Monday, August 29, 2016

Roth & Ruckus

Life has indeed been full speed ahead since I returning from racing in Roth, Germany. The trip itself was a bit of a whirlwind, but there isn't a single piece of me that regrets going. I wanted to post a few pictures and thoughts from my European extravaganza, as well as an update on my plans for the rest of 2016.
I left for Germany on Thursday, had 1.5 days to prepare for the race, raced Sunday and flew back to the states 15 hours after crossing the finish line. Roth was a bucket list race, and I refused to let the opportunity slip away. I was lucky to have Molina coaching me through the preparations, and reminding me how special this event is (he never raced it, but I'm happy that next year he'll finally check this one off his bucket-list as well).

Preparation leading into Roth was less than ideal.  Training volume dwindled once I started my new job, and my body wasn't responding well to any of the high intensity workouts. Other professional athletes who have raced Roth in the past convinced me that I needed to embrace the experience and opportunity to race Roth. Truthfully, a million things went wrong leading into the race, but being honest with my race expectations allowed me to shrug them off, put on a smile, and be grateful for the opportunity.  I usually go into races with podium goals, but for the first time in years I simply went into race day with a "roll with the punches, embrace the experience" mindset.  If that was my only rubric for measuring my success at Roth I'd give myself an A++.
Roth displays amazing energy in the days that lead up to Sunday's race. Fireworks, live music, and Bavarian dress up parties to name a few.

Race Day: The excitement race morning was electric.  Unfortunately they started the pro women at the same time as the pro men, and to make matters worse they also included age groupers who predicted to finish under 9 hours (or those with huge ego's). The swim was brutal.

I was whacked, kicked, punched and dunked more times than I could count. Again I reminded myself "smile and enjoy the matter how high or low this roller coaster takes you." At no point during the swim did I have any clue where any of the pro women were, but to my amazement I exited the water with the first chase pack (Daniela was already well on her way to crushing us all!).

In terms of the course and spectator support the bike ride was spectacular. You ride from one little town to the next, with each offering their own form of cheering entertainment. I usually race with my eyes either fixated on my Garmin or half closed out of agony. This time I stared right into the face of each cheering spectator and embraced their spirit. While I wanted to grimace (out of frustration for my power numbers) all I could do is smile. This couldn't be more true then when it came time to climb Solar Hill. The crowd was deafening!
THIS is what you go to Roth for!
(Huge thanks to Thorsten Radde for snapping this one!)
In terms of my performance, the 138.2 miles that followed the swim were simply abysmal. I had nothing in the tank and every time I asked more of myself I came up empty handed.  Come hell or high water I was going to finish, but over the last 8 miles of the race things got ugly. I knew my lead up was sub-par: closing on a house, new job, moving, trying to find my way amongst new training grounds, living out of bags for months.... but I'm beyond proud of the focus I put on perspective around this race. I couldn't end my racing career without competing at Roth!

Run Course! Can't beat this surface!
Post Race Updates:
I returned home and shortly after closed on my house in Portland. Work is demanding, but I am loving the challenges. Problem is, I always felt I was running on an empty tank. I was feeling pretty run down, but attributed it to my hectic life and post Ironman decompression. Inevitably, I took a few weeks off from training and then slowly started to get back to running and swimming. Best case, I wanted to do a late season Ironman, and worse case I thought I'd train for a few trail races and possibly a fall marathon. I embraced the Portland/Nike running community and enjoyed the opportunity to be social with my training again. It quickly became apparent that my body wasn't cooperating with my upcoming race vision. I was struggling to get out of bed after 10 hours of sleep, and dragging myself to even the easiest of workouts.

During my lead up to Roth I blamed my inability to recover, nail hard workouts, or hit race weight on "old age." I never envisioned that this would be my last year of professional racing, but maybe my body was deciding things for me. I didn't want to go out with the performance I had in Roth, but I found myself questioning whether I just had to throw in the towel and accept that my time in the sport was up.  Was it time to give everything to one career, instead of two?  This is an emotional decision, and one that I think only those who have left professional athletics can comprehend.  It wasn't until I backed off my training, and felt more settled in my house/job that I believed something simply wasn't right. Thankfully I connected with an amazing sports med doctor in Portland. We ran a full gamut of blood tests, and sure enough I had my answer: extreme adrenal fatigue, and iron deficient anemia (again). It was as if alarms started going off while the blood work was analyzed. The doctor I've partnered with treats countless professional and elite athletes, and his methodology, approach and analysis directly correlates with treating athletes as athletes and not just the common folk. I am beyond thankful to have been introduced to him, as this is EXTREMELY hard to come by within the medical community! I certainly had reason to pause when he told me that "these results are far worse than any I've ever seen." Okay then, if that isn't a nice whack over the head I don't know what is.
Closing day on my house!

While extremely frustrated to hear this, I can't say I am surprised. The past year has been incredibly stressful, and on top of that I keep asking my body to get faster and find more endurance. This wasn't the answer I wanted, but at least now I know I was right in thinking that something is indeed wrong. This means that I'm not on a forever downward spiral, that I can get healthy/faster/stronger again. Only my body will know how long this will take.  It's time to start listening and stop pushing. Yes, running 7:30 pace shouldn't feel like a sprint, and it isn't laziness (or happiness to be in my own bed again) that has me unable to get out of bed every morning.

So... all racing has been put on hold. I was suppose to run Hood To Coast with one of the Nike teams, but thankfully they found a worthy replacement. It's time to really rest and recover. I know in the end my desire for athletic endeavors will come back, but for now my body simply won't have anything to do with this frame of thought. We've put in motion a few changes in my diet (up'ing protein to 130+ grams a day- so I'll definitely be relying on Designer Protein to fill the gaps. Use coupon code: Caroline20 to save 20% on your next order). The upcoming weeks/months will offer a new set of challenges, but in the end I am confident that great things will come from this time out.

It turns out we aren't super human, and living life full speed ahead can eventually bite you in the ass. OUCH!
Huge thanks to my amazing sponsors who support and encourage me through both the highs and lows! Together we'll fight our way out of this!
Photo credit: Thorsten Radde

Saturday, June 25, 2016

"After the final no, comes a YES!"

Time for a little update on my training, racing (or actually my decision to hold off on starting the 2016 season), and my continued pursuit for greater success in my (non-triathlon) career. I'd say the quote used in my title perfectly sums up the past 6 months. After months of trials and tribulations, practicing my P's (patience and perseverance), and committing myself to a specific destiny, I found my YES.

Every year I come up with a word or phrase embodying my athletic drive and goals. The short mantra always encompasses great personal meaning, and offers substantial motivation when the going gets tough. 2014 was the year to "DWIT." The complete visionary goal, "Do What It Takes" to win an Ironman, shaped my entire methodology for how I lived each day.  In 2015 things were shortened to one word: "Believe." Much of this steamed from the unfinished business from 2014. Although I fell short of my ultimate goal I feel confident that I set myself up for success. Outside of my unwillingness to give up my job, I did what it takes. I gave up an awful lot in pursuit of this goal! (Many argued walking away from full time work was the final ingredient - including coaches - but I held onto my long term vision for life and never entertained this foolish discussion). Here in 2016 my motivational mantra shifts a bit to include not only my athletic drive, but also my career aspirations. PASSION. My recent pursuit of passion hasn't been easy, and came with great risk. Oh but how sweet the reward is....

Many have asked why I haven't raced yet in 2016. My answer lacked certainty and commitment. I've been focused entirely on making a major pivot in my career.  "Where there is great risk, lies great reward." Right?!?! Normally by this point in the year I've raced 1 or 2 Ironmans and a few 70.3 events.  Neither injury nor illness has kept me out of the game. However, I'm here to tell you that  emotional stress is equally as debilitating. Finishing every Ironman takes extreme tenacity, commitment, and mental fortitude. One must go deep into the well, suffer mentally and physically, and rise above. This holds true on a daily basis...especially for those of us juggling sport with work, family, etc. etc. Physically training was going well, but the past few months left me emotionally drained. I simply haven't possessed the mental nor emotional fortitude to toe the line.

Often we hear career advice along the lines of: "if you're passionate about what you do for work good things will come, and you will find long term success." I am pretty sure this is Oprah's soap box speech.  Sadly many are severely misguided by this often endless pursuit. I'm not saying that someone can't find success when following their passion, but instead argue that proper thought should be given as to whether this passion offers financial feasibility.  Tony Robbins talks about this very point in his recent TED talk.  He discusses the tremendous work that passionate people put into their passion, and also mentions the need to question whether your passion offers a potential payout.  This resonates with me and made me think of so many friends trying to make a living from their athletic talents. Yes, we all have the passion for the sport, but the financial support within triathlon is not going to change simply by us exuding more passion. While we can stride for change, we must accept the reality (or at least I must).

From the second I got my pro card I believed that only a handful of triathletes have the luxury and comfort of calling themselves a "professional." Professional to me means the ability to make enough money to support oneself (and family) now AND into the future. By future I mean retirement. If there is one thing I know from my years of professional racing, it's that every single solitary professional athlete toeing the line does so with great passion! No one has enough talent to mask the passion needed to reach professional ranks of triathlon. Few are able to take that passion and turn it into (my definition of) a profession. THIS is why I've never given up my career to focus 110% on triathlon success. I enjoy testing myself physically and mentally, and believe working full time is the right decision for me. I am thankful that my sponsors understand, support and applaud this decision. fewer words: my long term career means a great deal to me, and falling victim to lay off's in 2015 left me gutted! Immediately I looked for jobs within the software space.  After months of working with a company to define and strategically lay out my job roll things feel through. Family and friends tried to reassure me that one door closing meant another would swing wide open. I honestly didn't want to hear it!  Let me set the picture for what I mean when I say that things feel through last minute. My entire house was packed into boxes, and the movers were schedule to come the following day.  As if God hadn't been hearing from me often enough, my prayers turned into sob fests- complete with panic attacks and insomnia. In the blink of an eye I was no longer moving across the San Francisco bay.  God's plan left me in a state of turmoil, however deep inside I finally accepted that the software industry wasn't the industry to bring out my passion. It was time to search deep inside my soul. It was time to regroup, refocus, and ultimately embrace risk.

I left everything behind, and committed every fiber of my being to pursuing a passion I've had for quite some time: to take my eclectic skill set to the athletic footwear and apparel industry. There was only one place to go; I loaded up my car and drove straight to Portland, Oregon. Go big, or go home. I wanted to play with the big dogs (or should I say "Shoe Dogs"). It was time to pursue a chosen career in an arena that enabled me an opportunity to combine my experience in business, law and athletics. Time to fight for my passion.

I began networking with all the major athletic apparel companies. It wasn't long before my career goal took shape and my desire became defined: Nike was it! I spent months, networking, job searching, and learning. I began researching the global giant and trying to figure out the complex Nike matrix structure. I couldn't believe how willing Nike employees were to meet with me and help me figure out which internal team would be the best fit. I filled notebook after notebook with valuable insight from daily networking meetings. In the end I met with 30+ equally passionate and driven individuals. I was on campus at least 3 days a week meeting with people who graciously shared their Nike career path. I sincerely could write a book about this entire experience! Tenacity with a capital "T." I read memoir's about the early days of Nike and channeled the founders visionary drive as I continued my fight through the coveted Nike doors.

Is it crazy that while cleaning out the drawers in my bedroom at my parents place
I had one newspaper from my days at UofM...and this was the front page?!?! Foresight?

With my triathlon racing days winding down I know a great void is inevitable. I've raced 20 Ironmans, and know my body doesn't have another 20 to give. With each networking meeting I gained substantial confidence that this void could be filled through my (paying) profession.  I am ecstatic to report that I landed an amazing job on Nike's Innovation team.  I follow this sentiment with the fact that I never would have landed this role if I had walked away from my legal profession back when I started professional racing. I needed to travel each and every road (through career and sport) in order to land myself here.

The past month has been chaotic! After 13 years in California it was surprisingly easy to say goodbye. This next chapter shows great promise. Ultimately a resounding "YES" landed me on the perfect team within Nike's organization.  I've found a position that perfectly aligns my experience in business development, law and professional athletics. While I am far from settled in Portland, I am happy to be in a great mental space so I can test my fitness at Challenge Roth.  This bucket-list race is the perfect place to exude my passion for the sport and praise for answered prayers.  I questioned God's plan so many times the past year- but He delivered in a miraculous way. I have my yes and won't let it go to waste. It's time to JUST DO IT!
My whiteboard desk on my first day at work. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Spirit and Smile

Melia Resort- an amazing home for race week!
After a rough go-around at Ironman Chattanooga I was extremely excited to close out my 2015 season enjoying every second of race day.  Everyone raves about the atmosphere in Cozumel, so I decided that was the perfect choice for one last shot at my beloved hot & humid combo (something Chattanooga did not live up to).  From the moment I arrived in Cozumel I was greeted with smiles, welcomes and adornment. As I travel the globe, from race to race, I am continually captivated by the communities' embrace of our sport.

  My smile says it all! Racing is what makes me feel alive, and in the days leading up to Ironman #4 of the year I felt a mix of contentment and jubilation. I just wanted to get out there and have fun every....single....step of the way.  2015 was a challenging year in many ways, but triathlon provided me the outlet I needed to keep persevering. Through the ups (seeing new areas of the world) and downs (bike crash, digestive health issues, injury 3 days prior to race day, work loss) I kept my head up and fought to win every everything I tackled from the moment my feet hit the floor. For me, triathlon offers far more than race results and finishers medals. These experiences truly will live a lifetime, and for that I have the utmost gratitude for the sport and those that share this passion with me.

Race morning, as I stood at the waters edge, I had zero doubt that I'd make it to this finish line.  A young 5 year old boy and his amazing family have inspired me all season long. Chad (Tough) Carr lost his battle with DIPG (terminal form of childhood brain cancer) a few days before I left for Cozumel. I carried this precious boy in my heart, and committed myself to help spread knowledge and awareness for this awful disease.

My swim volume coming into this race was far less than I'd like. This has been a large point of "contention" between my coach and I the past two years. I know what I am capable of, and exiting the water 3 minutess down from the leaders (in 10th) simply was not it. Although, if you are going to swim solo, this isn't a bad place to do it. One large group ahead of me, and another behind. Majestic scenery for 2.4 miles!

Last few strokes before exiting the water
I rode the full course in the days prior to the race, and knew to expect wicked winds on the back side of the course. The conditions were tough, but consistency was the name of the game for 112 miles. While I wasn't overjoyed with my power output, my splits through each section of the course were consistent from mile 1 to 112. During the 3rd lap, as my legs and knee began to throb, I reminded myself that it was time to have a little fun. I planted a smile on my face and held on until reaching T2. While I race as a professional, I still do so out of love and enjoyment for the sport.
The run course is also three loops. I felt absolutely amazing over the opening miles. I made a conscious (and very wrong) decision to hold back and remain conservative through the first 1/3 of the marathon. As I started the second loop I began to build momentum and pace. I was moving through the field, and sincerely felt confident that I could put together a sub 3:10 marathon. Silly me- this course is deceivingly difficult and the final 10k chewed me up and spit me out! I knew I had moved up 5 positions since getting off the bike, but had no idea what place I was running in.  I estimated that I was 8th, but upon crossing the line was told I finished 10th.  This was one of the most competitive fields I've raced on the Ironman circuit, on one of the most difficult courses I've raced. Flat is not easy folks! Especially when you add in heat and unrelenting wind. Ultimately my goal was top 10 and I just squeaked in for a paycheck. 
When I look back at my triathlon career I am reminded of times when I failed to stand tall and be proud of the days when I gave it my all and accomplished more than I ever thought I might (i.e.: Ironman Louisville 2013).  I made a conscious decision to applaud the fact that I gave everything I had time and time again this season. I've dedicated a tremendous amount of guts, tears, sweat, time and sacrifice to this sport. They say we're our own worst critic...always wanting more...never satisfied.  While I didn't take home the champions crown, I was indeed satisfied! I spent the following few days basking in the sun embracing and enjoying THIS phase of THIS journey.
Celebrating with (from right to left) 10th, 11th, 12th. Cheers
 Huge thanks to the Melia Cozumel resort for taking such great care of all of the athletes who stayed with them! Service with a smile is a complete understatement when it comes to their hospitality. I can't wait to see you again in 2016. Cheers to Ironman #20 and another season in the books.
Enjoy the journey!!!