even now I have no doubt in my ability. I am fully confident I will finish. When I signed up for my first triathlon, first half marathon, first half marathon and first half ironman- I always felt like I had bitten off way more than I could chew and that I was aiming  too high. But today, I signed up 100% confident in myself.  I believe in me. I also understand that my knee may say otherwise but I am committed to taking care of this knee in the year of training and listening to it. Thats the real growth that comes with arriving here.

So off to the Ironman journey- 1 year of hard work and determination ahead.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Ironman 70.3 CA Oceanside 2014: Mind, Will and Becoming the Buttercup that Sucks It Up

Mind, Will and Becoming the Buttercup that Sucks It Up

The Whiny Prelim
I had a great season last season. My running improved as well as my confidence. I immediately signed up for the 2014 IMCA 70.3 after completing 2013 ready for more. I’m getting closer to a full distance Ironman.

The year took a different turn. I attempted to train for a marathon only to discover my knee had another plan altogether. Knowing one day I would reach that limit as my running knee was a timed element. The plan was after completing a full Ironman which was within my reach but still off in the distance. The knee can fall apart then –at the Ironman finish line and I’ll get all the surgery they’ll give me. Not all goes as planned. Long story short: MRI done, knee way worse than I thought, almost wrong surgery, second opinion from highly respected sports med orthopedist, Chris Wahl, no surgery for now- will not help me run, time to retire running and take up ultra cycling if I want to continue walking for a long time, no surgical option to improve, only salvage surgery. I’m screwed. But I haven’t made it to a full Ironman.  Decision: Take a year off running to let the inflammation go down, train for a full and that be the LAST time I run. Deal. Surgeon agreed.

However, I already signed up and paid for the 2014 IM CA 70.3. No refunds or transfers. Might as well show up for the swim and bike and have a great day. I’ve done this particular race twice already. I don’t need the medal. I’ll train on the swim and bike. I’ll make friends with the ellipitical and see what I can do on the run.  I’m sure I can bike fast enough to buy me time to walk.  In fact, let’s go for a bike PR. And if I’m done at T2 for some reason, I’ll happily hand in my timing chip and cheer on my friends. I like it.

I train. Life is busy. Training becomes more like maintenance and the elliptical goes by the wayside.  I focus more on the bike. As soon as I realized I was going to bike more- which was great news for me- I signed up for the Solvang Century.  I had been dreaming of that ride for many years and now I felt confident I could do it. That became my “A” event. I consistently commuted to/from work a few days a week and did a few long rides and speed work. I worked through a few mental barriers on the bike. Not much training but enough to keep me honest. As March approaches, I increase the bike training. I complete Solvang pleased with my time and effort. I felt great afterwards. I guess what training I did do was efficient. Ok, I can do Oceanside—at least the bike.

The Oceanside plan is to give it all I have in the swim and bike and PR on the bike. The run- I can decide at the time. I’m open to a planned DNF, walking or running.  Again, I don’t need the finishers medal.  But as it gets closer, not finishing seems wrong. I kept thinking that I completed 3 x 70.3’s, 3 marathons…pattern of threes. I tried to complete a 4th marathon but it was not in the cards.  I don’t want to follow the same pattern with 70.3s.  I want to finish. I want 4 medals, 4 completed 70.3s.  I need to finish what I signed up for. If I run slowly I think I can phone in a half marathon especially if I run/walk. Nevermind that I haven’t run since September and this thought process is taking place in March. We’ll see.

Swim Bike Swim Bike Bike Bike Swim

2 weeks before the race – injury.  Not my knee.  My knee is doing great since I haven’t been running. I was riding on a raft with my daughter being pulled by a boat in the lake. It’s great fun. Luna tells my father in law to increase speed. It feels REALLY … REALLY fast. We hit a wake and apparently catch quite a bit of air. I hit the water with my neck and upper back---like a belly flop with my neck. I think someone smacked my spine with a baseball bat. Ouch. I come to the surface of the water and immediately notice the complete loss of sensation in my left arm. WTF??!! I pinched a nerve. I get back on the boat and am fine.

The next two weeks are stressful as this injury feels worse. The numbness and weakness in my arm is still there, my 1st thoracic area is spasming, the shoulder and scapula burn. It hurts to flex or extend my neck in the smallest way and forget turning my head to the left. Sleeping is impossible.

I attempt to swim. Not bad as long as I keep swimming. Stopping- ouch! Bilateral breathing is awkward which in the pool is usually natural. I couldn’t get my face out of the water enough on the left so I’d swallow water regularly. My stroke is way off. I have to tell my left arm what to do as it feels disconnected. THAT was weird. So I’m exhausted after all of this. At least though the swim is do-able. But it will be even slower.

At this point I’m maxed out on Ibuprofen, Tylenol and Devil’s Claw.  I reak of Anesthabalm.  And I haven’t really slept at night. I have to fix this. I have to bike. At work I give my patients Flexeril with the idea that it will relax the muscles and the pinched nerve will just slip back in to place. I’ve never had that in my life. I can’t even take Benadryl and the last medication I had was when I birthed my 22 year old son.  I try Flexeril at bedtime because after a few days of no sleep- I DESPERATELY NEED SLEEP.

It’s great for sleep. I wake up and don’t feel the pain.

get up
I thought one Flexeril would release and it would be over. Maybe it will be better after I move more. I try to ride to work but did not even get out of my neighborhood. It was awful on the bike no matter what I did and bumps were excruciating.
I was crushed.
I was heartbroken.
I was angry.
Really angry.
I have 1.5 week until race day. I’m depressed (looking back the Flexeril was a big part of it). I take one more that night – sleep well but again comes back and I’m super sad.
Screw this. I need to see my chiropractor, Jenny Enstrom. I see her Saturday- 1 week before race day. She adjusts and does a little ART and I can move. The rest of the day is smooth. It’s there but not bad.  Excellent.

But the pain comes back Sunday afternoon. I’m thinking  I may need to skip this race. I can’t seem to bike. I tried again and never got out of my neighborhood. Swimming is a joke. I could cheer my friends on. That would be fine. If I could just make the pain even 1 level less I could tap into my mental strength and just suck it up and race.  I’ll give it until Wednesday to decide.

So what is going on with my neck and back? Herniated disc at T1. Classic. Treatment- exactly what I have done and Prednisone. I do a 6 day course of Prednisone. My last resort. If Flexeril depressed me, what will steroids do? I apologized to James ahead of time if I am being an aggressive bitch on the Prednisone. I start 60mg Monday and return to my chiropractor.  Good stuff. Pain way less frequent. Not much sleep but I’m neither depressed nor a raging bitch. I am stressed as the clock counts down. The closer we get the more I want to finish this race. The more it looks like I may not, the more I want it.

I’m liking the Prednisone---a lot. The chiropractic and Prednisone combo are the only things that work. Wednesday is the day I decide if I am in or not.

I am negotiating with myself. Now thinking I can phone in a full 13.1mile run---nevermind I didn’t even train to WALK this. But I expect divine intervention and I will just run to make up for lost time on the bike.

Tuesday- I ride to work. WITHOUT pain. Excellent. The rest of the day is smooth. Now Im still on Prednisone, 3000mg Ibuprofen, 975mg Acetaminophen and Devils Claw.  Whatever works. I’m elated. I declare it. I’m in. I’m racing Saturday.

I don’t know what it will look like and I may have to drop out on the bike. I’m okay with it. As I verbalized my decisions, my daughter said “well you will at least try, right? You can’t just not do it.”


This race is all about mind and sheer will. Nothing else. If my mind and will are strong I will finish. Physically, I can do it. I just have to be strong enough to suck it up if it hurts.

Mantra- Mind…Will…oh and Suck it up Buttercup.

Thursday- the neck and shoulder start to tighten up. I’m worried. But it never gets worse. Promising. Certainly not the best way to go into a race but after all the other stuff I’ll take it.

Friday- still tight and little sore but no pinching, burning or spasms. I tell myself I’m strong and try to will it away.

Race Day Saturday

3:30am.  Despite 4 broken hours of sleep, I’m ready. Tight and sore but ready.
Liam and James are my sherpas. Liam is turning into quite the awesome Sherpa. He likes getting up early and coming to see me off at the swim. His energy is so positive and helpful. I love having him there.

The arrival is smooth.

Here I am back at the Harbor.  I get ready to step into T1 to set up my gear. I kiss James and Liam good bye and start to cry. Really - I am totally falling apart inside.  I am so afraid I am setting myself up for failure. I honestly have no idea how this race will end. I tried visualizing the finish all week but the DNF would make its way into my visualizations occasionally.  I told myself I was strong and going into this with not one but two injuries so a finish is pretty awesome. But really what if I didn’t finish? Am I really ok with that.  Absolutely not.  I would be done with triathlon—even a full Ironman. Not sure why I had that logic in my brain but at the time it made sense. I’d almost rather go home and avoid a chance of failing. Failing = DNF.  Failing= something else I cannot seem to identify, more of a feeling. However failure is not an option.

I remember what Luna said “at least try.”

I get it together, remind myself that this race is about mind, will and becoming the buttercup that sucks it up.  I just hope I have the mental strength today because I woke up with a very stiff T spine. I’m trusting the extra dose of Prednisone will kick in.
Stepping into T1- I see Linda Rich, another triathlete who was volunteering- Every year I see her and give her a hug and every year that beautiful athlete calms my nerves. I adore her.  All is balanced.

I find my bike rack with Tri Club SD. Love those! I set up. It feels good to be there. I like my bike spot. I like that Liam and James are right there on the other side of the wall supporting me. I see friends everywhere. I am thrilled to see Monika embark on her very first 70.3 and coach Julie come to place after multiple injuries this year. I’m so inspired b everyone around me. I’m comforted by seeing so many familiar faces.

Looking out at the harbor, the butterflies start. My 3rd year on a row and that harbor still humbles me.  I map out my strategy. Slow and easy in the harbor, get into a rhythm. Pick up the pace a little at the turn. Stay next to the buoys—remember that I like all the people around.  Pick it up a notch going to the jetty. Turn around, steady pace. Pick it up more in the harbor back. Sprint to the next buoy, stay close to the right and so on.

I set my stuff up, say hello to people, enjoy the conversations going on around me.  I watch the swimmers, hang out with James and Liam. James is watching the time and tells me I need to hurry. It’s almost time to go. I still need to run over the beach and do a really quick meditation. I do it and return to be reminded by James I really do need to get going. I look for my wave and realize as I am running through the long line of athletes my wave seems closer and closer to the start. Um… actually … wait! That’s my wave getting IN the water! I run to the start and hear someone yell “Go Cecily!” Who on earth would recognize me in a wetsuit, cap and goggles running frantically to my wave? What? Is this a habit I have developed since last year being late to my own wave start? Last year the wave before me was getting in when I ran frantically to my wave. This year they were 15 seconds in the water. Nice. It made me laugh. At least I don’t have to wait and get anxious.

And I’m off.

The Swim
: I like this swim. The water isn’t cold. The sun is out.
Ouch. The T spine is fussing. Kind of a lot. It surprised me. I’m wearing a neoprene cold water swim cap which make my head more buoyant. Just the wrong amount of flexion for my neck. I have to force my head down more to stop the pinching. It works. Just swim and keep the spine neutral.

I passed over a few people- always feels kind of cool to do that. Grabbed a few feet on accident. Had my feet grabbed. No elbows or punches. Excellent. No super aggressive men this year.
The buoys pass by fast. I stay on track swimming with the buoys on my left. I can touch each as I pass by. My sighting is perfect. Excellent. Almost out to the jetty. I turn back and have a hard time sighting back. I can’t see the buoy, sun is in my eyes, so I sight on the big white building and keep the rocks to my right. I pick up the pace as planned. Ouch. Leg cramp—foot, calf all the way up my hamstrings. Okay this sucks. Must be hypokalemia from the Prednisone. Crap. I forgot to drink a bunch of Coconut water last week to replenish my Potassium stores. I stretch it and swim with my foot flexed until it subsides. That’s a rough one. I’m going to feel that tomorrow. Hey, my neck feels great though so I’ll take a leg cramp any day. Moving on…I’m loving the swim. Always happy to be there. Second leg cramp- other leg, not as bad. Resolved. 
I swim to the finish. I can’t find the race clock. I wonder what my time is. Not record fast but I’m fine. I hit land and OMG my legs feel funky from the cramps. They are shaky and wobbly. 

T1: I see James and Liam and run to T1. It feels good to run but I feel way off balance so I slow it down. I arrive at my bike and immediately put my heated winter hat on, sip hot chocolate and remove the wetsuit. After 3 years I have the heated transition down. I no longer need a list of instructions to remember my steps. I’m warm…unusually so. Actually I think can ride without my jacket. Great! Time to move onto the bike.

The Bike: It feels great to be on the bike. I’m not cold. I fly up the short hill out of the harbor and onto Camp Pendleton. Ouch. Here we go with the neck again.  It started fast and early. 
I’m strong.
I can push through it.
I try different positions. Drop- No way. Upright- ouch, aero- yikes. Okay keep moving- better but not good. I settle into regular aero- the least amount of pain and try to ride. Stop gritting the teeth. Suck it up does not mean gritting the teeth. The scapula is searing. The T1 pinched. Why can’t my chiropractor just ride next to me? I’m screwed.  I don’t want to DNF this early.
I’m not DNF-ing.
I plead with the universe.
With myself.
Stop thinking about it and
Just ride.
I descend a small hill and get way, way ,way down in aero, as far as I can and pull my shoulder blades back and down with my butt off the seat.


Something stretched and moved and all the pressure is gone.  Okay extreme aero it is. And that is how I rode most of the way.
10 miles in, pain gone.
Time to pick up the pace and do this.

It’s hard though. I feel more lactic acid than I’d like at this point reminding me of just how little I trained for this race. I felt somewhere between the first and second Oceanside race.  It doesn’t matter. The pain is gone and it’s time to PR this ride. It is clear that I am here today to PR on the bike. I want that the most. And I will do it.

All I really remember about the ride is constantly calculating paces and distances, various bike finishing time possibilities, what pace for the next 10 miles do I need to bring up my current pace to finish at this time or that time. How much will I lose on the uphill and gain on the descents. I was constantly checking in on my perceived effort, how my legs were spinning, adjusting gears to go as fast as I could and maintain my energy. Calculating how many calories I have taken in, what I have left. Passing athletes and trying to catch up with those who passed me. Yet remembering to hold back so I don’t slow down at the end. I was ready for the first hill that kicked my ass the first year. I was expecting it to be a breeze this year. Afterall I just did Solvang and did better with the hills at mile 85.  Hills really are my friends. I got there and it was harder than expected. It didn’t kick my ass but I felt a little burn. I was getting irritated at the people walking their bikes up in front of me and swerving out. Seriously? WTF is wrong with you? You are WALKING YOUR BIKE UP A HILL and you can’t walk straight? Why are you here? It’s an Ironman for goodness sakes.
Time for a snack, I’m irritated. Irritation rapidly changes to elation as I fly down the hill. That’s why I like hills…what goes up must come down and oh I love the down. That means speed in the bank.  For me the first hill is the hardest part for me. The remaining hills are nothing, so I’m good the rest of the ride.

Loving the ride. I even look up a few times and appreciate the scenery. I love this race. I think I will sign up again just to do this ride. It is the only time civilians are allowed to bike in the back of Camp Pendleton.

I am preparing to power though the last 10 miles and gain more speed. These miles are relatively flat but always with an annoying headwind. I looked down and focused on my pace never letting my speed drop below 20 mph and account for stops and turns as I am in town. I needed to get my average speed up by .1-.2mph to PR by 10 minutes. This is harder than any hill but I like it. I thrive on it.  I fly into Oceanside. I’m satisfied with my effort but tired and ready for the next part- a nice WALK. Thank goodness I’m not running.

T2: I get back to Oceanside and ride into T2. PR’d by 12 minutes. I was hoping for 10. I cry out of happiness. I achieved and exceeded my goal- a bike PR. The neck didn’t stop me. I did it! I continued to happily sob all the way to my bike rack, sobbed while blowing my nose, sobbed while eating a banana, sobbed putting on shoes. I felt like I finished. I felt great.
I have plenty of time to finish the race even if I crawl.

So lets finish this race.

The “Run:” I run out of T2. It feels good. I tell myself to go slower and just try to run as slow as I can. Perfect. I feel great. I start deciding on a run walk strategy. Run 1 mile, walk 1 mile. That’s exactly what I’ll do.  Almost a mile in, suddenly my knee decides to speak up. Shit- what is THAT feeling. Its awful- not sharp, but just really unstable, pulling in a way that it shouldn’t be with a little scraping, crunching and popping. Hmm … I could suck it up but I remember how stupid it would be to do so with zero run base...let’s walk. No big deal. My walking pace was only 1 min slower and the sensations subsided as soon as I stopped running, so perfect I’ll hold this for 12 miles.

This is great. I’m really taking the race in. Seeing my friends is awesome. The sun is out. I get to spend the next few hours walking along the coast, perfect weather and feeling just fine. I see my dear friend Wendee cheering everyone on---what a wonderful surprise.
As I’d see friends run by, sweating, struggling I felt really guilty. I’m not suffering. Now I’m not walking at a strolling pace. Its work but nothing like a run. No head stuff. When I used to run I always had head stuff going on, really quite stressful usually.  So a few hours powerwalking and I can take a nap.
Oh dear.
A few hours?
What mile am I on?
The miles go by faster running. Ugh. It’s going to be a mentally long day. Keep moving and stop for the Vaseline because I am getting some really hot spots on the bottom of my feet. I used a pair of REALLY old running shoes from my marathon days. They weren’t beat up. I only ran one marathon in them and bought them 6 weeks before the run so not a ton of miles on them. I had been wearing them for the extra cushion. No other thought went into them. Big mistake.

I lose time on my pacing and pick it back up. I’m getting bored and trying to play mental games. I’m usually stressed and depleted when I run I can easily play mental games and really drift off into the bizarre universe. Too cerebral and present today. So I start calculating paces and times. I had three estimated finish times. When I started today I did not care about my overall finish time, only my bike time. Now I am attached to a finish time. I’d like to finish somewhere between my first and second IM Oceanside. 

Back at the pier I see James at the beach and wave.  Fun! He walks with me a bit which is nice because I needed someone to talk to.  I feel good, the legs are getting tired but not bad. Off to the second loop which seems so far and long. 5 more long miles.  He can’t walk it with me.  At that point I really am mentally done.  Slowing down will only take longer. Legs and hips are getting tired fast. No matter how strong my mind is, my body did not even train to walk this race! Only bike and swim. I run a block to change things around. Feels good to get off the balls of my feet. The balls of my feet are burning. I can feel a blister forming. I need to have some semblance of suffering since I am not running, right? And the shoes are a size and a half too big for me.  When I was running I thought we had to buy running shoes big so I did and of course New Balances are big anyway so my feet always slid around in them.  Lost a few toenails in the marathons in these shoes. It was not until I had a proper run analysis that I was told I needed much smaller shoes. From then I wore fitted minimalist shoes  for running. 

As long as this one blister which feels a little exaggerated doesn’t pop I’ll be fine.  And there we go….Pop. Nice. My socks are going to be nasty at the finish. And the burn right where my foot makes contact with the road. 

And you guessed it…
Suck it up buttercup.
For a damn blister Seriously?

The miles slowly tick away. Calculations look good for a goal finish time but not the best one on my list.  Almost mile 11- I have to pee really, really bad. I never ever stop to pee. Precious time wasted. But the Prednisone makes me pee a lot. Can I hold it for 30 minutes? There’s a porta potty and the answer is a definitive no. I pee for an obscene amount of time in there.  Done. Ready to finish. Ouch. My legs feel like I ran a marathon. They cramped up.

Ok ok…I didn’t train. I get it.

Back to walking. I see my dear friend Erin. She’s not far behind me.

Finally the Strand. I’m going to run the Strand…the whole way.
I start running.
No I’m not.
Yes I am
I will run the finish shoot. I have to. I see Liam before and he hops in. I am so thrilled to see him. He says, “run with me.” I run at mile 13. I see James and he looks surprised that I’m running. I am too because I tell him “there’s some weird shit going down in that knee right now.”
Passing the banners, hearing the cheers I cross the finish and hear my name announced.
I did it.
I finished this thing.

I went essentially phoning it in with two injuries not planning to finish, got a bike PR and had a great time. A 3-peat for IM70.3CA Oceanside, 4-peat for the 70.3. I broke the pattern of 3’s.

But OMG do those blisters hurt!

Will I sign up again next year? I don’t know. At the finish, I would have said no way. But now, I’m thinking I may want to go back for a sub 3 hour bike PR in 2015. I’m planning to look into racewalking/powerwalking too. Had I continued the elliptical training and had real shoes, I think I could have had a much faster “run time.”