elisariva

Seizing life's joys and challenges physically, mentally, and emotionally.


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New Beginnings

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Semisonic Closing Time

Semisonic released Closing Time in March of 1998 and on April 29, 1999 the song really hit a chord in my life. My new beginning began that day when I signed up to run my first marathon to raise funds for the Arthritis Foundation and run in Dublin, Ireland. Little did I know that day would change so much in my life. Endurance sports – specifically running and triathlon – became a huge part of my life. Over the past 17 years I have run 7 marathons, over 15 half marathons, countless 5K races and a few 10K races as well. In triathlon I have completed one full iron distance triathlon and came within 5 miles of another. I also completed 7 half iron distance triathlons, one half iron aqua-bike (swim and bike – no run), three olympic distance triathlons and many sprint triathlons.

This past March I shared that I have developed arthritis in my left foot. The disease that first brought me into running long distance is also the disease that took me out of it.  I took four months off of running early this year and slowly started running a mile to two miles up to three times a week. By mid June I signed up to run a charity 5K with friends. I figured I would see if I could finish – I knew I would not set a personal record, but it would be fun. And it was! And I finished!rftp

With a 5K under my belt without significant pain in my foot, I took on a challenge to race three sprint triathlons and one olympic relay where I swam the first leg this summer. I had a blast – I knew I wasn’t going to place in my age group since my run was not strong at all, so I decided to enjoy the process. Also racing with my friends made it so special.

In March I met with a foot and ankle sports orthopedic surgeon. It was my hope that I would be able to have some type of surgery to alleviate the pain in my foot so I could run. Unfortunately it is not possible. She told me that I was classified with moderate arthritis, not mild, and it is a matter of time before I would decide the pain is too great to run. Throughout summer I would occasionally feel pain as I ran or after, but it was tolerable. After the last triathlon I did in August I knew my running days have ended. By 2.5 miles into the run, the pain was terribly sharp and I was only running an 11:30 minute mile pace. I finished the race and my foot ached for a few days. It was time and I had almost six months to prepare myself for the reality.

My running beginning that began in 1999 had come to an end. I am exploring options to find my next new beginning. What had seemed as a terrible ending has now opened up time for me to expand my fitness horizons.

With the extra time I added yoga to my routine and cycled and swam more. Cycling is so fun! Road riding to me is the most thrilling, however it also involves the most risk. More and more motorist are hitting cyclists and the cyclist is always on the losing end. I also have a mountain bike that I need to take on actual mountain bike trails. I did ride it a bit on a towpath through the parks here in Northeast Ohio. So in addition to racing a few triathlons, I also participated in a few long course area cycling events as well as tool around on the mountain bike. Again – much fun and great exercise!

Yoga is something that I have done off and on over the past six years, however this year it became a regular part of my fitness program. I have benefited tremendously from it – stretching, strengthening and calming. Recently there was a public yoga event at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in downtown Cleveland. I went with a few friends – it was a truly fun and inspiring evening.

Over the years I have worked on my swim to the point I have gone from back of the pack to usually finishing in the top 20% out of the water. Since I am swimming more, I also want to challenge myself to participate in US Masters swim meets. My first was where my strength is – a mile open water swim in Lake Erie. It was a choppy day and I still did well and placed second in my age group.

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Almost  a year ago I registered for the inaugural Ironman Ohio 70.3 half iron distance race. Close to 100 members of the Cleveland Triathlon Club also registered. Not being able to race with my friends was difficult to accept, there was no way I could run 13.1 miles. I decided to volunteer at the race in the first transition and also cheer on the course. I have to say, volunteering is so much fun! I was able to be with my friends and cheer them on. Win win.

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This past weekend I capped off my racing season by racing in the Revolution 3 half iron distance aqua-bike. Aqua-bike races came to be when the demand to race came from triathletes who can no longer run – just like me. Rev3 does a fantastic job of organizing basically four races that take place at the same time. Both full iron and half iron distance triathlons and aqua-bikes. I was able to race along side my friends after all! One of my friends did the full distance triathlon and we stayed till he crossed the finish line. So I had the opportunity to race and then come back and cheer. Again – win win.

So here I am – my racing season is over and in the past I would be planning out what running races and triathlons are next. Not this time. My new beginning right now is exploring my options.  I enjoyed racing an aqua-bike race and I am sure I will do more. Swimming is still something I want to improve on and compete in a meet or two in a pool setting. I want to get stronger in cycling, but I do not have a desire to race road cycling. This fall I plan to get out on the mountain bike trails and overcome the fears I have of the sport. When the snow falls I want to ski downhill. I haven’t been on downhill skis since I was 16! Cross country skiing is something I have done in the past and I will get my skis out as well.

It is fitting to end this post with quoting the beginning of Closing Time. As I explore the options ahead of me, I am facing a new frontier – opening doors into the world.

Closing time. Open all the doors and let you out into the world.


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On the Horizon

Several times over the past few months I have thought it is time to write a new blog post. Every time, including now, I stop short because I just don’t want to address what I am dealing with. Today, however, I find myself on a four hour cross country flight. I could read, but the topic I am going to share keeps going through my mind. Blogging may be motivational to the reader, but at times it is cathartic to the writer. This post just may be a combination of motivation for you and cathartic for me. 

I have not run a mile or more since December 22nd. Anyone who has read my blog in the past knows I am not close to being a fast runner. But it is a passion of mine. Swimming is the sport I am most proficient at of the three – swimming, cycling and running. Have you ever heard of a swimmer’s high? Right. So when things get stressful, I run. When I want to take in the beauty around me, I run. After my iron distance triathlon in October, I took two weeks off from running while my body healed. By early November I was anxious to get back running. I started easy and then built up doing a few speed workouts. I had registered for the Houston half marathon in January and I wanted to get a good base. By mid November I started feeling a sharp pain in my left ankle. It is on the top inside, close to where I had hyperextended it a year earlier. Like most runners do, I ignored it.

The pain didn’t go away. It wasn’t constant but rather showed up after running several miles. I taped it for support – no help. So in mid December I went to see a sports chiropractor. Maybe a bone was out of place. After three weeks of adjustments, nothing changed. Then I went to see my general physician, maybe I had a stress fracture in my ankle. He sent me to a orthopedic foot specialist. I left the specialist’s office in an air cast. While walking in it was a bit cumbersome, I have to say the cast was incredibly comfortable. I wore it for two weeks leading up to an MRI. At this point I had canceled the Houston half marathon and the Shamrock marathon in Virginia Beach in mid March was looking questionable. I was okay with it. I wanted to get strong so I could participate in an half ironman in August and, yes I am a glutton for punishment, I registered for Ironman Maryland (again) in October.

When the orthopedic foot specialist came in the room to give me the results of the MRI I was prepared to hear the worst, which would be a stress fracture. But that wasn’t the worst. I didn’t have a stress fracture. He told me I have arthritis in my ankle. I have sprained my left ankle at least six, if not eight, times since I was a child. He said arthritis was inevitable. He didn’t spend much time with me though. He said if he were me he wouldn’t run, but he doesn’t run anyway. I was given a prescription for orthotics and told if the pain was too bad he could fuse my ankle. What? Not a chance. 

The next day I was on the phone with my general physician. He suggested going to a sports orthopedic doctor and got me in to see one of the best in town – the orthopedist for the Cleveland Browns. This appointment was much more helpful. The doctor examined my ankle, focused on exactly where I felt pain and went through my MRI screen by screen with me. He was looking at it for the first time and as he studied it he pointed to the screen and showed me why I have such sharp pain in one specific spot. I have developed a bone spur on the end of my tibia (main bone in the calf) and it is stabbing my talus (bone at top of the ankle). He looked at me standing and said I pronate significantly (leg and foot roll inward) and that, along with the cartilage deteriorating, had caused the spur to develop. 

What is the solution? He told me orthotics should help correct my pronation, pain management with NSAIDs, and he pointed out the elephant in the room – stop running and start cross training. I told him I was a triathlete and about all of the other training I do. Apparently even sports doctors are puzzled by all that triathletes do and question why not running is a problem. I will say he had a good poker face when I explained my weekly workout schedule. If I wanted to run and could tolerate the pain, he said it wouldn’t make my arthritis worse. I do run the risk of developing a stress fracture in my talus as a result of the spur hitting it while running. He also referred me to his colleague who is a sports orthopedic ankle specialist, a combination of the past two orthopedists I have seen. I knew that if I went to see her, we would be talking surgery. At that point I was not prepared to have surgery as I still wanted to do the two triathlons later this year.

That was January 26th. Since learning about this I have gone through several stages of the five stages of grief. I am past denial now. Denial and bargaining go hand in hand frequently. Oh and depression jumped in the mix now and then. After getting fitted for custom orthotics, I thought I could substitute the elliptical during the week for my week day “runs” and do a long walk/run on the weekend. That plan lasted a week and a half. Even the elliptical hurts at times from the movement and the spur. I would go through bouts of sadness (not lying, I still do) as I was forced to accept my limitations. Bargaining with myself as to what I could do to get to the starting lines of the races, I even considered cortisone shots before the races to mask the pain. 

Acceptance is where I am at now, although sadness rears its face occasionally. I am pulling out of both races. Just typing that sentence has brought tears to my eyes. Great, I am sitting on an airplane trying not to cry. Since I couldn’t go to Houston in January, I have a free ticket to use. Since I am not running a marathon later this month, I have vacation time to use. I decided to fly to San Francisco to visit my friend and go up to Napa Valley. We went together back in December of 2012. I blogged about it here. We are both celebrating big birthdays too. Since I am spilling my guts in this blog, I may as well get it all out there. I am going to turn 50 on Wednesday. My friend’s birthday was in January. Now it may be a little more clear why this has been so hard for me – I am getting old and falling apart! I say that in jest. A little. (At least I am not crying on a plane anymore.) 

I decided to meet with the sports ankle orthopedist. The appointment is scheduled for mid March. If removing the spur will help reduce the pain, I am going to consider surgery. The stabbing pain is beginning to show up during the day, outside of fitness. I am swimming and cycling much more, as well as increasing my weight lifting routine to strengthen bones since I am not running. I am also working with the lifeguard who taught me how to flip turn. Now he is helping me on the other strokes. I have freestyle down, but my butterfly, breast and back are terrible. Maybe I will compete in masters swim meets in the future. I am also considering aquabike races – the swim and bike leg of triathlon. As triathletes age and/or get injured, they still want to compete and aquabike races were born. I am beginning to turn the corner, or page if you will, to see the opportunities that lie ahead. Running took up a lot of my time, I haven’t gone skiing in decades – I may get back into it. Cross country as well as downhill. While the optimism is peeking through, I am not totally there yet. But like the sun at the earliest of dawn, I see it on the distant horizon.


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The Third Time is the Charm

I never intended to go just over seven months without writing, however life has been quite busy. All good too! The last I wrote I had decided not to do the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach. What ever was causing my heart to act weird (stress most likely) is gone and I also finished my kitchen renovation by May 1st. So what have I been up to? Triathlon training of course!

My season began with Eagleman 70.3 Half Ironman in June in Cambridge, Maryland. I chose that race because I also registered for Ironman Maryland scheduled for October 3rd. Eagleman takes place at the same venue and much of the course overlaps. The swim is in the Choptank River which flows to the Atlantic Ocean. The river is brackish – freshwater river meets saltwater ocean creating semi-salty water – aka brackish. The swim was too warm to be wetsuit legal so I swam in a skin suit. The swim went okay, I don’t mind the saltwater and even though it was choppy I had a respectable time compared to the field. The bike was flat – less than 200 feet gained over 56 miles. Great, right? Well there is also wind. In the end, it was a good bike time for me. One thing that was an issue – it was hot. When I got off the bike it was 89 degrees with 90 percent humidity. Before I got to mile two on the run I had to pull out. I kept getting asthma attacks that I could not keep under control. It was a humbling and frustrating experience. This was my first triathlon since Ironman Chattanooga, and readers know how that went.

I did not give up though. My doctor has me on Advair daily now and it has helped my exercise induced asthma tremendously. I did The Cleveland Triathlon Olympic distance triathlon in July to finally cross a finish line and build some confidence. I took third in my age group – out of six so it was legit! In August I did Steelhead 70.3 Half Ironman and finished with a PR on the course over last year. As my training continued with Ironman Maryland on the horizon, I gained confidence in my ability. I definitely was better prepared and the course suits my strengths better. That said, I still had to fight down the demons in my head about what went wrong at Chattanooga. As September wound down and I began to taper for the race two other forces were gaining strength. The noreaster was building along the east coast and hurricane Joaquin was gaining strength in the south Atlantic. Both were heading toward Maryland. And on September 30th so was I. I loaded my car with my bike and gear and drove from Cleveland to Maryland. When I was five hours into the drive with two hours to go my phone blew up with calls and texts from my friends who were going to meet me there the day before the race to cheer me on. The race was canceled due to the storm.

Time for a brief recap. My first attempt at completing an Ironman was in Chattanooga last year when I had covered 139.3 miles in 15 hours and 14 minute only to be pulled from the course at 10:50 PM because I was just short of the mile 21 cutoff point. (Remember it is a 144.6 course due to a long bike and a finish time less than 17 hours since it is later in the year). My second attempt was Ironman Maryland and the weather canceled the race. Was this ever going to happen??

I pulled off the highway and went into a Dunkin Donuts somewhere in East Maryland and pulled out my laptop. Ironman was saying that the race may be rescheduled for October 17th but it would not be confirmed until Tuesday October 6th. October 17th – all three of my friends who were going to be in Maryland for me could not make it that weekend. One was running the Columbus, Ohio marathon, one had a wedding to attend, and one had the biggest benefit of the year that night for the non-profit she works for. Where were many of my other friends going to be that day? Seven of my triathlon friends were already doing Beach2Battleship (B2B) iron distance triathlon in Wilmington, NC. All of the friends I did Chattanooga with were doing it plus four others. The only reason I didn’t register was I was determined to cross the finish line of an “Ironman” branded race. B2B is a 140.6 long course triathlon but not put on by World Triathlon Corporation the owner of the Ironman brand. Without any regrets I made the decision right there in Dunkin Donuts to register for B2B. There were 160 or so slots still open for the full with a cap of 800. If I was going to race on October 17th, I was going to do it with my friends.

And I did. The third time was the charm. I made it to Wilmington and I crossed the finish line! Of course nothing comes easy, especially with long course triathlon. The swim has become my best of the three sports. This swim was expected to be the fastest they have ever had. It is a point to point in the a channel adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean and wetsuit mandatory. We went off at high tide and the tide was flowing in our direction. What we didn’t expect was 10 to 15 mph winds from the north and we were swimming right into the wind. What the tide pushed forward the wind blew back at times. It was still a very fast swim. When I grabbed the ladder to get out of the water, I looked at my watch and it was 58 minutes. I wanted to check because I knew we had to get out of the wetsuits and run about 200 yards before crossing the time pad. Before I could even get on the dock my left calf seized up into the worst Charlie horse cramp I have ever had. No way – this was not going to stop me from finishing. I had two medics working on my calf to release the spasm before I could stand. It was sore, but I was able to go on. My official swim time was 1:01 and change. The bike was also flat with the wind blowing into us the first 50 miles. The tailwind on the back half helped but wasn’t quite enough to equal out the headwind. I wanted to do the bike between 7:15 and 7:30. I did 7:29 – I will take it. Then on to the run…

I had a plan to do an interval repeat of run 3.5 minutes then walk 30 seconds. It would keep me consistent and get me through. If all went as planned the marathon would take between 6 and 6:30. My calf didn’t like running. After the first 5 miles I knew if I was going to finish the race I was going to have to do the power mall walk. My calf was tightening up and I didn’t want another spasm to take me out. So I went into power walk mode. Walking a marathon is tough. I admire all who do it intentionally. There were a few times I just didn’t know if I could go on. Around mile 15 I saw one of my friends coming toward me. She was at mile 24. She stopped to hug me and could tell I was in a bad place. She told me she would be at the finish for me and then made me promise I would not quit and I would finish. I knew then I would for sure. B2B has a 17 hour time limit, and lets say I got my money’s worth of the race. I did the marathon in 7:35 – 6 minutes longer than my bike time. I crossed the finish line with an official time of 16:35:50. All seven of my friends had finished, showered, and were celebrating at the finish line when I crossed. One friend, the husband of one of my triathlon friends, is a great sport coming to the races supporting and cheering us on. His wife is also the fastest of the bunch. She finished six hours before me. The surprise and exhilaration I felt just past mile 24 is hard to put into words. I looked up and there he was taking my picture to text back to his wife at the finish line. He jumped in next to me and said “I am making sure you finish this f***ing race!” And he did. Running in jeans next to me too!

  On the bike.

 Start of the run, trying not to focus on the pain in my calf.

 My friends celebrating and waiting for me to finish.

Running in with my friend.
  My finish line moment!
 My friend on the left came in fifth woman overall! My friend on the right is the one who made me promise I would finish.

Celebratory hug.
The next morning I was so sore but felt so accomplished. I also had a nice surprise. The local paper did a piece on three women who had switched for various reasons from Ironman Maryland to B2B. I spoke to the reporter on my drive down and met him in person at one of the bike rest stops. He told me the article would be in the paper the next day. What I didn’t know was my picture was on the front page of the sports section!


It turns out Ironman Maryland did take place that day too. It was much colder than in Wilmington and the water there was rough. Ironman ended up cutting the swim short. The athletes who finished did not get to do the full 140.6 distance and the results are marked with asterisks that it was a short swim. My heart goes out to the athletes that toed the line at “Maryland 2.0”, the weather just did not cooperate this year for that race.

For me, Beach2Battleship was the third time and truly was the charm!


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Never Say Never?

I am just shy of four weeks out from my next marathon. Back in October the idea of running an early Spring marathon sounded good. With the cold and snow we have had in Northeast Ohio this winter, I am questioning what I was thinking!

Treadmill runs to me are fine in the winter – for week day speed workouts or tempo runs. A few weeks ago I did something I never thought I could do – I ran 16 miles on my treadmill. My mind was as strained as my body when I finished. It was snowing and single digit temperatures outside. I had to get the distance in. The treadmill was the lesser of two evils that day. Fortunately this past weekend I “only” had a 12 mile long run and the weather cooperated – it felt great to run outside. This weekend I have an 18 mile run. Right now the forecast calls for snow but temperatures close to 30, I hope to get it in outside.

After my treadmill 16 mile run I posted my experience on social media saying “Never say never – I just ran 16 miles on a treadmill.” The responses I got were interesting. Some comments were encouraging words, some commented given the conditions it was a good choice, a few commiserated that they too had put in treadmill runs that day, and one friend ran 16 on her treadmill too! One friend did say never – he would never run that long on a treadmill. That same friend has been able to ride 3 hours on his bike trainer – something I question I could do.

More often than not I do think “Never say never” is appropriate. The older (or shall I say more experienced?) I get, the more this is true. I said I would never do another marathon after my fifth one. This next one will be my eighth. Actually number 6 was a February marathon and I said I would never train for a marathon through winter again – so much for that idea. After my first half iron distance triathlon I said I would never do another long course triathlon again. I have now done six.

My experience with running and triathlon has taught me so much about myself – what I truly am capable of, what limits I can surpass, as well as how to listen more closely to my body. And my mind for that matter. I am competitive in the sense I compete against myself to improve. Qualifying for the Boston Marathon or winning my age group is something I never will do do not expect to do. There are a few challenges that I have doubts about right now – mountain biking for one. What the future holds remains to be seen. What I do know is saying it is impossible I will never do.


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Back to Blogging

While I may have taken a break from blogging, I haven’t taken a break from training. My experience at Chattanooga impacted me in many ways. It was disheartening, but it also strengthened my determination to improve on my abilities and possibly tackle the challenge again. So while I watch the big football game, I thought I would write and share what I have been up to the past four months.

On my drive home from Chattanooga I talked with my coach and discussed running a Spring marathon to work on my running. I chose the Shamrock Marathon in  Virginia Beach at the end of March. To test my progress I also registered for the Houston Half Marathon in January. Right before my training was to begin, I had mentioned to my coach that it had been a while since I had my VO2 max test done and thought of doing it again. I told him last time was in March of 2013 and it measured 55. I really didn’t know exactly what it indicated but I knew I ranked in the “very fit” category. My coach was quite surprised considering the pace I had been running. Apparently at that level I should be running much faster. Hmmm.

Running economy is where I must be lacking – as well as believing I am able. There is that word again – believe – a mantra I chose three years ago. I took the test again and it had dropped, but not by much – 47.5.  So my training began in mid November with a much more challenging plan to push me. Despite another mild ankle sprain and a terrible cold over Thanksgiving – and lots of snow – I have been running more than I have in a long time. It is tiring for sure, frustrating at times, and my toes are very angry with me. Thank goodness for dark colored toe nail polish!

I went to Houston a few weeks ago and ran the half marathon. A very dear friend lives there – who also happens to be a wicked fast runner. I stayed with her and her family and she paced with me the first two miles and last three of the race. It was a perfect day with temperatures ranging from 45-55 and sunny. Also the perfect flat course. I ran well and unfortunately missed a personal best by less than 3 minutes – an unavoidable potty break 5.5 miles in set me back. Yes, it happens..

My swimming has become my strongest sport. Go figure. For those who have read my blog since I started in 2012, you will know it was my worst and most challenging. I am thrilled with my progress and working on getting faster. Cycling – I need to work more on it. I will be honest. The plan right now is two workouts on the trainer a week until the marathon, then it will become more of a focus.

In addition to training, working, and family I have taken on a home improvement project. I am taking down walls to open up my kitchen and dining room creating my dream kitchen. It will take six to eight weeks (I hope not longer!) and I want to document the process. I have created a new blog to share the experience. If you are interested, I would like to invite you to follow the saga of my kitchen renovation at Making My Bitchin’ Kitchen. The title says it all, it will be – well – bitchin’ when it is finished! Getting it done will be a journey for sure.


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Ironman Chattanooga – An Experience That Helped Me Find My Bootstraps

Last year I signed up to participate in the inaugural Ironman Chattanooga, actually getting in was a feat in itself. Registration to the public filled in the first five minutes. I was one of the few who got in in time along with a few friends. For the past 8 months I trained along side three other friends who also were racing. Two of my friends got through registration in time and my swim partner has her pro card and registered with the other female pro triathletes. I began February first with my coaching group who prepared me well. Training was long and hard – make no doubt about it. I consider myself blessed to be surrounded by an amazing group of friends to train with and skilled coaches to lead the way. The experience was incredibly enhanced by sharing the ups, downs, frustrations and successes with truly outstanding friends. My coaches made it a very personalized program. No cookie cutter training plan at all – tweaks were made weekly if not daily as I trained and raced along the way. I put in the hours, meters, and miles to get me to the start in Chattanooga on September 28th.

IMChoo, as it is nicknamed, brought a few curve balls to the tradition of Ironman. Since its inception on the island of Oahu, an “Ironman” is made up of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run. The distances total 140.6 miles – hence the many bumper stickers you may see simply stating “140.6” in an oval. The race begins at 7:00 AM and the athletes have until midnight to finish – 17 hours in total. You cross the finish line to hear your name called out followed by “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) owns the Ironman brand. There are many “iron distance” races but only WTC claims the title of Ironman. A few weeks leading up to the race a few differences came to light. First – when we registered we agreed to a race of 16.5 hours, not the traditional 17 since it was later in the year and the sunrise is after 7 AM. I was in a hurry to get my registration complete in those first 5 minutes and must have missed that detail. Why the finish was not moved to 12:30, I do not know since it is just as dark then as it is at midnight, but that was the decision. The swim was scheduled to begin at 7:30 as a rolling start – so only the first in the water get the full 16.5 hours. Then another more critical issue arose. WTC was not able to get the authorization from all of the municipalities it needed to create the 112 mile bike course. Chattanooga is on the southern edge of Tennessee, the majority of the bike course went into the northern part of Georgia. In order to make the course work, it was 116 miles. Now it became a 144.6 mile course and 16.5 hours to finish. Quite a few athletes made issues on various social media sites. The week before the race the athletes were notified by WTC that the cutoff was extended to 12:15 to make up for the extra 4 miles. Now the athletes had from 16:45 to 16:05 to finish as WTC stated it should take approximately 40 minutes to get the athletes in the water.

With this being my first Ironman, I had anxiety going in. A longer course, shorter time, what did I get myself into? Then there was the weather forecast. The week and days leading up to race day the chance of rain would increase then back off. By race morning the chance of rain went from 60% down to practically no chance. One thing to help calm me – a little.

The morning of the race we learned the water temperature in the Tennessee River was 77 degrees. Wet suit legal cut off is 76.1. If I wanted to wear a wet suit I would have to go to the back of the line and be last in. My swim has become my strongest of the three and I had practiced the day before in a skin suit, which is legal, without a problem. The river current was strong and it was 2.4 miles down stream. I got in line probably in the first third of the line. There were 2,500 athletes so it was not easy to count where I was! One of my friends came to Tennessee to help out and she stayed with me in line as long as she could. She is an experienced triathlete and has done two Ironman races. Having her with me was such an encouragement. I was in the water at 7:39 – giving me 16:36 to make it to the finish line. I had a wonderful swim. I felt comfortable with my stroke, I could tell I was making good time, and I passed quite a few people. I exited the water in 59:55 – incredible, under an hour! My ability is good, but that current made my time great. In a still lake I would expect a time of 1:15 to 1:18. That is how fast the current was.

My first transition took me just over 15 minutes. I changed into actual bike shorts rather than wear a triathlon race short. The padding is thicker in bike shorts and comfort is key when cycling 116 miles. The bike is not my strongest but I had trained well on similar elevation gains as the race which gained approximately 4,300 feet in total. I use a power meter and my coach had gone over with me the power ranges to stay within. For the first 40 miles I was on target. The second 40 miles were a bit more challenging as the winds picked up just a bit and dark clouds began to move in. Then what was not forecast to happen, happened. Rain. Pouring rain and it became very cool for Chattanooga – about 63 degrees. So for the final 36 miles I rode in cold rain with wind. I came in to transition shivering with blue fingers, quivering lips and seriously doubting if I would be able to go on. As I went into transition I heard my two friends call out my name. I told them I didn’t think I could go on. I was soaking wet and cold. Then my friend who stayed in line with me that morning did an amazing thing. She literally gave me the shirt off her back and told me to get my ass out there and run. By the time I exited the second transition it was 5:13 PM. I had 7 hours and two minutes until 12:15 to finish.

The run began okay. The first 4 miles I was on plan with my pace. Then I began to get GI distress. Eating when I should was not easy. I was not taking in the calories I should have. I had been drinking an electrolyte mix during the bike and run, but as I realized later it was not as strong as it should have been. The water stops had Coke and I took advantage of it around mile 8 to help my stomach settle. Even then, I had difficulty swallowing food. By the halfway point I really was having a hard time stomaching food. I would chew and chew but couldn’t swallow. It was dark now on the course and the chicken broth came out at the stops. I could drink that. Not much in calories though. I kept an eye on the time. I was doing a run/walk combo. Around mile 19 two EMS guys stopped me to talk. They noticed my walk wasn’t the straitest. I wasn’t sweating much, but it was cool. They looked in my mouth and didn’t think I was dehydrated. I felt like my tongue was swollen and my speech reflected it. They asked me the typical questions – I knew my name, where I was, what I was doing. So they let me go. I was able to jog a bit and made it to the next stop around mile 20. Two more EMS guys approached me. I asked if the guys back a mile called them. One of the guys looked at me oddly and told me they were the same two people, they had driven behind me the entire mile. I was still standing and took in more chicken broth and went on.

As I went along the course from there I turned left to go up a steep hill, then turned right to be met by an official with WTC. She was stopping athletes and taking the timing chips off their ankles. She told me that at that point they were closing the course and not letting anyone beyond that point. It was 10:50 PM and at the 20.63 mile point. I had just over 5 miles to go. My watch race time was 15:14. I couldn’t believe it. I had covered 139.3 mile and it was over. The race was 16:45, I was 15:14 in, I had just over 5 miles to go. It was possible. But it didn’t happen.

My race watch at the end.

My race watch at the end.

It has been a week since the race. I have had time to process. In the 15 years I have been participating in running races and triathlons I had never DNF’d (did not finish) until this race. But I can still say I have never quit. They had to pull me from the course. Were there things I could have done to prevent it? Yes. I took way too long in transitions, there are things I could have done on the bike to improve my efficiency, and my nutrition was not optimal (in retrospect I think I had mild hyponatremia). I could blame the conditions. I could use the long course and short time as excuses. Nothing will change the outcome. I have built a strong base in my athletic ability. I have learned so much from the training experience as well as the race. My sister called me the day after the race and wasn’t surprised when I told her I want to do another Ironman next year. I still want to finish what I started. I know I can do it – I was out there over 15 hours and I basically covered the distance. I am going to pick myself up and go on. I found my bootstraps.


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My Most Meaningful Finisher’s Medal

Receiving a finisher’s medal has become very common lately. I have them from marathons, half iron distance triathlons, and even 5 mile races and sprint triathlons. On a wall in my guest room I have a row of teacup hooks cluttered with finisher’s medals. This past weekend I received another finisher’s medal and it is already hanging on one of the hooks – but it is by far my most meaningful medal.

Most readers familiar with this blog are aware I had a very challenging 2013 with a variety of health issues. Fortunately this year has been my comeback – I have stayed healthy and my training has gone very well. On Sunday June 1st I participated in Ironman Raleigh 70.3. This race was my fifth half iron distance, but first with the Ironman brand. Before I go into the race, I would like to share a few things leading up to it. First – while this was the first race with Ironman that I participated in, it was not the first time registering for an Ironman race. In 2002 I signed up for the inaugural Ironman Wisconsin – yes the full 140.6. I had also battled with bronchitis several times durning training. After finishing the Muncie Endurathon in July (which now is Ironman Muncie 70.3, but wasn’t at the time) my doctor, who also is a triathlete, strongly recommended pulling out of Wisconsin. My body was not recovering well and it could cause more damage. I followed doctor’s orders and pulled out of the race. Last year I registered for Ironman Syracuse 70.3 and with all of my health issues once again I pulled out. I try not to be superstitious, but I can not deny I had trepidations going into Raleigh – was this going to be the year I actually earned an Ironman brand finisher’s medal?

Second – my training leading up to this race was solid. My coaches prepared me very well. I am swimming faster than ever and my run has improved quite a bit as well. My bike is improving – gaining strength there after all I have been through is taking a while. I caught myself a few times when answering my friends’ questions of how did I think I would do in Raleigh. I wanted to say I am sure I would set a personal record – instead I would answer that I have it in me to PR barring any unexpected events.

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so intuitive.

I chose Raleigh for a race venue after a friendly challenge with fellow blogger IowaTriBob. We picked a race location we both could drive to and race. I also have family and friends in the area and knew it would be a fun weekend. On Saturday morning I went to the athlete meeting – the race is point to point with two transitions so I wanted to make sure any questions of logistics were answered. Sitting in the meeting I thought to myself that I finally made it, I was going to finish an Ironman sponsored race. After the meeting I drove my bike out to the lake to set it up at T1 (transition 1). I planned to ride a short ride to make sure all worked well and get my legs going. After a 9 hour drive down the day before, my back was tight and I also wanted to make sure it felt good. It did. Before setting up my bike, I went for a quick shakeout run. Jordan Lake was the swim venue and the access road leading to where transition was set up was narrow with no shoulder. Many triathletes were cycling and running along the road as cars, trucks, and SUVs drove in to set up as well. I ran along the left side of the road and a larger SUV was driving toward me – it became apparent the driver was not going to move over and I didn’t want to get hit by the side mirror – so I stepped a bit to the left and my left foot came down on the edge of the asphalt. I rolled my left ankle, scraped my right knee as I fell, and heard that noise I so dread – pop. I knew I sprained my ankle. The same ankle I sprained rather severely two years ago. This time it was much more mild, but it was still a sprain.

I called my coaches for advice, I texted and called friends for encouragement and prayers. In a snap – literally – my expectations changed from wanting to PR to wanting to finish. My coaches helped talk me through it – I decided to swim and ride for sure and see how I felt when it came time for the run. I could put full weight on the ankle so I knew I could stay upright without issue, how much pain I could tolerate was going to be the test.

Race day – since my perspective changed I was very calm. Just get through this was my focus. Fortunately the water temperature was 75.6 degrees – below the 76.1 cut off for wetsuits. My wetsuit helped me a lot. During my practice swim that morning I felt a little strain sometimes when I kicked. During the swim leg of the race I didn’t kick as strong as I had planned and the wetsuit compensated with buoyancy. My swim went incredibly well – I swam the 1.2 miles in 40:24. I had originally wanted to break 40 minutes but with little kicking, I was very pleased. I also was 32 out of 102 women in my wave. Top third!!

I took my time in transition. The plan was to wear full compression socks for added support on my ankle. Walking and not running, I got to my bike, dried off and put on the socks and my bike gear. The bike course was hilly – most of the time I didn’t feel any strain on my ankle. I know I was more cautious climbing the hills than I would have been had I not had the injury. After 56 miles I entered T2 about 20 minutes slower than I had hoped, but I made it through. Again – I took my time getting my run gear together. I needed the time not only to be gentle on my ankle but also on my mind. I was about to exit transition with a sprained ankle and attempt to run 13.1 miles. I left not knowing for sure if I was going to finish.

On the run I paced myself. The first mile went much better than I expected. I ran without much pain and would walk 15 seconds every several minutes. Just before mile 2 the pain became sharper. From mile 2 through mile 5 I came close to pulling out three times. I would do a pain assessment – it hurt but I asked myself how bad? With all I went through with my health problems last year, I experienced a lot of pain. So much that there actually was one day I was not sure if I would survive the day. But I did. That day taught me I can endure far more than I used to think. My ankle pain was probably a 1 on a scale of 10 with my past experience hitting a 9. I can run/walk through that level of pain. The run course was also very hilly and a double loop. At mile 6.5 I made the turn and knew two things – 1) I had 6.5 more miles of hills ahead to cover and 2) I was going to finish regardless of how long it took. I wanted the finisher’s medal. My coach had asked me the day before how important a finisher’s medal was to me – I told him I am not that big on medals, I have many. On race day with 6.5 miles left my perspective changed. That finisher’s medal represents accomplishing a very difficult race (even when injury free) and my triumph over not completing an Ironman event.

I crossed the finish line and was thrilled to have the finisher’s medal placed over my head. I cried. Instead of a PR, I was 48 seconds faster than Muncie – my slowest half iron triathlon. My fifth 70.3 – my true Half Ironman – was my second slowest and most meaningful. With prayer, encouragement, and trusting in my training – physical as well as mental – I accomplished something I had doubted was possible that morning. Yes, all things are possible.

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I Missed a Goal

Setting goals can be a tricky task – sometimes one goal can impact another. Which is what happened to me in March. My goal with this blog in 2014 is to write an update at least once a month on my training progress and all I am learning as I prepare for my first full Ironman triathlon. I missed March however. Why I missed writing is a result of all I am doing with training plans, work and staying healthy. (Yay!!) So my goal to train for the Ironman impeded my goal to write about it. It is April 1st and I have a few things I am excited to share.

My experience with my coaching group continues to exceed my expectations. I have three swim workouts a week with one that is focused on building my speed and endurance for my first triathlon race this year, Raleigh 70.3 Half Ironman. I am seeing my progress and I surprise myself at my times. Once it was a dream to consistently hold 2:04 per 100 meters. Currently I am holding 1:55 and I would like to improve on that too.

On the bike I have been training so far exclusively on my Computrainer. It is hard. Very hard. However I can tell I am getting stronger. The real test will come in a few days when I get outside and tackle the hills I have feared for a while. Today is a beautiful day and I will be running outside. Hopefully I will have my bike on the road within the week. My coach sets my workouts based on power levels. Honestly – we haven’t even talked about speed yet. Developing power and sustaining target levels is key – the speed will follow. Fortunately I have a power meter on my tri bike so when I get off the trainer I can continue to monitor my progress.

I did run one five mile race in March. It was not a PR. Miles 3 and 4 were challenging with hills and my 5 mile PR race was run last year on a much flatter course. What I am very pleased with is the race I ran in March I ran the three fastest mile splits in any five mile race I have run. Since the hills got me, my coach has me running a challenging hill workout once every week right now on a treadmill. I am seeing improvements already. There are plenty of hills where I live so I am sure I will test out my progress soon.

Beyond workouts, staying healthy is essential to a training plan. Recently I bought a gadget that has helped me far more than I ever expected. I have shared here before that I use myfitnesspal.com to track my eating and exercise. Teaming with it I now wear a fitness tracker. There are several on the market and I have only used one – the Jawbone UP24. These trackers are first targeted to the mainstream market to help them monitor steps, diet, and sleep. I do not rely on it when I workout to track my distances, my Garmin Forerunner 910XT is far better in that area. Where my UP24 band is most helpful is in reminding me to move during the day in my desk bound job and monitoring my sleep. There is much I want to share, however this post would become so long most readers would give up. Instead, I am setting a new goal for April – post weekly (I hope!) and share more about my experience with the Jawbone UP24 as well as my training.

I continue to learn – especially how precious each day is. I am so grateful to be feeling well again. Enjoying life is essential, not every moment is wonderful but it is a moment I am given to make the most of. As a result, a short term goal here or there may be delayed. It is the quality of the days that matter, not the quantity of things accomplished.


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Spring is Near

It is the last day of February and the Spring equinox is twenty days away. This marks the first day of Spring and the turning point when day light hours will begin to exceed night time. As I write, Northeast Ohio is expecting another winter storm this weekend with a total accumulation of up to twelve additional inches of snow with temperatures in single digits at times – courtesy of the Polar Vortex. It is times like this that optimism, patience, and mental toughness are necessary. These dark and cold days will eventually pass and it will warm up to Spring.

Today also marks the end of my first four weeks of training for my 2014 triathlon season.   I began the program knowing I had quite a way to go to first to regain my strength and endurance as well as significantly build on that base to finish two half iron triathlons and a full Ironman triathlon this year. Like the long drawn out winter, I am finding I need to be optimistic, patient, and have mental toughness to believe I will see the training pay off. So in order of the sports – here is how February has gone –

The swim. Early this month I had a swim session with Ed, one of my coaches. He watched me swim and identified a few areas I need to work on. The biggest improvement I will benefit from is on my stroke. My left arm has very good form but my right arm falls short. It didn’t take long for me to feel the difference when I focused on proper form. Three years ago I strained the muscles in my right shoulder blade area in yoga and the lasting effects have left the area weakened. Many of my swims now include drill work and strengthening exercises. I am seeing improvements in my times even though I am working through the pain of strengthening my shoulder. I also met with Heidi and she gave me a workout plan to help strengthen my core and my back/shoulder area.

The bike. I bought a Computrainer in anticipation of cycling inside through the winter. It is far more than a bike trainer – with computer integration, it simulates a multitude of courses. It is very cool, but fun is not a word I would use to describe it. Training is tough, painful at times, and exhausting. My coach Mark reminds me often that is tough and frankly requires an aspect of suffering to get stronger. I am learning that quickly. I did one workout where I had to increase my watts (power) on the bike in three 10 minute intervals with a 3 minute recovery. The third round when I hit the high end of the power I literally felt like I was hauling a horse behind me. That round only lasted five minutes – I am determined to make it through the entire 10 minutes eventually. I am feeling the pains of the strengthening process, especially when I walk upstairs.

The run. I am a detail junkie and I love gadgets to help me gather the details. One handy tool I use is a foot pod to go along with my Garmin Forerunner 910XT watch. It is worn on my running shoe and wirelessly communicates to my watch. With proper calibration it calculates the distance I run on the treadmill as well as counts my steps per minute. A drill I have been given when running fast is to count foot strikes on one foot in a minute with the goal of 95. When I am running fast that is possible to achieve. After looking at my data from the foot pod, my coaches noticed that when I run an easy pace I am loping – running with a long stride for anywhere from 78 to 82 steps a minute on one foot. Loping may work for a horse, but for a runner it is better to be over 90 steps – easy pace or fast. Once I get this down, Mark thinks I could easily shave a minute off my mile time. It is going to take work and won’t come easy.

February has been a tough month, but a very good month. I feel great, the only pain I have is from muscle strain due to training, and I am seeing subtle improvements. So I am optimistic my training will pay off, patient that improvement will come in time, and I am working on my mental toughness which is not only necessary to get through tough workouts but also challenging races. The snow will melt eventually and the weather will warm up – Spring will arrive one day. And I will be able to swim, bike and run outside surrounded by sunshine.


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Year of the Horse

Today January 31,2014 marks the first day of the Chinese New Year, the year of the Horse. As many of you reading know, last year was not my best year by far. After doing a little research I have learned I was born in the year of the Horse as well. (Since it is a 12 year cycle, that would make me either 36 or 48 on my birthday this March…) I have a feeling this just may be a great year. In December the cause of my pain was identified and earlier this month I was able to “get it taken care of.” I am happy to report I feel great and I am working on gaining my strength back.

Here is what I learned about the Chinese view about the year of the Horse:

“The spirit of the horse is recognized to be the Chinese people’s ethos – making unremitting efforts to improve themselves. It is energetic, bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able. Ancient people liked to designate an able person as ‘Qianli Ma’, a horse that covers a thousand li a day (one li equals 500 meters).”

Seriously – how awesome is that description?!? The horse’s spirit is the ethos of the Chinese people – the character used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a nation. I definitely want to dedicate the year to improving myself while being “bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and ABLE.” As for covering a thousand li a day – that is 310.7 miles! I will in spirit with my big goal of 140.6 miles literally covered on September 28, 2014 at Ironman Chattanooga.

As for my training plan for the Ironman, I toyed with several options from a book plan to online coaching to one on one coaching. After much consideration I found the path and it is one on three coaching – where I am the one. GoFast Endurance Coaching is the result of three great athlete/coaches here in Northeast Ohio that want to not only coach athletes, but see them go faster. Go figure – great concept. Also, I know athletes who work with them and I am by far the slowest, so I am on board with going faster. I will still work with Heidi on strength training, especially core work.

For the first time in almost a year when asked how I am, the answer “great” rolls off my tongue and I mean it. I actually had forgotten how good feeling good feels! Sure there may be problems along the road, hopefully minor, as well as successes to build on, hopefully lots of those. (I can’t take credit for that last phrase, my coach Mark used it in an email!) My building phase of training begins Monday and I plan on blogging about my journey to the finish line in Chattanooga. I am excited for what lies ahead.

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