Monday, November 18, 2013

Band-aids Be Gone

Tenacity. It's a word that embodies my approach to athletics, and life for that matter. If I remember correctly this was the center point for my law school admissions letter. Knock me down, and I'll get back up. Tell me I can't and I will work harder.
Lately, I've demonstrated an entirely new sense of tenacity.  No sweat and tears, just a determined patience to find real answers. My feet have now sustained radiation from: x-rays, MRI, and a bone scans. A doctor who touts himself as "the doctor to the running gods" told me all was clear and I should get back to training as usual. Ridiculous! I've been doing that for two years, and look where it's gotten me. After demanding another answer he suggested I try alcohol injections to see if maybe it is a nerve issue. Each shot slowly kills the nerve receptors, and is a common treatment for neuroma. After 3 shots I experienced a persistent numbness and little decrease in the pressure and irritation in the area. I just knew there was something deeper, something more. I continued to search! This can not be the end of me and my passion to compete.
My dear friend Meredith Kessler, while seeing the frustration in my face, demanded that I go see her physical therapist, Chris Daprato at UCSF.  I was definitely frustrated, and haven't had the best luck with other PT's I've seen. Would this be any different? Chris took time to talk with me on the phone and reassure me that a visit was worth my time. When stood in front of him he didn't even look at my feet.  He stared at my hips, then my knees, then calves...and honestly I'm not sure he even got down to my feet. He had my attention! I believe in a chain effect approach. It's simple: each segment of the body thrives on the connections it has above and below it. The muscles and tendons in my tight calves affect my ankle flexibility, which pulls on the soft tissue under my feet, which makes the area around my sesamoid bone very VERY unhappy.  For example, I never related the foot cramps I get while swimming to the pain I experience around my sesamoid bone while riding/running. I'm thinking differently now.

Rest assured, this man knows his stuff, understood my commitment, and believed he could get me back on the right track again. He sent me home with exercises and stretches to do every day. These became the most important element of my "training!" The goal: change the neuro-pathway of messaging between the feet and brain, and reduce areas of tightness that are pulling on the chain. I've heard of myofacial decompression (aka: cupping) and have had it done on my feet after acupuncture treatments. I wasn't a believer, and actually thought the treatment procedure was a bizarre farce.
....that was until Chris stepped in. His method on how he uses the cups and where he places them was far different from what I had experienced. Notice the cup placement in the above picture- NOT on my feet!
Once my calves and feet showed signs of improvement it was time to address mechanics. When I look at run race photos of myself from the year I am appaeled. My body position, knee angle, turn over and foot plan have all been affected. It's time to get back to the drawing board. No stone unturned, no detail too small. Chris took several videos of me on the treadmill.  By slowing down the footage I could see exactly what he was seeing AND the chain effect it has on my entire structure. 
video
I believe you learn from every race you do. Often you can learn more from your failures than your victories.  Question why and where things went wrong. Do not dwell on these instances, but learn from them. There is nugget to pull from every single race that can help you improve!  Ironman Louisville told me that I need to look into whether cycling plays a role in all of this. If running was the root cause then the pain wouldn't start until the run.  In order to address whether cycling was also playing a roll in this Chris suggested I see his buddy Curtis Cramblatt.  Curtis is the founder of Revolution In Fitness, a facility in Palo Alto that provides a range of services: physical therapy, bike fitting, and cycling efficiency analysis.  They say an image can speak one thousand words. So, I'll let this one do the talking: 
The gray areas on the image above show where pressure should be applied. Maximize this by properly distributing pressure and optimal power is obtained. The area in blue indicates where where I am applying pressure. So there you have it- 90% of my pressure is being absorbed right at the spot of pain- those glorious sesamoid bones.  This grabbed my attention, however it wasn't until Curtis started talking about how to change this that really captured me. The problem is in my back and hips. Again, someone who sees the entire body as a working piece of machinery that only operates at full capacity when all it's working parts are properly in line. By collapsing my rib cage through my intercostal muscle my hips move into proper alignment, my left hip drops equal to my left, my knees do not float inward, and....you got it: pressure is distributed properly in my shoe.
 This is not the first bike fitter, P.T., mechanics guru I've seen. I've seen many. They are however some of the few that have looked at my feet as the secondary issue. A cause and effect. No band-aid can solve this. It will take tenacity. Tenacity to change! The good news: after just one month of diligent work I am riding and running again absolutely pain free. I can stand at night and cook dinner without pain. Most importantly my goals are right back on the playing field ready to be tackled! I believe again!
I am SOOOO happy I have these guys on my team. No thank you can really tell them what they've done for me. Mentally and physically I am back on track! My passion for this sport is rekindled and my tenacity to win has returned to playing a part in each and every one of my training sessions.

So I leave you with a few take-aways for anyone dealing with an injury or setback.
1) No one knows your body better than you do. Listen to it and do not give up in finding answers.
2) No doctor, PT, massage therapist, etc. knows absolutely everything about every injury/ailment. This doesn't mean they aren't creditable. If the first person you see doesn't have answers that work, try again, and again....and AGAIN! Remember every piece of information you collect along the way. Tuck it away and treasure it. Eventually all the pieces will fall into place and the collaboration of input will empower you to heal. I've seen an awful lot of practitioners over the last year+ and am thankful for each and every one of them!
3) Be persistent and positive. Sometimes the hardest part of an injury are the mental obstacles. Few ironman triathletes are without passion. It's inherent in our gene. Take this and apply it beyond just your training and racing regimen.
4) Orthodics, pain meds, injections, etc are all band-aids. They cover up the real problem of poor mechanics. If you don't addresss the root cause of an injury you may never get past it. Which leads me to number 5...
5) Slow down in order to speed up. Over the past few months I've been working with Chris, Curtis, and my amazing swim coach Paul to capture excellent video footage of my mechanics. Their time and input will play huge dividends for me! This is the best time of year to focus on the details. Set yourself up for success now. Do not just go through he motions so you can say you checked off another workout.
6) In order to fix your body you must adjust your mind. Believe you will be healthy again, and don't settle for anyone who wants to tell you otherwise. Power of positivity. Surround yourself with it, and dismiss all who bring negativity into your healing process.
7) If you live in the bay area I sincerely believe Chris and Curtis are worth a visit to help with run and bike mechanics (regardless of whether you're facing an injury).

It's been a pretty awesome off season -full of amazing changes that will propel me full throttle into 2014. Stay tuned!


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Acceptance

I thought I'd chime in to announce that I have stuck to my word and remained disciplined in terms of taking time off and resting. I've heard from many readers who asked how I would structure the time off, how long I'd be off, and whether I was "really" going to rest/do nothing.
Enjoyed watching the America's Cup with my brother (a former AC sailor)
For the first week post-Ironman the answer is yes. I did not workout once. zero. nada. nothing. My body (and mind) were tired! I slept 10+ hours a night and even found myself taking a few naps (I don't nap well- and my life doesn't accommodate such activity even if I did). Once back in CA I needed to remind myself that time off was crucial. It was time. For reassurance I looked back at my TrainingPeaks account. It verified that I haven't taken any time off this entire year. The foot pain reared it's ugly head back in February but I fought on. I started gunning for IM South Africa at the end of last year and have been rolling strong ever since.  If I really want to give myself the best shot at a strong 2014 it was time to heal. It's time to rest.
It is all too typical in our sport for athletes to proclaim that they're taking a break when in actuality they're sneaking in test workouts.  In turn the body doesn't have a chance to heal. (I am certainly guilty as charged!)  No testing things out, flushing the legs, going for coffee rides, etc. This is an honest break and I'm adhering as strongly to this as I do my large training blocks. It's been a blast to catch up with friends! Then there's the fact that I don't have hunger pains 24/7. My grocery bills are a bit more reasonable, to say the least. See...perspective. Find the positive. Embrace it.
I've turned my focus to strength work. These sessions haven't been some fly by the wind/squeezed in (between s/b/r) workouts. Instead this is my priority. They've been fun, focused and fierce. It is nice to not rush them, but to instead embrace this opportunity. After 3 full weeks off I got back in the pool and started swimming. I've been swimming with a local age group team. Now that summer is over it's back to the 5am workouts. Yowswer that is a lot earlier than 6am! What a group of kids. I love getting thrashed, and it is nice to go into these workouts without the usual lactic acid the lives in my legs when I'm running and riding.

To anyone else out there dealing with a significant injury I challenge you to completely accept your circumstance, make the most of it and turn your focus elsewhere. If you watched the professional race at Vegas70.3 there was plenty of motivation for you. In case you don't know the story behind many of these athletes, let me share some reality with you. It is safe to say that 30-40% of the pro field there suffered a significant injury in the past 15 months. We're talking surgery - the whole 9 yards. Imagine being told you needed achilles tendon surgery when your livelihood is racing. Now imagine you just won a world title and are eager to defend. Well, Kienle did just that. Injury is not a death sentence. You CAN come back stronger. I WILL come back stronger. 
No, I'm not riding a bike right now. That's fine - I'll ride a fake bull instead.
The bone imagining (MRI and bone scan-another reason to be thankful I have a day job = insurance!) silenced my fear that 2x foot surgery was in my near future. Double foot surgery (to extract the sesamoid bone) would of been a tough pill to swallow. I was already getting an online application going for who wanted to come take care of me while I had an around the clock pity party. Alrighty then, what next? I've sought advice from experts that are referred to as the foot "doctor to the running stars." Right now I'm in a state of trial and error. It is comforting to know that the things I'm trying have helped other elite athletes suffering from similar injury. I've made a pretty significant change to my bike orthodics and can feel decreased pressure on the ball of my foot. Last week I started a series of alcohol injections. This will slowly kill the nerve and it's ability to fire off any pain sensors to the brain. There really aren't any negative side effects to this so I've opted in. Both doctors told me to run right after the first injection.  Molina and I talked and together decided I would wait. I'm resting, and no one will convince me to do otherwise. I believe I have plenty of running in my future, I can hold off for another few weeks.
This light switch has been turned off. When I'm really ready and able to return to training I will. While my head often drifts high into the clouds, dreaming of endless trail runs, my feet are firmly planted on the ground. This is my reality. This is my now. This is my challenge. I own it!
My favorite running trails aren't going anywhere!
and neither is my tenacity!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

All In- Truth Be Told

Ironman Louisville was a race I targeted 2 years ago. I told everyone (including myself) that I didn't race there last year because I had just moved and started a new job. True, but not the whole story. Reality? Honesty? I was injured and after taking a break from running I didn't feel my running was strong enough to run the marathon I wanted. I rested, consulted some bay area foot docs, and got new orthodics. Once I started running again I thought this was behind me. I was running strong. Last winter I won two half marathons, even won a 10k, and placed in the top ten as an elite entry for a few very competitive road races. I was ready, my feet were ready. I took off for San Juan70.3 with great promise for what was ahead this year. To my surprise my forefoot pain came back (worse than ever). I was shocked and baffled. Together Molina and I managed the injury this year and I did everything in my power (with the help of many) to get ready to accomplish my goals at IMLville. This included 2-3 acupuncture appointments a week, weekly visits to Chris Matock (a.r.t. & grastin), and using an Alter-G treadmill for 90% of my runs (Thank you Muir Ortho and staff!). It's fair to say that managing this injury on top of training + full time job had me max'ed out, but it didn't get me down. I believed I was a-ok.
Molina and I discussed my strategy going into this race. We knew my feet had been a huge limiter all year, and the decision was made: I would treat IM Louisville as if it was my last ironman. My last ironman of the year, and quite possibly my last ironman ever. Every day I woke up and approached my preparation accordingly. I gave this race EVERYTHING!
Race Ready: After the ever-so-hectic race wake up a calmness overcame me as we sat waiting for the sky to eluminate enough for us to jump in. One of my best friends joined me in Louisville. She already knows how much I love her for being there, but I'll say it again: THANK YOU K!!!
TYR Swim:  People told me this swim is crazy hot, gross and dirty. Wasn't too hot for me, and didn't feel nearly as dirty as other IM's (IMAz?!?!). Poor visibility did mean having to sight right from the start vs relying on the bubbles ahead.  I didn't have much get up and go at the start and my feel for the water wasn't there. I knew this was simply the effect of only getting a 5min warm up so tried to calm down mentally. It was a mass pro start (men and women).  I swam for the far buoy with 2 guys. Side note- I hope next year all IM races will give the men and women a separate start as Kona now does. Fair and clean, it's all we're after.
Once we rounded the buoy (2500m to go) I felt like we were swimming into a current again. Dang, this won't be a fast swim, or so I thought. Just then another girl who had been on my feet came up next to me. With around 1500m to go my engine turned on. Now that's how swimming should feel! My stroke lengthened, my pull strengthened, and my breathing switched back to bilateral. Decision time: do I try to jump up to the next pack or stay put? I lifted my head up and didn't think there was enough ground to close the gap. Head down, finish strong. I knew several girls got a good jump on me from my pathetic starting speed, so I turned my focus to a quick transition.


Scott/Vision Bike: Out of transition the time clock showed 54minutes. Holla!! My time goal for this race is in check.  Time really doesn't matter, there were women ahead of me, and more behind me. Time to go. I felt great on the bike through mile 30. The rollers were fun and other than a quick mechanical (thanks bike tech for the moving allen wrench hand off) everything was clicking. The bike course is one stretch out to a 32mile loop that you do twice, and back. The wind was minimal, but the temps were soaring.
At mile 35 my feet started throbbing. No, no, NOOOOO God please not already! I stayed mentally calm and just tried to ignore it. Then shooting pain started in my right foot. I was however practically riding with one leg. Stay calm, eat, breath, it's a long day. Things remained the same until the end of loop one. Then just as the pain came on it was gone. Completely gone! I clearly remember this moment: "Thank you God, I promise I wouldn't take this for granted." I was off.
The roads were packed on the second loop. Age group athletes 4 wide. Some having conversations. I typically enjoy the company, but at times it got a bit dicey. I let out a few murderous yells along the way to get athletes to stay/move right (do age groupers not have/get blocking penalties?). I was flying by packs of athletes, and the only way around them was an oncoming car. Another penalty I'm not so sure all are aware of is crossing the middle of the road- yellow card. I got one at IM Wisco for trying to take the safe route around the herds. I turned the slight ciaos into a positive and remembered that this was better than riding completely solo without sight of another human being other than race refs.  Around mile 75 the pain returned and I simply tried to manage. Why is this happening on the bike. I've been completely fine in the weeks leading up to the race. Stay positive, push on.
Fast and furious T2 and I was on the hunt.

Oakley/Clif Run: Believe! I had a lot of ground to make up, and the race certainly got away from me on the bike, but this is an Ironman. Isn't over until mile 26.2 of this run. The run course is 2 times a long out and back. Crowds line the whole course, as did the sun and heat. The heat never got to me. Warm, cozy, and cramp free thanks to my assortment of Clif nutrition. Racing in this heat is easy compared to training in it. Catered service every mile! This is exactly why I chose to race here- hot and humid!
By mile 4 I had another reason to worry. Both feet were killing. Running on burning knives again. Complete disbelief. I really thought my running on the Alter-G and all the therapy I went through was enough. I did everything I could. I believed I came to this race ready to amaze myself. Mile after mile the dream died. By mile 7 I knew I'd only complete the first loop, find Kristin and go celebrate an amazing friendship instead of an amazing race. I was walking. By mile 11 tears filled my eyes. When I was running I was right on pace, but between those strong stretches were moments of slow moving/pitiful walking strides. This was devastating. Just then a team from IM Exec Challenge all jumped into the street behind me and yelled for me to get running. 2 blocks later, only 1/4 block before I would pull the plug, Patrick Evoe came cruising by on his way to take second behind Big Sexy. He reminded me that I'm not a quitter and forced me to start running. Thanks PE  just what I needed. By the time I saw Kristin I was back at 7:15 miles.
"Caroline, you need to go after this race as if it is your last." Molina's voice rang through. I realized I wouldn't be running again for a while, so I might as well head back out for another 13. "Last Ironman...for the season...or maybe ever." It was enough to keep me moving forward.
The second loop wasn't pretty, but it was inspiring. I couldn't believe the number of people who knew me out there and took the time to keep me going. I was in a world of hurt. By now my quads were on fire. I hadn't run at full body weight in months, now I was running a marathon under the effect of full gravity. Athletes even took time to tell me to update my blog more often while I ran by (does this long post count as 2?). To each and every one of you that offered me encouragement- you own a piece of this finish. You kept me fighting!
The tears returned when I entered the finish shoot. Yes, I found the finish line, but I was devastated. No other word comes close to expressing how I felt. My entire DWIT mantra was centered around this race. I was over an hour off the time I know I'm capable of. Scott Molina has been an awesome coach, and even through this injury he prepared me to accomplish my goal and my dream. 9th place. I fell short, I fell VERY short.
After finishing a long line of volunteers each congratulated me and said good job. This wasn't a good job, but their words meant a lot to me. They exuded the spirit of Ironman - and with it, gave me a reason to smile. This is why I love this sport, and this distance of racing so much! It takes a village. A member of the medical staff came over to me with a wheel chair. I asked how far medical was and when he pointed way down the street I surrendered and took a seat. I am a strong, stubborn girl. Asking for help isn't something that comes natural to me. My sitting in that wheel chair was almost a metaphor for where things stand with this injury. It's time for me to accept it, sit down, rest AND ask for help.

Was this my last Ironman, my heart won't accept that. In fact, a piece of my heart remains in Louisville, and I really hope to get back there to reclaim it! The injury has been diagnosed as sesamoiditis. This isn't some crazy career ending injury in elite runners, and it won't be for me. It is however something that I need to rest and take time to figure out. "Time" isn't something I have a lot of in my daily life. Who does, right?  I run from workout to work like my hair's on fire (even though it's usually still sopping wet). This has to become a priority. I will remain tenacious and will come back stronger. That last 13 miles provided all the inspiration I need to keep my DWIT attitude alive. I will have my day. To those who have and continue to support me along the way - I can't wait to thank you when my dream is realized! A bump in the road, but the journey continues. It's tough to write when it isn't all roses and sunshine, but injury is a reality in our sport. Ironman training demands that we beat the body down (to it's core), recover, and repeat. I've pushed hard, I will recover, and I will repeat. Next time in a far more dominating fashion!
My recovery started off in style. I left Louisville for a week at our family lake house. Thank you mom and dad for letting me be lazier than lazy!
Good luck to everyone racing this weekend in Vegas, and next month in Kona. Dream big, and Never give up!
-CG

Monday, July 29, 2013

Out for Blood

Beautiful Donner Lake - sight of a killer July 4th training wknd
Really? The year is already half over? I think back to the early months of the year and how excited I was to throw down some solid early season racing.  The opposite happened and instead of torching race courses around the world I felt like my body was on fire. Leading into Ironman South Africa, and thereafter, I was in search of answers. Cortisone shots and I.V. iron treatments were only band aides covering up the real issues that needed to be addressed.
Why was my body breaking down? Why am I feeling sick every day? Why do I take 800 times the daily intake of iron, but year after year find myself chronically anemic? This is one of those posts that I've thought about writing for months, but just haven't sat down to do it. After speaking with 5 girls in the last 2 weeks about battling anemia/low iron I couldn't wait any longer to put this out there.

Iron deficient anemia - if this is something you've struggled with I can relate, and honestly am not sure many people out there have battled this condition longer than I. Severe iron deficiency relates back to my days as a collegiate athlete.  Potential mano was blamed for a few fainting spells, even when I didn't test positive for the virus.  I covered up several signs of severe anemia, all in an effort to never show my coaches a sign of weakness.  After one grueling training session I completely passed out in the parking lot, only to be discovered by the Univ of Michigan athletic director. Not exactly part of his job description! but it sure did grab the attention of our team doc and make him look a little deeper into the issue. Iron levels were wicked low (12 is considered anemic. I believe I was hovering around 3!)
Fast forward 10+ years, and many of the same sensations continued. For instance, I've learned to become accustomed to a tingling arms and legs when I swim.  It wasn't until just before Ironman South Africa when I demanded a doctor order i.v. iron to hopefully get my iron to a non-alarming level.  This meant weekly visits to a blood disorder/cancer clinic to receive iron intravenously.
I sat next to other young females also struggling with the same deficiencies, but week after week became frustrated when they told me how their iron levels (hematocrit, hemoglobin, etc) were sky rocketing while mine were hardly creeping in he upward direction.
I returned from South Africa discouraged, but still determined to press doctors to find a reason. I'm sorry, but it is not normal for someone to digest iron at the quantity I do AND intravenously inject ferrous-sulfate into the body and hardly see any affects. It was if my words were falling on deaf ears.  The i.v. treatments made a small difference and got me on the right track.  Levels were still low for an endurance athlete, especially one pushing their body to compete at the level I do, but there was progress. (PS- if you're considering this your doctor has to show a history of blood work in order for insurance to cover it. Even with insurance paying the bulk of the expense it is not cheap!)

On top of the iron issues I was experiencing severe stomach/digestion discomfort. I gave up dairy about a year ago, but this only marginally solved the issue. Good bye beloved greek yogurt! Then during one of my iron treatments I met someone who could relate to EVERYTHING I was experiencing. For the first time I realized the following symptoms are NOT normal, nor okay:
  • Numb arms and legs while swimming 
  • Seeing stars on a very regular basis- at least 8 times a day
  • Extremely poor night vision while driving
  • Loosing most self awareness and cognoscente wherewithal after 3 hours on the bike
  • Feeling like there were bombs going off in my stomach after most meals
  • Often living in a state of fog. I can't describe it but as things got worse I started feeling like I wasn't really present and there was a sense of daze surrounding me
  • Being asked if I'm pregnant on multiple occasions because of severe stomach bloating (yes the first time this happened I was mortified!)
  • Exhaustion...not the normal kind that we all experience! I know how it feels to work hard, train hard, and attempt to live a life outside of both. This was not the same. I was dying-mentally and physically. 
Meeting this little angel of a girl amidst copper drips going into our veins gave me my first sense of real hope!  She suggested I go see her doc at the Stanford digestive health clinic.  We talked about what I was experiencing (see bullets above). For the first time I was talking to someone who didn't look at me like I had 9 heads when I described these feelings.  Her and her boyfriend gave me a hug, and with it a list of doctors she'd seen.  They both believed a diagnosis of celiacs was likely in my future...didn't sound fun, but finally there was hope! I needed an answer! (I had already seen 4 different gastroenterologist, or digestive medicine doctors-none of which told me that iron absorption could be tied to a gluten intolerance). I can't tell you how frustrated I was! but behind the frustration was a sense of urgency and desperation. I was sick of feeling this way. Off to Palo Alto I went.
Vineman70.3- the first race this season where I went in feeling healthy!
I walked into the office of Dr. Fernandiz-Becker with hope. She rattled off questions about symptoms that no other doctor had ever asked; questions I found myself answering more yes to than no.  Finally someone dedicated to finding the underlining cause, and not just a temporary band aid. I went through a few months of testing for celiacs disease, potential internal bleeding and other potential reasons for my inability to properly absorb iron.
 
Gluten - I always felt eliminating gluten was somewhat of a joke. If your body can properly digest it why go "g-free." Pure fad! I never thought I had an issue with wheat/gluten, etc but also wasn't well educated on the topic nor all the foods that contain gluten. By the time the test came back for gluten intolerance/pre-celiacs (not really a term, there is a lot of research still needed to determine vitamin/nutrient absorption for those without verified celiacs) I was already on a g-free diet. In fact going back on a 2 week gluten saturated diet before my procedures nearly killed me! By 3pm I couldn't sit in my desk chair any longer, and couldn't imagine having to get in another workout after work. I was lethargic and my intestinal track felt like it was at war with my stomach. Put that damn scope down my throat, take your biopsy's and get this crap out of my body. Gluten had to be 900% eliminated from my diet- STAT!
I already ate very clean and included very limited processed foods in my diet so although the change was tough at first it became easier. Now, 3 months into the g-free eating I can't imagine ever going back. I've been tempted with a few foods here and there, but ultimately I never want to feel the way I did. A slip up at a restaurant and I'm almost instantly on my way home to wallow in bed in complete discomfort.
I'm now getting a full iron panel test every month. July 2013 marked the first time in 10 years that my blood work didn't included a doctors note with the word "anemia" in it. Moral of the story- know your body, find knowledgeable doctors you trust, and fight for your health. The fact that I struggled with anemia for this long but was told time and time again to just "take more iron" is disgusting.  
I believe this gluten intolerance started years ago and may be to blame for my iron absorption issues, but really wasn't a game changer until last year. For a year I laid in bed every night dying to just fall asleep so my stomach wouldn't bother me any more. I thought it was the result of a diet packed with fruits/vegetables.  Wrong! Now that I know the root of the issue I can finally do something about it. G-free living, it isn't just a fad ;-) To those out there who really can't tolerate gluten I feel for you!
Never hurts to have some red blood cells in the body when it
comes time for my weekly Diablo mtn repeats.
This wasn't exactly the most exciting blog post, but if sharing this helps even a few of readers it will be worth it. 
In terms of racing, Vineman70.3 and Lake Stevens70.3 served as great training days for my next Ironman - Ironman Louisville. I've wanted to do this race for a few years and am very excited for this race. I enjoy a glittering of 70.3 races during my season, but Ironman racing is where I thrive.  
Battling a few demons on the LS70.3 run course.
Grateful beyond words to be back racing again...
All the while knowing my best is still ahead
Stay positive, keep believing and push yourself to new heights! No one exemplifies this better than our girl MBK, so I end this one with a huge shout out to Meredith for her back to back 70.3 titles at Vineman and Lake Stevens. A month earlier she lied in a hospital bed after a tough crash on the Eagleman bike course. Nothing is going to hold this girl down! Dreams realized...with more to come for this champ. Congrats my friend!
 
and so the race season continues....
Early/cold start at for Vineman

 Do What It Takes,
CG
 
 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My Bucket-List!

Nelson Mandela Bay - host to the Ironman S.A. Swim course
South Africa was truly one dreamy experience after another. Ironman...freaking...South Africa! Oh the places this sport has taken me. Unlike most professional athletes who have the flexibility for endless travel I have to be a bit more selective and strategic with my racing. This was my first international racing experience (Mexico and Canada don't count ;-) ). My time in South Africa was about so much more than just a race! I'll recap my race, and then let pictures tell the story of the rest of this tremendous experience....
Port Elizabeth is a truely magical place. Beautiful sights and anazingly kind people!
I've now had time to digest and look back not only on the race and travel experience but also my lead up to it. So much goes into the making of a well executed (or disastrous) race. The whole picture must be properly analyzed! My lead up to the race was a bit stressful. It wasn't just one thing, but some mounting health issues that had me completely stressed. Scott and I sincerely believed that once I got on the flight to South Africa I'd be fine. The stress would fade away, and my body and mide would take over. This is exactly how I felt after my 28 hour traveling voyage. I embraced the week with my eyes WIDE open, loving every second. I forgot about all the things that had me stressed and looked ahead with confidence.
Upon arrival I was warmly greeted by our pro athlete liason for the event. It is little things like this that really does help us out. Thank you Wendy for everything! My amazing homestay was ready and waiting to drive me around the bike course. They immediately made sure I felt at home and comfortable with my surroundings. Johan, Angelique and their beautiful son, Dylon will always hold a special place in my heart! By the time race day approached I had swam, biked and run the course many times. I felt at home. I felt confident. I felt relaxed. I felt ready!

Congratulations Jessie on your AMAZING WIN! Wishing you many more!
TYR Swim:  To summarize the swim I'd say: crazy! We had swell, current, and chop to contend with. The conditions were definitely challenging! I have to however pause for another big thank you. The race director not only listened to our suggestion for offering a separate pro start, but actually made the change. One week before the race they moved the pro swim start up 15 minutes. As a whole, the professional field simply wants a fair, unencumbered race! Slowly but surely changes are being made to ensure this. So, thank you to Paul and his team for making this last minute adjustment!

Back to the swim....once through the surf I found myself with a large group of approximately 10 people. I tried to look around, and after seeing mostly guys I felt confident in how my day was starting out.
Months ago Scott made a few changes to my swim workouts, asking that I simply trust him to see if this would help improve my open water swimming. For the first time I not only got out with the pack but fought to stay there. I had the ability to surge, and get physical when necessary. I knew super-stud swimmers like Dede and Jodi would be out before me, but I needed to be in the trailing pack. After the first loop we exited the water and I took a quick scan of who I was with. I couldn't see a group ahead but knew through the chop and surf there had to be another group out on the horizon. The second loop was more of the same. One wave would throw me back from the feet of the 2 guys leading our group, then the next would place me back into that sweet-spot for drafting. Girls to my right smacked me silly, but I held my ground. Finally, a swim to be proud of! I exited the water as part of a large chase pack. "You're in this girl, now gooo gooooo goooooo!"
I've been in this exact spot many times over the last few months of training. I've executed both mentally and phyically. Now is the time that matters. The opportunity is NOW:

Scott, Vision, TYR Bike: This is going to be short and sweet. I just didn't have "it." There was absolutely nothing in my legs to give. My heart rate appeared to be within normal levels, but my power was simply awful. Power numbers like that wouldn't even amount to a good training day! After the race Scott asked if I lost it mentally and gave up. Answer: no! I kept telling myself I wasn't out of it, I just had to forge ahead and keep fighting. I looked down at the DWIT on the band of my shorts and reminded myself that the race was far from over. "Do What It Takes Caroline. Hurt more!" I tried to improve my power and speed on each of the 3 loops... to no avail. My nutrition was fine, and quite yummy thanks to Clif products! As athletes we want to be able to pinpoint it and say exactly what went wrong. However, there are simply times when we just don't have a concrete explanation. My training leading up to this race was solid. Scott gave me all the tools I needed to excel. I answered his tests and proved a lot to myself. Sadly, my race day execution was NOT going to plan.
Oakley, TYR Run: Keep believing! I took off out of T-2 knowing the deficit was great. I had to stay in this mentally and simply give myself a shot. I clipped off the first 3 miles in sub-7minute pace but this was short lived. Yes, muscles and former aches/pains hurt but this wasn't the problem. I'd been running on empty for 6 hours and nothing was changing. The crowd support was awesome! I even had people from San Diego out on the course cheering for me- complete with the singing of Sweet Caroline. Ummmm, awesome!  My Africaan family was right there on every loop, and wouldn't let me quick.
Believe me, I thought about pulling the plug over and over! I tried to absorb the cheers, and with it resumed my goal marathon pace. I'd fail again. Why was this happening?!?!?! By the time I got to the last 4 miles I was in tears and had walked several times. With 2 miles to go a few age group athletes encouraged me and I started to plot along again. When I passed the crowd for the last time I was completely depleated. I couldn't think straight and by the sound of those cheering me on I was no longer running straight either. My day ended long before I was willing to accept, but hour after hour I kept moving forward. This was my worst ironman performance in many years...but somehow I finished.
I laid in the medical tent, unable to open my eyes. I don't know what happened but I was not ok! Once released from medical I only made it 3 step before complete strangers embraced me, asked if I was ok, and made sure I got home safely. Hours later I was pretty mad at myself for finishing. I wondered how much damage was done. I wondered how I would pick myself and get back on track. The following morning I woke up determined to put the race behind me, embrace South Africa, and worry about race analysis once I returned home. Honestly, I don't have a lot of concrete answers, but am already back to quality training. It's April, and the 2013 North American racing season is still upon us. In the words of coach Scott: "If excelling at this sport was easy people like you wouldn't do it."
The following days after the race were completely amazing. Images from the East Cape:















Rest assured I enjoyed this opportunity, and am fueled for the road ahead. I'm back to my mad dash of running from workout, to work, to bed. I'm thankful to all those who help me keep on keeping on, and believing I have what it takes.  I WILL DO WHAT IT TAKES!  Reflection done, moving forward...

Endless gratitude to my supporters that make this entire journey worth while. TYR has been with me from the beginning! Scott and Vision couple to put me on the fastest racing machine out there. I'm out to prove it ;-) My Plasma fits like a glove. Thank you Craig Upton for all of your work in getting me fit and sharing your wealth of knowledge with me. Clif is a new sponsor this year, and without them I might have starved during my time over seas. Their products are crucial to keeping me fueled in my go-go-go life. I loved my matching Oakley's, and the fact that their sales support breast cancer. A BIG special thank you to Betty Designs's Kristin Mayer. Girl, I lost count of the compliments and cheers my race kit received! I don't know how I would of kept up my training through the dark/cold winter months had it not been for the ridiculously awesome Renaissance Club Sport facility only 1/4mi from my house! Thank you for sharing your amazing talent with me.To the medical personal (Dr. Hubbard, Dr. Matock and Dr. Ross) who saw me on a daily basis leading up to the race - please know how thankful I am to have you in my court!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Silver Lining - San Juan70.3

Life has been beyond crazy since getting back from San Juan a few weeks ago! However, I am a few hours away from my departure for South Africa and couldn't start this (LONG) journey before touching on the last one. My trip to San Juan was short and sweet....as is the theme for me when I travel to 70.3 races. Minimize my time away from home/work/training; get there, race, get outta town.  I choose the race for it's potential to closely simulate the looming in South Africa: warm, windy, and beautiful! The race itself did not go as I had hoped, but I am 999% happy in my decision to start of my race season there.
The swim course is simply EPIC! The swim course itself is reason enough to rank this race as one of my absolute favorites: clean, clear and warm water with limited surf or current. I went into the race a bit skeptical about how I'd hold up through the swim. 8 days before the race, while out on a trail run, I rolled my ankle. Through my jamming music I heard a momentary earth stopping snap. I hobbled 3 miles back to my car refusing to admit what just happened. Thankfully it was only a sprain.
I quickly learned that you can not swim fast without any ankle flexibility. Here was how things looked a week out from race day:heloooooo cankle!

It is crazy that of the 3 disciplines I was most worried about how my bum ankle would effect the swim. I felt like I was pulling a tug boat behind me, but each day saw great improvements. When the gun went off my mind went blank and off I went.
Any thought of injury or disability was gone as my 2013 season was officially under way. The swim was a one loop in this protected, ocean fed lagoon. I certainly wasn't able to swim up to par and exited the water about 3 minutes down from the leaders.
Once on the bike I knew the next 2+ hours would be my chance to prove (to myself) that the training I put in this winter on the bike is paying off.  I've certainly put in a lot of DWIT trainer sessions this winter. The bike course is flat with increasing winds throughout the day. My legs felt tired, but my power was finally holding where I wanted it to. I went into this race tired, but needing to work on a few mental exercises to prepare me for the race season ahead. I am LOVING my new Scott Plasma. I changed a few things with my positioning this year and within a few short weeks on this new ride already know it was a necessary part of the equation. Overall I am happy with the bike and confident in where I'm at and how things are progressing!
I hit the run course with a little uncertainty in terms of how my ankle would feel. I did not feel racing on it would do any damage in terms of my upcoming race in South Africa, so went for it. I felt great for 3 miles and was holding pace with the male pro's who were out on their 2nd (of 2) loops.  Michael Lovato had raced here in years past and warned me of the portions of the course with suspect footing. Around 3.5miles in you hit a downhill portion with cobble stones. I took the hill slow, and at the bottom of it started feeling some pretty severe pain. That was pretty much the beginning of the end for my day. By the end of lap one I was one unhappy camper. I questioned throwing in the towel, but knew I wasn't the only women out there battling her inner demons. Linsey Corbin suffered some technical issues on the bike. Both Mirinda Carfrae and Caitlin Snow suffered bike crashes. Lesley Smith came down with a bad cold the morning of the race. Things happen, and together we were out there finishing what we started...despite the good, the bad, and the UGLY! There were a lot of ugly moments for me out on the run/walk course, but I am beyond thankful that I experienced this here so I could adapt before Ironman! This indeed was the HUGE silver lining in my not so glorious day.
I couldn't let any more time go by without getting out a quick race report and plug for this race. The city of San Juan was tremendously welcoming and supportive! I have nothing but applauds for the race director, race officials, and volunteers. BRAVO! I am in love with this race, and am happy to see more warm weather early season race- keep 'em coming. 
I'm a few hours from departure on my flight to South Africa. I'll be tweeting away (@ckgregory) and can't wait to share this experience with each of you who are sharing this journey with me. I have been training HARD for a good 10-12 weeks now (with little breaks) and simply can't wait for a little RNR, taper, and Ironman fun!
I'm pretty sure no one else in this airport holds a candle to my packed food bag I'm hauling along! That's all I have time for...so let the travel begin!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Do What It Takes -DWIT

A new year...already full of new adventures and new opportunities. It seems like I blinked my eyes and suddenly San Diego was in the rear view mirror. If you've been following me on twitter you know that I'm absolutely loving my new training ground! This year is about embracing change, and believing in my dreams once again. I'm healthy, happy, determined, and shouldering a lot less stress in my day-today life. The recipe for success if you ask me.
My motto this year is: Do What It Takes.  "DWIT" is a heavy phrase that I apply every day in my training and work.  This little personal mantra keeps me grounded and incredibly focused. Simply put, when making a decision I ask myself "will this get me closer towards reaching my goals?" If the anser is no, I walk away. If yes, I go after it. This often means shutting out any ounce of speculation or doubt, accepting new challenges, and simply asking more of myself. Over the past few months I've tested myself to a whole new level...especially on the bike. Winter training is a great time to work on your weaknesses, and it's fair to say that I'm putting in the time AND effort in that department. I entered this several month training block knowing I needed to silence my body and mind, dig deeper, hurt more, and believe (with every ounce of my being) that my deepest desired goals are VERY possible.
One of the toughest things to do as an elite athlete is to block everything else out while training. I mean everything. Work, friends, the mounting list of chores, pain, etc etc. Allowing any distracting thoughts to creap in does nothing to futher a training session. Tunnel vision!
There is no better way to block everything out than a good solid training camp. In January I packed up and headed to Maui for 5 JAM PACKED days.  Nothing to answer to, no one to distract me. Just me, doing what I absolutely love. I biked every mile of road on that island, including the imfamous Haleakala Mtn. I started at sea level and eventually made my way to the summit at 10,000 feet. Up, up Up, and up. Unreal!
The tourist thing to do is to drive up, then jump on a bike and coast down. As I climbed I received many strange glares from those coasting down the mountain - to which I responded "you're all going the wrong way!"













This ride officially stands as the longest it has ever taken me to bike 50 miles. Back that up with swimming every day, and running until my heart's content...and you get the point. I was one happy girl. Not exactly the hawaiian vacation most people desire, but for me it was perfect!

With my first race quickly approaching I feel more ready than ever for the season ahead. I am in a good place; much of this is due to my decision to walk away from law firm hell. While I enjoyed the challenges of being a litigation attorney I always knew I wanted to work in the corporate setting. To say I took a big risk is an understatement (I was working for a great law firm in L.A., staffed with amazing people - from the legal assistant staff all the way up to the managing partners). I'm enjoying this new corporate environment and the opportunity to help the company grow in profitability. I am well aware that most professional triathletes treat racing as their primary job and do not hold day jobs. Good for them ;-) I honestly don't give a sh*% and do not see this is a prohibiter for me.  I love what I'm doing, and for me I believe 110% that this is the path towards the balanced success I desire.
  
 Below are a few pics I shared on twitter (@ckgregory) from recent training runs. Not hard to shut the brain off, and DWIT, with views like these!

 
I am incredibly eager for the season to get under way. I'll be kicking it off at San Juan70.3. This will serve as my tune up before heading to the other side of the world for one of my bucket list races: Ironman South Africa.  I owe a world of thanks to my sponsors who have been jumping through hoops to help me get situated for these early season races. I can't wait to once again represent TYR, Scott, Vision, Garmin, and Oakley.  I am also excited to have my favorite nutrition company, Clif Bar, on board this year. Stay tuned for a peak at my custom kits, in the works thanks to my good friend -the amazingly talented Betty Designs.
All the best in your training and race planning. When it gets tough, just remember to DWIT!