Thursday, August 4, 2016

...don't call it a comeback

I've been feeling pretty bummed lately and haven't been able to lift myself out of the funk. I haven't even been writing because I didn't feel like I had anything to write about. I sort of felt like a fraud. Always telling people they can do anything when I proved otherwise. I haven't even looked at my bike since my DNF. I've continued running because that will always be my first love but I had completely fallen out of love with triathlon. My heart wasn't in it and I couldn't convince myself to just "push through" anymore. I even gave up my 140.6 registration after I had a come to Jesus moment with myself and realized I didn't have what it takes to tackle that goal this year. Maybe one day, but my heart and soul weren't in it anymore so I had to let go. I thought that would help me find peace and it didn't. I kept searching for something to bring me some light when all I felt was darkness.

Truth be told, I didn't even really have anyone to talk to about it. I didn't want to keep hearing "its ok, its behind you now". I know its ok, I know I can't change it, but that doesn't take away the pain. That doesn't give me back the confidence I lost. It doesn't repair the cracks in my soul. I'm sure it sounds dramatic, but it isn't just about the race. I guess I can't really describe what its like because unless you've been here, you probably wouldn't understand.

I've spent time catching up with friends and really enjoying myself without the stress of a training schedule and deadlines. I needed some time away but I knew I needed to get back on track or I might continue to stray and lose myself yet again. So tonight I spent some time with other triathletes. We shared stories of defeat and triumph. I got tips on how to improve and how to avoid cramps so as not to have a repeat of my last race. I finally started to feel like I might want to get back into it. I came home and for the first time since I was pulled from that course in July I actually looked at my bike.

I sat there and cried as I thought of how far I have come. There was once a time when I couldn't even run a mile and here I was beating myself up because I didn't finish a 70.3 mile race. It seems silly now to think that I could be so hard on myself for "only" finishing the first 65ish miles. I let the tears stream down my face and I embraced the suck. I reflected on what triathlon really meant to me and whether or not I was ready to give it up. I'm not. I wiped my tears, got up off the ground and put my bike back on the trainer. I set my Garmin to charge and tomorrow morning I'll get up early and ride again. It might not be for long but its a start. I'm ready.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Dealing with DNF

This year I set a goal. Well, I set quite a few goals but one was my "A" goal, that one that I held above all others. I wanted to do a 70.3 triathlon before I turned 30. With the help of friends I put together a training plan and started following it in March (but had been staying active throughout the winter).  I had also toyed with the idea of taking on a 140.6, which I was gifted an entry into, but my real focus was achieving that half iron glory. I dreamt it. I visualized myself crossing the finish line. I preemptively bought a new magnet for my car. I talked about it constantly. I wanted it more than I wanted anything. I knew I could do it, I felt confident. All I needed to do was follow the plan, do the work, stay in a good headspace. Things would fall into place like they always do.

They didn't. I was heartbroken. There's something that eats away at your soul when you know you gave everything you had, put it all out there, and it wasn't enough...you fell short. I know, I should be proud of what I did, and what I did accomplish. But honestly, it doesn't feel that way. I don't feel like I did much of anything. Even typing this I can feel my heart breaking into a million pieces all over again. I couldn't do it. It wasn't enough. I...I wasn't enough. I beat myself up over and over for not pushing harder and training more. What ifs continue to torment me, even knowing that there isn't anything I can do now to change what happened. I can't relive those moments. I have to put them behind me and move on.

But how do I move on from this? How do I continue to put a smile on my face and grit my way through the rest of my training for upcoming races when my heart just isn't in it anymore? How do I convince myself that I AM enough. I CAN do this. I'm still searching for the answers and trying to find my way back to the person I was before the race. The person who believed anything was possible and that if you gave it all you could do anything you set your mind to. I'm not that person anymore. I have doubts. I have uncertainty. I have fear.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Caseville 70.3



bike and bag, ready to hit the road to Caseville





Last year as the Chicago Triathlon weekend came to a close, I set a goal. I wanted half iron glory. I wanted to do a 70.3 triathlon before I turned 30. I meticulously read race reports, checked courses, and asked for advice looking for a course I thought would play best to my strengths and weaknesses. I talked to friends, I got encouragement, I convinced myself that victory would be mine. And as soon as registration opened, I signed up for what I was sure to be the race of a lifetime. And it was, but not in the way I expected.
Denise, me, Claire, and Melissa heading to Caseville

Claire would be turning 50 this year so we decided together that in our milestone years we would tackle this goal together. We specifically chose this race because it is run independently (non Ironman branded) and upon receiving the registration confirmation the email even said:
"Tri To Finish is committed to making each event an experience
for each racer and for racers of all levels. Our personal commitment
is to ensure that the race venue, volunteers, and post race festivities
are in tact and exciting until the last finisher crosses the line."
Ironman branded races are much more stringent with cut-off times and such which dissuaded me from registering for their races as my first 70.3. I wanted to finish my race, even if that meant it took me a little more time. I knew I could do the distance, my biggest concern was time. As much as I've made progress, the truth is that I'm still slow. I'm not trying to talk down about myself, its just a reality for me. Speed continues to be an area of opportunity for me. I've gotten faster, but still not fast enough. I figured with all the training I would get stronger and faster and the cut off times would be insignificant. I can do this.
roadtrip selfies

My training was relatively uneventful. I made gains in the swim and started to not hate riding the bike as much. My biggest issue was with my feet (I kept getting cramps in my feet while riding and tried adjusting my cleats several times to avoid the pain). It seemed to finally work and my last rides were relatively pain free.

Race week I focused most of my energy on keeping my spirits high and staying positive about the race. When we arrived in Caseville we went straight to packet pickup to grab our bibs. I couldn't believe that I had registered so early I was #2. Kinda cool, its almost like I'm an elite triathlete haha. Claire was #3 and we took several pictures at the lakefront with our "elite" bibs. We dropped our gear off at the hotel and then headed to the Thumb Brewery for dinner. Per usual, I sampled a few beers, because, carbo loading.


with our "elite" bibs
After we got back to the hotel I prepped my nutrition and then laid down to hopefully get some sleep. I tossed and turned and kept waking up, afraid that I had somehow overslept. Finally when I realized I couldn't fall back asleep anymore I got up and started mentally preparing myself for how the race would go. I would glide through the water. I would roll through the bike course. I would pound out those running miles and cross the finish line with a smile on my face. I could see it. I could visualize it. I felt ready. 
scenes along the bike course the night before the race
Denise drove us over to the race start and the nerves started to hit. I walked over to the bike mechanic to ask him to look She HULK over and also ask if he had any tire kit gear handy. I forgot to mention this earlier, but whenever we put the bikes on the car I always take all my stuff off (water bottles, bento bag, saddle bag, etc). Wellllllllll I forgot to actually BRING the saddle bag with me. Yeah. I didn't have a flat kit AT ALL. No big deal right? Thankfully Claire had some extra tubes and I had a spare set of levers that I would just have to make work. Hopefully some generous soul on the course would help me if I got a flat. It is also worth noting that I have never actually fixed a flat. It's still on my to-do list. Anyways, he gave my bike the all clear and I moseyed on over to transition to get everything set up. 
mini she hulk thanks to Tony!
There was a man racking next to me who didn't seem very friendly but I was nervous and couldn't help but try and talk to him. That was a mistake. He was not friendly. I made a joke about wondering if it was too late to do the sprint instead and with a straight face he looked at me and said "the tent is over there, I'm sure they'll still switch it for you". Not exactly the encouragement I was looking for. Guess I'll just be alone in my thoughts trying to overcome my anxiety. I got everything set up and then started walking towards the water. I could feel my eyes start to tear up. I have never felt more nervous. The water was choppy and I could hear the waves crashing in along the shore. I don't want to do this anymore. But I have to. 
Claire and I stayed towards the back as we waded out to the starting buoy. Everyone looked so calm and collected. It made me feel like I was back at my first race ever. That morning when I was by myself and tried my best to pretend like I knew what I was doing. It's tough, being on your own. I mean sure I have friends that support me but it isn't the same as when I have my family. The truth is, I was pretty bummed that my mom was sick and couldn't make it. In that moment I needed to hear her encouragement as I had my whole life, telling me I was strong and that I could do this. I held back the tears as long as I could until I plunged my head underwater to start the race. 
Most of the swim is a blur of me trying not to drown. Every time I thought I had a good rhythm going I would get hit by a wave and lost sight of the buoys. I kept taking gulps of water when I tried to breathe. Nothing was working. All I knew was that I had to keep moving. I did side strokes, back strokes, basically any kind of stroke that kept me alive as I trudged through the swim portion. Remember how I couldn't see anything? Well, as I exited the water I looked down at my watch and realized I had cut the swim way short. I broke down immediately and Denise was there to give me a hug and tell me to keep going. 
customary pre-race selfie
I made it back to transition before Claire, but only because I had apparently made up my own swim course and not actually done the full 1.2 miles. I grabbed my bike and off I went for the 56 miles along the gorgeous coast line. I was still shaken up by the swim and tried to find my way back to the positive mental space. You can do this. You are strong. You are fierce. You are unbreakable. 
And then a woman talking on her cell phone, yes, literally had her hand holding the phone to her ear zipped passed me on the bike. Well dang. I can't wait till I feel that comfortable and strong on a bike. No matter. Just keep pedaling. Just as I hit the first turn around at mile 14 I felt a cramp seize up my left foot and thought to myself "dear sweet Jesus, this is how it ends, I'm gonna have to get carried off the course". I wiped the tears clouding my vision and just kept pounding the pedals hoping that I could will the pain away. I tried every way of pedaling I could think of. I did one leg for awhile. I pointed my toes down like a ballerina. Some of the methods would be a short relief but they weren't sustainable and hardly efficient so eventually I would go back to regular pedaling and the onslaught of pain would bring another round of tears. 
I felt defeated. I wanted to give up. I wanted to sit down, lick my wounds and pretend this day had never happened. But I didn't, I kept fighting my way through the pain. Hoping against all odds that somehow my body would just listen to me and make the pain go away. It kept telling me that I was the one who needed to listen. And finally I did. The last 20 miles I had to get off my bike at least 4 times to try and stretch. The last time I was in so much pain that I was sitting on the ground massaging my foot when the sag wagon pulled up behind me. I thought that was it. They would put my bike in the back and take me in. One of the volunteers walked up and asked if I was OK. I wasn't, but I didn't want to say that so I explained my foot cramp situation. He said, you've only got about 5 miles left, do you think you can do it? It felt like a challenge. Alright. Here we go.
I put my shoes back on, climbed on my bike and pedaled as hard as I could for the next 5 miles. When I reached the last turn before entering the chute back to transition I saw Denise. She met me back at transition and expressed concern that I was no longer sweating and my skin felt clammy. To be honest, I was so focused on the pain in my foot that I had no idea what was going on with the rest of my body. A kind stranger handed me some salt tabs which I gulped down and then made my way to the run out exit.
As I was limping along to start the run one of the race directors jogged up next to me and asked me what my plan was. I had 2 hours to run 13.1 miles and while I may have the heart of a Kenyan, I certainly don't have the legs. I told him I would just keep on keeping on until he told me I can't. So that was that. I hobbled along trying to stretch that damn cramp out and cried hoping that the tears were weakness leaving my body. The run course is basically and out and back so I got to see all the runners coming in as I was heading out. Most of them smiled and offered encouraging words. With each kind word I felt my spirit being restored little by little.
At the first aid station the volunteers looked a little surprised to see me. I decided that in between stations I would think of funny jokes to tell them and that's what kept me moving forward. Stop for water, tell them it feels like I'm running in Satan's ball sack its so hot out here, run a little more, stop for water, tell them I saw a buzzard start following me about a mile back, run a little more, stop for water, tell them I've reached a new layer of hell. This went out for as long as my legs kept me moving. I shoved handfuls of ice everywhere. My bra, the front of my trisuit, the back of my trisuit. I was like a little slushie waddling down the road. Every few miles the race director would drive up alongside me and ask how I was doing. Every time I would tell him, I'm still moving forward.
The longer I was out there the fewer people I saw. I was left alone in my thoughts again and did everything I could to convince myself that I was a warrior. I was unconquerable. Just keep the legs moving. The last aid station I passed was the wife of the race director who kept checking on me. She applauded my efforts and I wanted nothing more than to sit down and tell her how I was REALLY feeling. How I kept a smile on my face but my heart was filled with disappointment. After I passed her there was nothing ahead of me but dirt road for what felt like miles. At some point a dog came charging out towards me and I wondered if I would have the energy to fight him off if he attacked.
I got lucky because apparently that dog was all bark and no bite. Another dog followed behind him and he was much friendlier. He walked up to me and licked my leg. I'm sure it was a salty treat for him. The owner came running out towards us like a bee from a hive yelling at the dogs. I couldn't even form words to respond to her. I just kept moving. I didn't have the energy to do much more. I finally hit the turn around and started making my way back. When I got back to the woman at the last aid station her husband was there with her. I think he expected that I would just resign myself to defeat, knowing that I couldn't finish. But that would mean I quit. That would mean I had given up. And I couldn't do that. I couldn't admit that I had failed. And so, I kept going. I kept moving forward. Putting one foot in front of the other. I'm not really sure why, I guess I was too stubborn or prideful, but I just couldn't say "I'm done". I knew I couldn't finish, so what difference does it make?
As the time cut off approached there was the director again. This time he wasn't checking on me. This time it was time to accept defeat. Face failure. I had gone as long as I could. I settled into the seat of his car and felt the weight of what was happening crash on top of me. I couldn't do it. I gave it all I had, and it wasn't enough. As we approached the finish line in his car I realized I would be faced with a new challenge. Claire had a great race and now I'd have to bottle up everything I was feeling so that I could be happy for her. I had to push away the pain and smile like nothing was hurting even though on the inside I felt like everything was falling apart. I didn't want to steal her moment. This was race was just as much hers as it was mine. I quietly packed up all my things to get ready for the drive to the hotel.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, one of the volunteers came running up to me and she put a medal around my neck. She told me I had earned it and even though she wasn't supposed to give me a medal she didn't care and gave me a hug. I don't think she'll ever understand how much that moment meant to me but it was exactly what I needed. It wasn't that I needed a medal, I didn't expect one, and I definitely didn't feel like I had earned anything, but something about it made me feel like it would be a reminder that eventually I would earn it. It won't be anytime soon, but eventually I'll be back and I'll be able to conquer those 70.3 miles.
post race recover Coney. necessary.
(((please note, there may be lots of typos and errors...I cried a lot while writing this and didn't feel like proofreading it and crying all over again)))

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

one hundred fourty point six

Yes. That's right. 140.6, the full monty. When I first started running my big goal was to get to a 10k. I actually skipped that distance and went from a 5 miler to a half marathon (sort of on accident). I never thought I'd finish a full marathon. I had no idea what my body was capable of. I set small, attainable goals that didn't scare me.

Well, it's time to get scared. It's time to reach outside of my comfort zone. It's time to push my boundaries and test my limits. Set my sights on something that I might not be able to accomplish. Anything can happen on race day. But, I can't let the fear of not finishing keep me from starting. A dear friend was kind enough to gift me a race registration to the Great Floridian 140.6 and in doing so took away all the excuses for why I couldn't do it.

I have doubts. I have fears. I'm anxious. I'm excited. My stomach is simultaneously in knots and then releases a torrent of butterflies. I'm thankful. I'm nervous. I'm emotional. But most of all, I will be ready. My body might try and fight me. My brain might try and tell me that I'm not capable. But I am. I am stronger than I think. I will fight my way to make it through. This is my race and I will do everything I can to make it to that finish line. I will trust my training. I will do the work that needs to be done.

I will be an ironman.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Buffalo Chicken Dip

A few years back I told my big brother I had plans to go to a party that upcoming weekend and he suggested I make his (in)famous buffalo chicken dip. I was a bit wary because he's had some crazy concoctions in the past (calling chicken nuggets + spaghettios in a bowl chicken parmigiana), but I decided to give it a try. It seemed simple enough - take a couple chicken breasts and cook them with some Frank's red hot sauce, shred the chicken, add cream cheese, top with shredded cheddar and throw in the oven. The dip barely made it through the first 30 minutes. People ate.that.shit.up. I'd love to say I made it all the time after that but the truth is I hate shredding chicken so I seldom made the delectable dip.

Until recently that is. I was inspired by The Keg Tap's How to Make Hot Sauce with Beer video. I thought to myself...ooooh I bet that would be DAMN delicious for my dip! (yeah, I use mad alliteration when I'm excited, don't judge me). I consulted with Irving and decided that the green jalapenos and serranos from my local supermercado would have to suffice since I couldn't find the red versions. Let me first say, I have never cooked spicy peppers before. Repeat, I have no cooked any type of pepper other than my friendly bell pepper varieties. I realize this comes as a shock considering my Mexican heritage, but the truth is I grew up with my mom in the kitchen and she's Colombian. Apparently we haven't built up the same spicy eating antibodies.

So let's get on with it then. I almost died. Here I am getting everything prepped and excited about this here sauce. I'm heating the oil just as Irving instructs. And then. Calamity. The instant I dropped those peppers into the saute pan I regretted it. A burst of spicy pepper smoke erupted from the pan and headed straight for my face. DEAR GOD. THE PAIN. I mean seriously. I thought this was it. This is how I die. I've gone blind. I can't breathe. What will my parents tell people? Oh, Natali? She perished in a mushroom cloud of jalapeno smoke. I CAN'T BREAFFFFF! This is where I start to regret all my terrible life choices. I am too young. This can't be how I get taken out. Some peppers? Say it ain't so. I have disgraced my grandmother, she'd be so disappointed in my lack of spicy cooking prowess. This is just sad. Eventually the cloud subsides and I'm able to regain normal breathing and eyesight. Undeterred by this minor setback, I carry on with the sauce recipe.

After finally finishing the spicy sauce of doom I begin prep for my chicken dip. Remember when I said I hated shredding chicken? Well I made an adjustment to the recipe, I cheated and used canned chicken instead. GENIUS! Rather than bore you with any more details I'll simply list the recipe below :) Hope you enjoy!

what you'll need:
2 cans of chicken (I got mine from costco, nothing fancy just some 10oz cans)
2 packages of cream cheese (8oz each)
3/4 cup pepper sauce (I used my new beer hot sauce but you could totally use Frank's Red Hot or something similar)
1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I maybe used a little more, I like it cheeeeesy)
**please note you can also add some ranch dressing to tone down the heat**

directions:
Heat the chicken up in a pan along with your sauce of choice. Preheat the oven to 350. Once the chicken is all nice and saucy transfer it to a shallow baking dish and mix in the cream cheese. I like to toss in a little of the shredded cheese too at this point but that's totally optional. You can also do a dollop of daisy sour cream or ranch if you like it really mild.

After that's all mixed up and spread in the dish top it off with a layer of shredded cheese and pop that bad boy into the oven. Let it bake uncovered for about 20-25 minutes (basically you want that whole top layer of cheese to melt). I served mine with baguette slices but you can use carrots, celery, or any other dipping favorite. Cheers!

peppers, pretty but dangerous
my nutribullet is the real MVP
Finished sauce!
The dip is ready for baking
soooo tasty!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Crockpot Beer Beef Stew

So last night I was trying to impress a date with dinner. He works at a brewery so I thought Beer Beef Stew would be perfect :) it was totally a hit!

What you'll need:
1 green pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 orange pepper
1 red pepper
1 small vidalia onion
2 cloves garlic minced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 pounds lean beef stew meat, cut in 1-inch cubes
12 oz beer (I used a porter)
6 small red potatoes
2  teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 can of beef broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste

Pour beef broth, tomatoes and tomato paste into slow cooker (temperature set to high). Cube potatoes and add to slow cooker once the tomato paste has thinned.

Chop onion and saute with garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Add cubed stew meat and cook til brown. Season with salt & pepper (adding additional spices to taste - I used some Flavor God Everything Spice, red chili powder, turmeric and cumin). Add browned meat and chopped peppers to slow cooker then pour beer in and stir.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. I typically like to eat mine over some rice but enjoy however you like!
peppers get the party started - I love the color and flavor they add

browned meat
pour the porter in, stir, then let the slow cooker do its thing ;)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Mikkeller Running Club

Northdown Tap logo on the back of our shirts :)
I love running. I love beer. I love running and then drinking beer. When I joined the Mikkeller Running Club I truly found my tribe. I'm surrounded by a bunch of beer loving runner nerds and I love it. We recently celebrated our 1 year anniversary and did a special double feature run weekend. We ran on Saturday at our clubhouse Northdown Tap in Chicago and then took a special trip to Indiana to run with the 18th Street Brewery folks. We capped it off with a delicious pour of Atomic Whale (the Mikkeller/18th Street collabo). But we also got hungry so we made a small detour to 3Floyds afterwards for some grub and a couple more brews. Enjoy the highlights :) 
Saturday's run crew at Northdown giving the Mikkeller standard greeting
MRC takes 18th Street
properly hydrated and exploring the new brewery
MRC + 18th St Running Club
pre-run at the brewery
breakfast of champions!
post-run brewery tour
I took a picture to remember that this was real and not a drunk epiphany
all starting lines should look like this
my new MRC schwag, can't wait to run in it!
oh hello Atomic Whale (please excuse the sweat)