Monday, March 3, 2014

The Newest Popularity Contest?

When I got involved in multisport 8 years ago, the thing that made me fall in love with the sport was the people and spirit behind the competition. My first triathlon, a sprint, brought me to absolute tears on the 5k run because I hurt and I knew I was going so slow, and it was so much harder than I thought it was going to be. After the turnaround at the half way point, I saw all of these people that were behind me in the race. And yet, as soon as they saw the tears in my eyes, so many yelled to cheer me on and encourage me to finish. People that I was beating! I couldn't believe it. Since then, I remember that day and tell that story because it represents what I believe is the true spirit of triathlon.

I, like many newbies, was often overwhelmed at all the choices involved with getting started in triathlon. Bikes, accessories, training spots, coaches, training theories, clubs, bike shops... the list can go on and on. And sometimes, unfortunately, your choices will determine your place in the triathlon community of your town. It's like rooting for sports teams from opposites sides of the tracks. What races we choose to do, what uniform we decide to wear, and the people we choose to ride with all of a sudden place these dividers in the community. Even on race day, it becomes us vs. them. Now, I am all for some friendly competition. It is in fact part of the reason we do this. However, let's be serious, 99.9% of us are not pros, and probably never going to be. We do this for fun, to better ourselves, to teach our children about living a healthy lifestyle, and to push ourselves to be the best that we can be.

I am saddened lately by all the things I have been seeing that do nothing to contribute to the spirit of the sport, but instead create cliques that I haven't seen since high school. A new event in Atlanta has encouraged this child-like behavior. The new Gear and Glimmer event which is "Part cocktail party; part multisport awards & fashion show" is one more opportunity for a popularity contest. I will give credit that the $45 ticket for entry partially goes to charity. However, if that is the point, there are much better ways to raise a lot more money. The event is supposed to take the place of the SEE-ME (Southeast Endurance and Multisport Expo) which brought together various training clubs, stores, event management companies, etc. Pretty much anyone that wanted to set up a tent, could. It was a great place for newbies and anyone else to get info on upcoming races, new products, and converse with like-minded people, for about $5. Now, we have a new socialite event that pins groups against groups, athletes against athletes. The way to win the awards that they are offering? By how many "likes" you get.

I try to stay pretty apolitical so that I can remain neutral in this sport that I just like to enjoy participating in. But I have to speak my mind on this one as I feel we are going down a very slippery slope. While I congratulate all those nominated for awards, I'm sure there are plenty of others that worthy of awards that are not listed here. And sadly, there's not even any kind of sportsmanship award to honor the most important factor of all this. The one who's out there cheering til the very last finisher; the one that gives his bike to another that's broken down; and all the other stories of inspiring individuals. So, until this model for recognition is changed, I will keep my $45, and continue to support anyone that deserves it, on course and off. I hope at least some of you will join me in attempting to redirect the course of this triathlon community back to that thing I found so unique, intriguing, and magical when I started.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Thoughts From a USAT Official...

I'm coming up on 3 years as a USAT Official.  For anyone that doesn't know what that means, I'll briefly explain. Individuals can go through training provided by USA Triathlon to become an official, a referee if you will, for triathlon (and other multisport) events.  The officials are the people you often see in transition or out on course wearing a red or black and white stripe (denotes head referee) shirt and a badge.  We are the ones that hand out the penalties everyone is so fond of.  More information can be found here if you're interested.  Since it's the start to a new season, I thought I might share some thoughts and reminders with everyone.  And maybe some info will be helpful, and maybe some will make you laugh, and maybe some will make you think.

First off, we (USAT Officials) do not work for the race director.  The race directors hire certified officials as independent contractors.  It's the best way to maintain the integrity of the rules that all USAT sanctioned races must abide by.  These rules ensure a fair and safe event for all.  Though we are hired, we are pretty close to volunteers.  We do not do this job for the money, and certainly not for the recognition (I can vouch that it's typically a negative recognition, if any).  We do it because we love this sport!  And hope that we can keep the participants safe and everyone can enjoy a fair race.  Personally, I hate giving out penalties.  But, I try to think of it as teaching.  Maybe that person didn't know the rule and at least they have this opportunity to learn before it's a race that’s even more important to them.

Much like the set up crew and volunteers, we arrive before transition opens.  That means sometimes arriving to the race at 4:30am.  Yes, I have had 2:30am wake up calls.  And we stay until the awards ceremony. That's a long day for any race, but particularly long when you're working a half or full iron distance race.  And for the Head Ref, the hours put into a race go far beyond that of race day.  We are working with the race director weeks prior to race day, and we are filling out reports and communicating with athletes long after the day is over. We battle the cold/heat, rain/snow, and sometimes just deplorable conditions…
Warning on hotel card key

Shower stall in my hotel

 I'm not looking for sympathy here, far from.  I still go out to races with my referee gear on and look at all the anxious athletes and really feel for them.  Especially when something is not going their way.  The point of all this is hopefully to have some people read it and realize we are not power-hungry, unfeeling robots out there.  We get absolutely NO "reward" for giving penalties.  Actually, it makes more work.  We don't have contests to see who can hand out the most drafting calls in a day.  If anything, I cringe when I see people breaking rules because 99% of the time, they are surprised to find out they got a penalty.  Which leads me to my next point...

KNOW THE RULES! It is your job as a participant to know what you are allowed and not allowed to do before, during, and after the race.  I'm not going to list them all here, but you can read all about it before your next race here.  You can also click on the "Most Common Rule Violations" tab for a quick reminder if you need. For safety reasons and in hopes of not disqualifying as many people this year, I'd like to remind everyone of a couple things:

  1. Chin straps must be buckled at all times when on a bicycle. THIS INCLUDES TRANSITION!  The penalty is disqualification!
  2.  Headphones are not allowed anywhere on course!
  3.  Arguing with an official can easily lead to Unsportsman-like Conduct, with a penalty of disqualification.  You are always welcome to ask questions about your penalty, however, I would suggest addressing the official similar to how you would address a judge in court (without the "Your Honor" part).  Simply, be respectful.
  4.  Drafting: This is a zone 7 meters (~22 ft.) long and 2 meters (~6.5 ft.) wide.  That means, stay out of the zone of any other competitor!  This would include riding side by side.  Do not get that close to the cyclist in front of you unless you can pass them in 15 seconds.

There is so much more, but I'm not trying to bore everyone here.  Just hoping that everyone realizes we are just people too.  We have families, most of us are athletes ourselves, and we are not out to get anyone.  And it's often a physically and mentally draining job. So come say hello, ask your questions, maybe even say thanks.  It's not exactly a glamorous job, even though I do make those khakis and stripe shirt look pretty good.  And everyone loves a chick in a motorcycle helmet, right?

See you on the race course, athletes!  Have an enjoyable and safe 2014 tri season!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Past and Future

Ah, a new year!  We all have our memories, resolutions, goals, and renewed spirit. I wanted to take a minute slow down and look at the last year, how it was exactly NOT what I had in mind, but more importantly how I somehow managed to turn it all into something great.  Not because I'm just that awesome, but more so because sometimes you don't have too many other choices.

2013 started off ok, a new great job, a new beautiful apartment.  It was supposed to be the year of JVO.  Finally after, a long time of a lot of crappy things happening, it was going to be my turn for some good things. As the year progressed, those two things wound up being the highlight of my year.  I had signed up for my second Ironman and had some hefty goals for it. I had an urge in my body to better.  And I spent 9 months making sure that would be the outcome.  I only raced two other times that year, one olympic and one half.  Both turned out to be about the worst races I've ever had.  On the bike course of the half, I had felt for the first time that I seriously wanted to quit.  I wanted so badly to walk away from that race and forget it.  But I somehow came back to transition and found my way into my run shoes.  It was not a pretty race, and I'd still like to mostly forget about it, but as I made my way onto the run course and eventually to the finish line, I think I was creating a better version of myself.  And little did I know that I would need that experience to get me through a situation that would be 10x tougher just 12 weeks later.

As anyone that has seen this blog knows, that day was one of the toughest of my life.  I am STILL wondering what the hell happened! All I know is that I am no longer the same person as I was when woke up December 1, 2013.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

I spent the few weeks after that race decompressing and thinking.  About EVERYTHING. The big things like where I want to live, what kind of job would I really love to have, but also the day to day things like should I cut my hair.  And somewhere in between, I thought a lot about triathlon.  The one thing in my life that I have not gotten bored of or given up on.  What was my next year going to look like? I was seriously afraid to even plan anything as my last plan did not work out at all, and that's always a little depressing.  I wasn't sure if I could handle being so disappointed again.

As the new year approached, I'm not sure how many decision I had actually made. But I did decided to apply for the SOAS Racing Ambassador Team which was actually something I had been hoping to be part of for a long time.  I thought I might leave my 2014 triathlon season up to the universe and wait to see what the outcome of that application would be before I made any big decisions. Last night, I received the email.  I was selected for the team.  I say it calmly now, but I pretty much jumped off the couch, screamed and called 5 people to share the news. I guess the universe doesn't want me to take a step back from racing just yet. 

So with a changed perspective on not just racing, but my life, I'm finalizing a pretty full schedule for 2014.  In addition to racing more than I have ever raced, I will also continue to officiate for USAT, as it has become something very important to me and I look forward to moving up to a CAT 2 official this year (and maybe even have the opportunity to give some pros some penalties).  I will also be expanding my triathlon world even more by becoming involved in race set up, management, and timing.

I am a big believer in giving back in whatever way you can.  Sometimes it's volunteering at a race, sometimes it's cheering on the last one in, and lots of times that means going out into the real world and helping those that need it.  I truly believe that even if you can't/don't see some immediate "karma" in return for your good doing, it does really make you see the world differently, and changes you for the better.  I had the opportunity to deliver meals for Project Open Hand here in Atlanta ( on New Year's Day, and it was the perfect way to start this year.  It of course makes you appreciate all that you have, but it also helps you to see the human side of people.  And that is something you can take with you forever in every aspect of life.

So, for 2014, I will get over my fear and make some new goals.  I will spend each week doing things I hate like getting up at 5am, in order to make those goals realities.  But more importantly, I want to keep trying to be better in every way I can. A better athlete, a better member of society, a better dog mom (Kaydence might be getting a yard).  Of course, some things are yet to be decided because sometimes you need to just go with the flow. One more thing that all that crappy stuff has taught me I guess. I saw a great sign I need to get that is just what I've been thinking lately...

Barn Wood Signs

I still don't know who I am. Because I have yet to see everything I can do.  So here's to 2104.  May the year not bring you everything you want, but instead give you things you didn't know you needed.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Single Triathlete

Sometimes when you choose to do what you love, you inadvertently choose to be single as well.  I’m sure this holds true for many people; those with a profession that requires them to travel a lot, or takes up so much of their life.  Journalists, Doctors, CEO’s have probably had this problem since the beginning of time.  But amateur triathletes?  It’s just a hobby, right?  We have a saying in the triathlon world, “it’s not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle”.  Maybe I didn’t really understand that until I started training for my first Full-Iron Distance race.  For those that do one, and love it, it will without a doubt be a love in their life that everyone new will have to contend with.

As many of us know, it is extremely time consuming as far as hobbies go.  In addition to the time actually spent training, there’s drive time, gear packing and unpacking, and of course eating and sleeping.  But it’s not just about the shortage of time.  For anyone that has triathlon as a part of their life, it becomes something that you love, just as you would love a pet.  Would anyone that is a huge dog lover really want to be with someone that didn’t really care for dogs?  Probably not and no one would blame them.

As a single 30 something living in a major city, and having just finished my second full-iron distance race, I find it is becoming more and more difficult to fit this tri thing into my dating life.  Or maybe that should be, fit this dating thing into my tri life. I recently tried an online dating site where I described my hobby, as just that, nothing more.  Someone seemingly interesting contacted me and we began talking.  He did various trail running events, but more so as the true definition of a hobby.  But after two dates, numerous draw drops on his end when I mention anything about my training, and far too many times of biting my tongue so as to not sound too “crazy”, I may have to give up on the non-triathlete single men.  Maybe I knew this all along, but given the seemingly small pool of single men in town, I didn’t want to limit myself anymore by automatically eliminating 95% of what I like to call “potentials”.

I’ll be honest, I think my laziness may be partially to blame for this attitude.  At the end of a long training session, I don’t want to have to explain to someone why the aero position is better for triathletes, what an LT test is, or heaven forbid share that everyone pees in their wetsuit on the swim, or how much my bike costs.  There are certain things that we as triathletes will have to accept, one of those being that the vast majority of the population will never get this lifestyle (and they probably don’t want to).

When you’re in love with triathlon, you want to share that love with someone that understands.  If they can’t understand it, how will they ever understand me? So it seems I may have to make the choice to be alone to enjoy doing what I love.  I may be single forever, but at least I’ll be living life happily… in my peed in wetsuit, on my way too expensive bike, or my in my running shoes that get more mileage than my car these days.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ironman Cozumel - One Step at a Time

I arrived in Cozumel on Thursday, a week after learning I would have no roommate and be racing an Ironman with zero support on site.  The flight, shuttle, and ferry went smoothly and so I was in good spirits.  Friday arrived and I was excited to pick up my bike.  It had been two weeks since I’d seen her.  Dan warned me that the wheels he let me borrow would be flat, so I found a pump after Tri-bike Transport put my pedals on.  This is about where my luck ended for the weekend.  The rear tubular would not hold any air.  After inspection by three of their mechanics, it seemed the valve had separated from the tire and needed to be replaced.  Knowing nothing about tubulars and not speaking Spanish, this quickly became a major problem.  I spent that afternoon frustrated, looking for a solution.  At 5pm I found a 3rd mechanic that was able to replace the tire for a reasonable price.  To add to my problems, I discovered my phone was not charging.  So being alone in Mexico became extremely lonely.  Only very minor, brief communication was possible the rest of the trip.

Saturday morning came and for the second time, the practice swim was cancelled due to the rough waters.  This added to my nervousness.  I headed out on a practice ride finally and got caught in another downpour.  I returned to the hotel drenched from head to toe.  My bag check time was in two hours, so I wrung out my things and packed my bike and run bags.  I left my bike shoes in the sun in hopes of drying them slightly before they had to sit in a plastic bag overnight.  3pm came and I grabbed the bus to transition.  I got marked and said good bye to Cenicienta and planned where to eat my early dinner.

Race morning arrived and I felt surprisingly good.  My biggest fear, the turbulent waters of the swim, had been minimized by a shortened course.  The sun was shining and I was ready to rock it. Five minutes to start I swam out to the start line and surrounded myself with crazed athletes.  I held my own with a few elbows and lots of kicking and exited the water feeling good.  I was actually really looking forward to a long beautiful bike ride.  I grabbed my bag, headed to the change tent and dumped out my bike gear.  After about a minute I realized something was missing.  It quickly came back to me; they were sitting in a chair in the sun drying out from yesterday’s rain.  I screamed at the top of my lungs.  Quickly, a volunteer came over to me.  I explained, and one of them offered me her size 5 sneakers.  While appreciative, my size 8 feet said no thank you.  Tears started running down my face as I thought about all the work I put into this one day, just to have to walk away with a DNF because of my own stupidity.  I finally got up and slowly walked to my bike hoping I would come up with some great idea.  Nothing came to me but to ride as is and see how far I’d get.  I had no expectation of finishing but I thought maybe I could get one loop in and see the course everyone told me was so beautiful.

The first few miles felt completely tolerable and I actually thought, maybe this won’t be too bad.  That didn't last long.  About 20 miles in, as I began to feel the 25 mph headwinds on the eastern coast, I began to feel every push of the pedal.  I had to find something to put under my foot if I were even going to make the first 38 mile loop.  I stopped at the next aid station and pulled off two pieces of cardboard from a box holding water bottles.  As I was about to ride off with the two pieces resting on the pedals under my feet, the mechanic came over with some electrical tape. Savior!  Those two pieces of cardboard got me through another 30 miles.  One of the things you don’t think of until you’re in the situation is that without shoes, one’s saddle winds up being about an inch too high.  So not only is difficult to pedal, it’s even more difficult to pedal in aero.  Little did I know when I headed out of T1 without shoes the chain reaction that it would cause.  

Feet raw and bruised, leg muscles exhausted because they are not normally used in regular cycling position, a shortage of calories due to the almost constant upright position and general concentration needed to turn over every single pedal stroke, and the difficulty of simply moving myself forward because of the sail my body had become.  After two laps, it was encouraging to think just one more.  Of course, it was that last loop that brought me to tears.  Pain, frustration, and fear of not making the cut-off…it all began to weigh on my emotions.  As the last few miles drew near, yet another person pointed out that I had no shoes.  It took all my strength to not jump off my bike and beat him with it.  But when he told me the time and I knew I was going to make the bike cut off, I smiled and finished the hardest bike ride I’d ever done.  I handed my bike to the volunteer, made my way to the change tent, sat down and cried.  I had no intention of running and I knew no one would blame me.  I asked for some food and water and thought for a long time.  I tried to calculate what pace I would need in order to finish before midnight.  And then I thought about how much my feet already hurt and questioned my own sanity for thinking I could run a full marathon in that state.  After about 15 minutes in transition, I thought about one of my favorite quotes. The same thought that got me to the start line at the Xterra race earlier this year.   And the same quote that got me out on the run course at the Nashvegas Half. “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying”. 

So I finished putting on my run gear and headed out into the pouring rain.  With my first ten steps, my feet were soaked.  What a way to start a marathon.  The three out and back loops made the mileage a little easier to digest.  It was just over four miles to the turnaround, so that was all I thought about.  I took a gel, had some water, and jogged my way to the first timing mat.  As I crossed, I thought about the people that I knew were watching and waiting for an update online.  I hoped that they saw the first run split and had a little less worry. I approached the turnaround to start my second loop and only had to walk about 1-2 minutes thus far, so I was in good spirits.  As an added bonus, a friend I hadn’t seen in five years showed up to cheer me on.  Not sure I’ve ever been so happy to see a familiar face. I crossed the mat and walked with my friend for a minute as I took another gel.  I told him I’d be back in about an hour and 20 minutes. That turned out to be a big fat lie.

I started my slow jog on to the half-way point.  As the miles added up, my energy faded. I made it to the half way with a bit more walking and the pain creeping up on me.  At mile 15, I felt a dizziness coming over me.  I noticed that I was not running in a straight line anymore.  I switched to a walk again and looked around for any officials that might take notice to my unsteady state.  I realized I should probably take a minute and try to get some more calories.  I found a granola bar and some pepsi and sat on the curb for 15 minutes trying to get myself together.  By that point there was no way in hell I was going to give up or let someone pull me off the course.  As the sugar energized my body, I made my way to the end of the second lap. While it was a little invigorating to run past the finish line, it was also sheer torture.  I still had almost 9 miles to run.

At the turn, I saw a man talking with his wife as they said “see you at the finish”. I confirmed it was his last lap and suggested we walk/run together as I was starting to lose it.  We shared a similar pace and even pushed each other to run a kilometer here and there. Without that conversation for the last 9 miles, I’m not sure I would have made it.  As I thought my feet were bleeding through my shoes, he announced we had 10k to go.  10k!  I can do 10k!  At that point, we had an hour and 40 minutes before midnight.  It sounded like plenty of time but I think I may have overestimated the pace at which we were actually moving.  No more breaks, just forward progress. The last kilometer we said goodbye and I “ran” toward the voices of Michael Lovato and Steve Trew.  As I made the turn to the finish shoot, I’m pretty sure I handed my hydration belt to Steve Trew (I thought it was a volunteer standing there). I saw the lights and the people cheering but my ears went deaf.  All I could think was how I couldn’t believe I was really finally there.  I made it through one of the hardest days of my life, without taking the easy route. I could barely run but I tried to lift each foot of the ground so as to not be walking across the finish. I don’t know if it was anything more than a shuffle, but it took all my strength. I did it. I overcame insurmountable odds that day and I knew it.

The rest of the night is a bit of a blur.  They gave me some food and pepsi and took my picture. I grabbed my post-race bag and treated myself to a cab for the 3 blocks back to the hotel. A solid six hours of sleep and I was ready to face the day.  And eat.  I ran into some new made friends at breakfast and we shared our stories of the day before.  It was so great to hear about everyone’s accomplishments.  Of course, I soon became the girl that rode barefoot.  When I returned to my room and started to attempt to get online, I began to see the outpouring of support from my friends and family that had been watching me all day Sunday.  It began to occur to me that somehow everyone knew what had happened. And instead of people laughing at my forgetfulness, like I thought they would, they cheered and called me a rock star.  Holy cow. What an indescribable feeling. I tried to respond some and share a bit of the story, but I couldn’t even keep up.

I spent the rest of the week following up on emails, texts, and facebook and twitter notes. I also spent the rest of the week replaying the day in my mind and wondering what the hell made me keep going.  I still don’t know.  If someone asked me prior to the race what I would have done in that situation, I would have bet $1,000 I would have quit. As much as I would love to think I was just super strong willed, in reality it was just living in the moment.  Taking everything one step at a time and not looking at the end, but only at the next step in front of me. In triathlon, as in life, sometimes all we can or should do is look at how to put one foot in front of the other.  Not always at how to finish the marathon. And somehow we still get there and maybe even enjoy each moment along the way.