Friday, December 9, 2016

Unexpected setbacks

Man. 2016 has been tough. Like, really tough. I got laid off last week and it shook up my whole life. No notice, nothing, just sorry we're gonna have to lay you off along with a considerable percentage of the company. I was heartbroken. I love my coworkers and I looked forward to seeing them every day. That's a rare thing to come by. To me, they were family. I spent most of my time with them in and out of the office. I gave myself a day to decompress and deal with it but then I pulled up my big girl panties and started applying for jobs.

In a way, I guess its sort of a blessing. Not that I'm excited about being unemployed, but I'm taking this opportunity to really do some soul searching and figure out what I want to do. I don't want to take a job just because its available, I want to find somewhere I can build a career. It'll be tough. It will take time. But, in the end it will be worth it. I am my greatest project after all.

I still have a lot of feelings and emotions to deal with. This was so totally unexpected and through me off my game. Even though I know it wasn't personal, it still felt like rejection. I'm having a hard time not letting it get to me. I need to just keep telling myself "you will experience breakthrough after breakthrough because what you went through didn't break you".

Here's to hoping that the new year brings new blessings and endless opportunities. I'm ready for the challenge.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Planning for 2017

As my season ends (only thing left is the Milwaukee Running Festival), I've started looking at my calendar for 2017. Normally I have an "A" race or goal that I'm working towards. For 2016 it was the half iron, 2015 was the triple challenge, 2014 was my first Olympic, and 2013 was my first tri ever. As I reflect back on my previous races and plan for the future my "A" goal is to go back to the basics. I won't be getting my half iron redemption next year, I'll get it eventually but I'm going to wait until I KNOW I am ready to tackle that beast again. The full iron is still a stretch goal but it isn't anywhere on the horizon at the moment. I want to go back and embrace the shorter distances, increase my speed, and really learn to love triathlon again. I got so caught up in always needing to get to the next distance that I wasn't really enjoying the journey along the way anymore.

So, 2017, I'm putting it out into the universe that you shall be my year to get back to the heart of the matter. I'll do sprints, relays, aquathlons, runs, and perhaps even an oly if I'm feeling up to it...but my challenge will be in improving myself as an athlete. Tentatively I have a few races on the list to consider for next year but for the first time ever I haven't registered for a single one yet. Anyone want to join me for a relay?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Ironman Augusta 70.3

the swim start is under this gorgeous bridge

A few months ago I posted in the Black Triathletes Team page that I was interested in doing some more relay events. Luckily I was able to link up with a relay team looking for a third member. They were already registered for Ironman Augusta 70.3 so I was a last minute addition to be their swimmer. I've heard great things about this race and was beyond excited to have a late season open water swim. In the last year or so I've really embraced swimming and couldn't wait to have the opportunity to PR since I wouldn't have to worry about saving anything in the tank for the bike or run.
Leading up to the race I felt great. I had done swims in the lake both with and without a wetsuit so I was ready for whatever race day would throw at me. This particular swim course is a point to point swim in a river (with a current). It's always been wetsuit legal so I packed mine along but secretly I hoped I wouldn't have to wear it. I've enjoyed swimming without it much more now that I've become a more confident swimmer. Everything was planned out and I marked my calendar to count down to race day.
I couldn't find a direct flight into Augusta so I settled on a layover in Atlanta which gave me a chance to eat some dinner (and drink some beer). When I got to Augusta there was a huge banner welcoming the athletes. I felt so excited. There were no nerves this time, I knew I was ready and had pushed all my DNF demons away. Our hotel had a free shuttle service so I took advantage of that to get from the airport to the hotel. I chatted with the drivers since I was the only passenger and they told me about Augusta, the race, etc. It was pretty late by the time I got in so I went straight to bed to prepare for an exciting weekend ahead.
Saturday morning I woke up to meet my roommate and head downstairs for breakfast. I met some other wonderful women from Tri It For Life  and one of my relay team members. They made me feel at home and it was as if I had been part of their group all along. Our final relay member arrived not long after and we made our way to the race expo. We got checked in and did some shopping. I picked up a tshirt and pint glass as additional goodies, the race swag included a backpack and tech shirt.
We met up with some more Tri For Life ladies for lunch across the street. I had a beer there and enjoyed some shrimp before running a few more errands. I didn't anticipate how hot it would be so I stopped at a store to grab a tank top for after the race and a few other items. We drove by the finish line and I could feel my excitement bursting. All I could think about was my swim in the morning.
I woke up before my alarm on race morning and browsed facebook for a bit before I started getting ready. All the tri groups were abuzz that the race would not be wetsuit legal. Any athletes wishing to race in their wetsuit would need to wait for the final wave. I had brought my wetsuit but decided I'd rather swim without it. Temps were 77 and that seemed far too warm for me to want to wear it. Plus I didn't want to have to start in a later wave.
When I got to breakfast most of the Tri For Life crew was there who would be doing the relay. We ate together and then made plans to meet back at 8:20 to walk over to the swim start. This is normally where the nerves would get the best of me, or doubt might start to creep in, but all I felt was anticipation and excitement. I went back to my room to finish getting ready and double check I had everything I needed. One of the shuttle drivers that I met on Friday was in the lobby when I came down and he offered to drive me over to the swim start. I told him I was waiting on some friends so he waited for them to join me and then dropped us all off.
The swim start had SOOOOO many people. I've never been to an event quite like this. Music was playing, the weather felt great, I couldn't wait to hop in and get started. I noticed quite a few athletes had opted for wetsuits and I was silently thankful that this meant there would be a significant amount of people behind me. I'm a little bummed we weren't there at the very beginning to see the parachutes with the American flag but thankfully I saw video/pictures later. I imagine it was a really powerful way to kick off the race.

before the swim start
When it was finally our time to head towards the starting dock I couldn't help but dance along to the music. I talked with a few of the women around me and we all assured each other it would be a great swim. As we made our way down the ramp, we heard the announcer tell the athletes in wetsuits behind us that they would have to be split into two waves. Goodness, a lot of folks must have opted to swim in their wetsuit. I'm sure I would swim faster if I wore it but I wanted to feel unrestricted and enjoy the 1.2 mile swim. 
lining up on the dock before getting in the water
The dock swayed as we stepped onto it and I had to take a moment to steady myself. My friend Frank had told me that I should stick towards the middle of the river because there would be less of a crowd (and the current is stronger). I hopped in the water to get acclimated to the temperature and it instantly felt refreshing. It also reaffirmed for me that the water would have been too warm for a wetsuit, I would have overheated. I could definitely feel the current as well when I jumped in. It took some work to stay behind the starting line before the buzzer went off. As soon as it did everyone sprinted out and I stuck around the back, not feeling quite THAT confident haha.

I settled into a groove and just enjoyed myself. We swam under a bridge with tons of spectators and a huge American flag hanging from it. I can't confirm, but I think I may have had goosebumps. From scoping out the course the day before I knew that as I got closer to the swim finish the buoys would be orange instead of yellow. I kept chanting my inner mantra "be the bag of chips". The ongoing joke is that even a bag of chips can make the swim cut off because of the river current. As I passed the final yellow buoy and saw the first orange I said to myself "YES! Done with the nacho cheese and onto the spicy nacho, time to kick in the speed". Yes, everything is food related for me. It gave me a boost of energy and I kicked harder knowing I would be done soon (even though I secretly wanted to go a little slower to savor it some more). 

like little water bugs
where the swim ends

my favorite part of the course
When I tell you that I've never felt happier finishing a swim, I am not exaggerating. As I exited the water I looked down at my garmin and internally gave myself a "fuck yes!". I could not stop smiling. I was over the moon overjoyed and how fast I swam (by my standards that is). I couldn't believe I had actually swam that distance in under 40 minutes. Normally I'm happy to get it done in under an hour. Sweet Christmas. This is phenomenal. I started running so I could pass the timing chip off to my teammate and had to stop to walk to calm down a bit. I was so excited I could feel my heart racing. Man. That swim was awesome. Renee went out for the bike, then Lynn and I walked back to the hotel for food (and so I could wash off the river water). 

Pure Happiness

 Back at the hotel we ran into another BTA member and snapped a quick pic. I checked the official IM tracking to see if my swim was actually as fast as I thought it was and squealed for joy when I saw the official time. 37:21. That's right, I swam 1.2 miles in 37 minutes and 21 seconds. Nothing else has felt as sweet as seeing that. This also gave a little extra cushion time for the rest of the team. After refueling and washing up I rested for a bit before heading down to the cheer station.

#TeamBTA #theblackout
 There's a section on the course where spectators are able to see athletes 4 times. The BTA and Tri For Life tents are next to each other so this made for awesome party time. We cheered, we encouraged, we screamed our hearts off to urge our friends on in the brutal heat. It was so much fun and I'm glad I was able to both race and cheer. It was such a different experience than what I'm used to. I had never met a single person that I was cheering for or with before that weekend but by the end of the day they were family. My heart was full. When Renee and I finally saw our runner Lynn come by for her final lap we headed straight for the finish line to cheer her in. She looked strong the whole way and we all celebrated with her after she crossed. (note: post race swag includes the bling as well as a finisher's hat picture with the beer below)

at the BTA cheer tent

pre-race beer
post-race beer
sampling the local craft

 This race was an absolutely incredible experience and I hope that I can do it again next year. Holler if you're looking for a swimmer on your relay team. Between the camaraderie, venue, food, beer, etc this whole weekend was top notch. I would absolutely do it again in a heartbeat. If they hosted a full ironman race with the same swim I might even consider doing that because it was so much fun.

going home with the bling
final results for our relay team

Friday, September 23, 2016

Making A Beer Run

Because, two beer/running posts weren't enough so I'm closing out the week with a final post about beer and running. I'm sure you've heard of a beer mile or other such beer runs, but, Chicago hasn't seen a run/beer fest hybrid event yet. Also, for those of you who enjoy a unique distance this is a great chance to set a new PR ;)

Making A Beer Run, The deets:

Saturday October 15, 2016
Packet pickup will be on the South East terrace of The Field Museum from 9:30am-11:20am
Race kicks off at 12pm
Beer will be flowing 12pm-3pm

So what do you get? (we all know you're here for the swag right?)
Run registration includes:
-entry to 6k run
-entry to beer fest
-sporty fleece
-$20 "beer money"
-commemorative cup
-2016 "Chill Puck"
-endless bragging rights
($60 register here)

Don't want to run but still want to drink all the beers?
Beer fest only registration includes:
-entry to beer fest
-$20 "beer money"
-2016 "Chill Puck"
($25 register here)

***even more important details...who will be pouring beer?
3 Sheeps
Burnt City
Goose Island
Moody Tongue
Toppling Goliath (welcome to Chicago!!!)
Urban Chestnut
Virtue Cider

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

That time I drank beer with Deena Kastor

Apparently the theme of the week is beer and running. I was fortunate enough to meet Deena Kastor last week at the Goose Island Tap Room. For those who may not know, Deena won the 2005 Chicago Marathon (familiar to anyone who has seen Sprit of the Marathon). After that she went on to win the 2006 London Marathon. I could go on and on about all of her achievements, this woman is incredible. When I got the invitation to meet her, especially at one of my favorite tap rooms I accepted right away.

We got to take a quick tour of the brewery and discussed possible post race beer choices for the marathon. Apparently there was some talk of a nuun infused beer, but that didn't pan out. I have to admit, it got me a little curious about trying some home infusions to see what I can come up with but I'll have to find a base beer I think will lend itself well to such experiments.

It was awesome meeting an Olympian and catching up with some fellow running bloggers. We also got some sweet Chicago Marathon swag. I sort of wish I was running it but alas it wasn't in the cards for me this year. Eventually I'll cross it off the list (hopefully with the other world majors Berlin, Boston, London, New York, and Tokyo).

Monday, September 19, 2016

Beer Benefits for Runners

If you were following my blog late last year you might remember some recipes and posts about beer. I've decided to keep most of my beer blogging over on The Keg Tap but will occasionally post some things here as well as they pertain to running :)

What does beer have to do with running? Well, aside from so many races having beer at the finish line, there is some science to link the two. While I wouldn't suggest chugging a beer before heading out for a run (actually, I wouldn't ever suggest chugging a beer, let's be honest), it does have some benefits when drank in moderation. Considering most beers under 4.6%abv are mostly water, they can be a tastier option to rehydrate that even includes some protein and carbohydrates. Additionally beer (like red wine) can help lower your bad cholesterol and increase the good. The malt and hops contain flavonoids that counter cell damage.

How about before a race? I've always been a firm believer that beer counts as carbo-loading. I didn't really have anything to back it up but it always made me feel better about my race day performance. Turns out its mostly mental and the pre-race beer isn't that effective but as long as you drink water before and after it shouldn't cause any harm.

(((it should be noted that the scientists consider one 12oz beer per day to be moderate consumption, and there's no rollover on that)))

Monday, August 22, 2016

Iron rusts, Titanium doesn't

I've been feeling pretty bummed since my last tri so going into the Michigan Titanium Olympic distance tri all I wanted was to finish with a smile on my face. I didn't have any expectations for time or anything else, I needed to remind myself why I love this sport. There were quite a few of us Crushies heading to Grand Rapids for the race so I knew I'd see some familiar faces out on the course. Denise doing the full aquabike, Hannah and Meli doing the Half Iron, and then Claire and I doing the Oly.

obligatory pre-race selfie
Things were a little dicey on the drive up to Grand Rapids (tornadoes aren't exactly the kind of weather you want to drive through). When we arrived at packet pickup the building was still on tornado warning and we had to wait outside until the warning was lifted. You can imagine the mass of people descending upon packet pickup once they finally opened it back up. Claire and I got our packets while the others sat in on the course talk. We saw friends we met at the Grand Rapids tri in June and chatted about weather conditions for the race. The year before the race had to be shut down due to unsafe weather conditions and we were hoping the worst of the storms were now behind us.

Of course our pre-race dinner was at a brewery, because, carbs. We all met up at Founder's Brewery and I ran into a friend of my brother's plus and old pal from my childhood. My heart was full and I was ready to take on the race. This would be my redemption. I could feel it. I would prove to myself that I was capable. 

at the swim start with Claire & Lori
Race morning was a little different since Denise was starting so much earlier than us. Claire dropped her off and then came back so we could finish getting ready and head out. I didn't have my pre-race nerves, I felt calm and peaceful. We got to transition and chatted with the ladies around us. While we were standing by the water I felt something that had been gone for some time, excitement. As we eased into the water I knew today would be different. I wanted to cherish each and every moment. I had some troubles sighting but didn't let it get to me. I just kept moving at my own pace and when I finally emerged from the lake as one of the last swimmers I didn't sweat it one bit.

Usually when I get ready for my bike portion I feel a sinking feeling of dread. Mostly because I still have not been able to embrace this particular discipline yet. Today I just accepted it and found that calm place I had during the swim. The volunteers at bike mount complimented my shoe/bike combo and I set out with a smile on my face. Soon enough though the weather took a turn and started to rain. I cried for a bit. I'm not exactly sure why I had just a visceral reaction but I guess I was worried that the race would get cancelled and I wouldn't get the redemption I so badly needed. I pedaled harder, hoping I could outrun the rain. It finally passed and breathed a sigh of relief.

The hills on this course are beyond disrespectful. I felt like there was never a time that I was just coasting flat on a straightaway. This was especially frustrating because it made fueling close to impossible for me. I am not yet skilled at eating while trying to climb hills or fly on the downhills. I was starving though so I did my best to take in as much as I could. I have to say that during the race, more than any other, I felt an overwhelming amount of support and encouragement from fellow participants. Almost every person who passed me in either direction offered cheers and smiles. I so badly wished I could be them, seemingly effortless riding along the course, but there I was struggling every inch of the way. I never even looked at my garmin, just kept on pedaling until I saw the bike dismount.

Heading out for my run I was overcome with emotion. I was so close to silencing that doubt still lurking in the depths of my heart. The awesome thing about that looped course was that I got to see SOOOO many people. Almost all of them strangers, but that day they were my family. Urging me forward, giving me hope and happiness as I trotted along the course. I wasn't particularly fast and I didn't care. I didn't need a PR, I needed a finish. There were a few moments when I would get overwhelmed with emotion and start to cry, not out of sadness, but out of thankfulness that I had forced myself to keep going. I had the grit and resilience to push back the darkness.

When I finally entered the finisher's chute I felt almost as excited as my very first finish line. It felt like I was starting over. A fresh new beginning. Claire met me at the finish line with her 2nd place plaque and directed me towards the food while she went to get my official results. She came back with a smile on her face as she showed me that I had earned 2nd place Athena. I've never podiumed before, so to do so at the race following a DNF...well, you can imagine how emotional it was for me. While it wasn't a 70.3 finish, it was redemption for me. It reaffirmed that I was enough. I am strong and capable and fierce.

We hung out at the finish line to watch Hannah cross, earning first place Athena for the half iron. For those of you keeping score, we are now up to 3 CRUSH Multisport awards. So many hugs and tears all around. But our day wasn't over, we had more teammates to bring in. Denise finished strong and was so happy to see all of our awards. When Meli crossed the finish line she earned 3rd place Athena for the half iron. This race was redemption for her as her first half iron finish. The excitement was palpable. We decided to get cleaned up, eat, and then wanted to come back for the midnight finish.

When we got back to the race site to watch the back of packers come in I kept feeling myself tear up. Hearing their stories and watching them come down the finish lines with their families was incredible. I wish I could bottle that emotion and keep it for rough days. We hear that there was one more competitor out on the course and they were worried he might not make the midnight cutoff. Hannah and I decided to try and find him on the course to cheer for him and bring him into the finish line. Even writing this I'm getting goosebumps all over again. People go out there and give everything they have for the chance to be called an ironman. Its incredible. I've never seen anything else like it. As he ran towards us we yelled and cheered as loud as we could. We gave him a time update and told him as long as he kept moving at that pace he would make the cut off then he took off. Being there for those last finishers was unlike anything I've ever experienced at a race and I urge all of you to do the same if you get the chance. There is something magical about the last hour of an ironman that can't be described. I'll have that glory myself some day and just the anticipation of that is enough to keep pushing me.

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 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**

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 ;)