Monday, August 3, 2015

God's Blessings from Above

Ironman Lake Placid 2015 could not have gone like it did without God's help from above.  I cannot imagine not giving Him credit when He is due so much of it.  I look back and "everything happens for a reason" comes to mind.  I could not have asked for a better experience for an Ironman, especially my first one!

First, my schedule is awful as it is.  Definitely not conducive to a training life with rotating days every month and work 5pm to 3am 4 days per week.  I was always worried about getting mandatoried to work and possibly missing a workout.  I knew every workout was key in order to ensure my meeting my goal of a 15 hour finish (which was nearly met with a 15:21:15 finish!) But I managed to make it to Ironman without missing too many workouts

Then I was upset that my schedule rotated back my last week of work before Ironman.  This meant only 2 days off before going back to work for my last week before Ironman.  Then it clicked, this meant that I had an extra day off before Ironman.  Shoving my schedule back one day meant that freed another day up on the end of that week!  (Amazing how that worked!)

While training for Ironman I was in a wedding on June 12th.  I was unable to make the wedding shower and the bachelorette party because work would not let me take the time off.  Then there's the rehearsal dinner and the wedding itself.  I was supposed to have some longer workouts that weekend, but in order to balance life and Ironman training, I switched my schedule around, moved a few things and made it all work.  In the end, I still crossed the finish line.  I would not trade being in my best friend's wedding for the world!  I'm just saying that it was something that I had to schedule my trainings around.

During this time I also was planning a wedding of my own!  We looking at October 2015, but then realized it was just too much so we decided on April 2016.  But that still means we need to get things rolling.  A little over 8 months out now and things are falling into place, but not without some requisite scheduling/planning/adjusting life and training.

And there's also a potential move in the future with job transfers.  So trying to apply for jobs (which in and of itself is a huge task) while in a wedding attempting to be a good friend and bridesmaid, planning my own wedding, training for Ironman, job hunting.  Full plate much?  Oh, and add building a direct sales nutrition company, AdvoCare (which fueled all my training and my entire race).

I made it to the start line, which in and of itself, is a huge feat.  Many athletes were posting their inability to continue due to injury.  I had purchased the insurance with no intention of using it.  And I am so blessed that I did not need to.  I made it to the start of Ironman Lake Placid with no injuries barring me from completing the race.  (Of course I had had a few spills on the bike and some near misses with cars on the road both biking and running, but nothing that kept me from getting to that arch!)  I was blessed to experience no catastrophic injuries preventing me from making it to the event and then finishing and hearing Mike Riley tell me, "Melissa Cole....YOU ARE AN IRONMAN."

While attending the Athlete Blessing at the Adirondack Community Church, I met one of the guys I went to college with.  Talk about small world!  While attending the service, multiple fire engines went through town, the pastor (also an Ironman Athlete) announced a fire has broke out in the middle of town.  Athletes woke up the next morning unsure if they would be completing the swim.  The Department of Health wanted to test the water to make sure no ash or chemicals could put athletes (or those ensuring athletes safety by providing life saving services) in harms way.

I prayed and I prayed and I prayed.  I asked God to give the "go ahead" and clear the water for the swim.  We all worked too hard to not do the full 140.6  And He heard mine, and I'm sure many others', prayers.  As I was exiting from transition and dropping off my water bottles and pumping up my tires, I heard on a handheld radio that the water was "good to go."  I did a little happy dance, thanked God and began to spread the good news!

I had to wait for FOREVER at the portajohns to go before throwing my wetsuit on.  But while standing there, I saw my training partner, we gave a quick hug and I was relieved to see that familiar face before heading out.  I, for one, am thankful for the rolling start.  I was scared of getting knocked out, loosing my googles, getting swum over.  I was scared I wasn't going to be able to breathe or keep my heart rate from skyrocketing.  That was totally not the case.  There were a lot of bodies in the water and some contact was made, but nowhere near what I had mentally prepared for.  I even ended up following that sacred/sought after cable and was able to keep my head down and not have to sight all that much!  I just kept praying for my safety the entire time.  I felt safe and secure and like I was in my own little world.

Before I knew it, it was time to get on the bike.  I was nervous because this would be the first time I had gone 112 miles.  But God had blessed me with a friendship of a prior Ironman, who reminded me to "take it easy" and to "spin that first loop."  He said you're going to want to go fast, you're going to want to not be passed, but remember this is your race, this is you vs you.  Don't let others derail your own plan.

I was scared of mechanical issues.  I can change a flat tire, but not without struggle.  I was scared I wouldn't make the cut off if one thing went wrong.  But it didn't.  I kept praying that God would get me through, that He would prevent chain snaps and flat tires.  And He did!

Then on the second loop, it started getting HOT!  I had prayed for no rain (because it makes the tires slick and I didn't want to have to slow down too much and cost me too much time).  I had prayed for no wind, but there was a little breeze and going through "the notch" those last 10-12 miles with any headwind makes it feel like a lot more work.  But overall, I was pleased with the weather.  Hot yes, but, to me, it was doable.  I just had to drink more than normal.

I made it to the run with no issues.  My knee felt a little twinged on the bike (probably just from sitting so long), so I attempted to keep focused on form.  When I got to the run, I had no issues and felt nothing any longer.  I usually fear "runner's trots," especially considering I had not gone all day.  But that never happened.  I thank God for making it possible for me to make it through the entire marathon without having to find a bathroom ASAP.  Not that there weren't enough along the route, but it's always a struggle and anxiety that I have.

Then it was over...I came around that last corner and couldn't contain myself.  I was crying, dancing, smiling, so happy and overjoyed.  I held back and kept looking behind me to make sure I was the only one at that part of the oval.  And I was!  I had done it!  I had completed the grace of God.  God gave me the strength, the time, the energy, the opportunity, the finances.  Everything worked out like I had hoped for.  The bar is now set high for any Ironman I may do in the future.

I ended up finishing near my goal time of 15 hours, 15:21:15 was the official time.  Not too bad for a first timer.  God kept me out of my head most of the time.  There were times of weakness when I wanted a mechanical error so that I could quit, so that I would have a reason to not go on.  But God pushed me through and past that and got me to the finish.  Sometimes the toughest battles are in our own heads.  I had many long conversations with God that day, thanking Him, praising him.  He is incredible.

Thank you God for all of the blessings that you bestowed upon me to make this happen, especially my support crew (which is another posting in and of itself).  They made that day one incredible experience.  I had an amazing training system too, from the pool and open water lake, to the bike shop and training partner, and then the shoe store who outfitted my cool kicks.  Then to top it all off from my schedule to the weather to the lake being approved despite the fire.  I didn't drown, I had no bike mechanical issues, and my stomach didn't rebel during the marathon.  You kept me focused and out of my own head.  You gave me the energy to complete the training and the race.  Thank you!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

In the spirit of #WCW

Apparently there is some phenomenon going on on Facebook. Its called #WomanCrushWednesday (or #WCW). Well, today is Wednesday and this is a woman who has inspired me from the moment I started reading her book.  Her name is Chrissie Wellington.  She was a late bloomer into the sport of triathlon, as was I.  She and I have a lot in common, and so she has inspired me and gives great hope and insight into triathlons and life.

Chrissie discusses her need to control, her need to self improve.  I feel the same way, an anxious when not able to do so.  When she was young, she had a modest sporting career, but impressive academics.  Lets just say that my sports career left something to be desired but my grades got me the scholarships I needed to help finance college.

Chrissie dealt with the fear people of judging her negatively.  She is a sensitive soul, always wanted to be liked.  I've been struggling with that as well. She disliked the intraverted person she became, wanted to be energetic and confident, to light up a room when she walked into it.  She tended to try to gain the approval and appreciation of others, which, in turn, reflects the lack of self confidence.  Still working on this one, but (as I'll write about below) knowing what to judge yourself by, knowing your self worth standards, this puts it all into perspective.

Her obsession and concern about body image mirrors my internal struggle.  Thankfully, due to a change in nutrition (adhering to a clean eating regimen) and the addition of world-class supplements, my body image has improved tremendously.  I realize looks are NOT everything, but when you don't see in the mirror what you want to see, you are hard on yourself.  I am still working on it to this day, but the positives are becoming more and more evident.

Chrissie also has difficulty being in the now, being present.  I am always thinking about "what's next," planning my next step, always thinking ahead.

And then what really spoke to me was when she said, "All that hard work put in at school and [college] would be vindicated by a high-flying job that labeled me as being somebody."  I graduated as valedictorian, went to college, graduated law school and passed the NYS Bar Exam.  Being behind a desk was never something I wanted, but it seemed that was what was "expected" of someone with the level of education I received.

She writes about how she missed the sense of achievement that comes from working hard and the creativity and the learning; missed using her mind.  I could not agree more.  It's actually part of the reason I began reading more and writing.  I feel that this allows me to hone my communication skills, to keep my mind sharp, rather than bombard it with useless visual media.

Chrissie is a sentimental gal.  She has keepsakes and still has many of them, making reference to "still got them/that/it."  She keeps things that, from an outsider's perspective, would seem minuscule.  My mother would probably laugh, considering she knows how "sentimental" I am.  Though my mother has been trying to instill in me that it's more about the memories and less about the "stuff."

What I love about Chrissie is her appreciation for the age-groupers, the "weekend warriors," the triathletes that do it for the love of the sport.  She will celebrate her victory, but then go down to the finish line and volunteer to grace finishers with their coveted medals.  She gets her inspiration from those who do it just because and it's not their job.  Pretty cool to know that someone who is PAID to do what I love considers people like me an inspiration.

The fact that she appreciates the "normal triathlete" (who works full time, has a family, and other outside responsibilities), it just makes her so humble.  This is a job for her, but it does not come easy for her.  But she does not harp on her records, she emphasizes the hardships and hard work she engages in, the mental mind games.  She writes about how she needs to be mentally tough too.  It's encouraging to know that it's not easy for her, despite it looking like it is.  In a previous post I mentioned that we are our own worst enemy, we can mentally defeat ourselves before the physical setbacks do so.  To know that a professional struggles too, to make it so clear, evident, and out there, it gives me a sense of relief.  She quotes Lance Armstrong, saying, "Pain is temporary: quitting lasts forever."

She continues, stating there will be ebbs and flows and hold onto the knowledge that you have been there before and come through it.  Knowing you were there before, and came out on the other side, that's what will get you through this time.  

She warns readers to not fall for external measures of worth, ie - the clock.  Know that you gave it your all, and that will leave you with the greatest satisfaction.  Do not be left wondering, "What if?"  The limits she had set for herself disappeared and she crushed every goal she set for herself.

One day I would love to meet Chrissie, tell her how wonderful it is to know that I am not alone in these feelings; to feel vindicated and have my insecurities validated.  It is amazing to know that someone as accomplished as someone who has won 13 Ironman races feels the same way someone who has the anxiety of completing one in her future.

Monday, October 20, 2014

10 Essential Winter Running Tools

Many of the areas around us have experienced.....SNOW! This can only mean that winter is soon upon us.  So it's only fitting to get the proper gear to keep up the running progress made so far during the warmer months.

Here is a list of 10 essential pieces of gear a runner should aim to have to have a warm and safe run outside this winter.:

There's the typical "cold weather gear.":

1)  Gloves to keep the digits warm. A runner's extremities are especially vulnerable to the elements.  There are some fancy ones, ones that allow SmartPhone usage, but if a little inconvenience does not bother you (ie - removing your glove to use your phone), just basic gloves would be sufficient.  But make sure they wick away moisture (to prevent cold hands).

2)  Proper shoes.  Winter running shoes should have tread to better able traction for those slick conditions created by snow and ice.

3)  Socks.  Winter running socks should wick the sweat away, but still keep your feet warm.  Top brands include:  Thorlo, Balega, and Smartwool.  Runners should consider getting longer socks (they will add to the warmth of pants and keep the lower part of the legs dry, as compared to the short anklet socks worn during the summer).

4)  Base layer.  This layer will wick sweat away, which allows you to stay warm and not get chilled by the evaporation process.  Popular fabrics include:  wool, polyester, and silk.

5)  Running Tights.  Keep the legs warm; the colder the weather, the thicker the fabric needed.

6)  Hat.  Something to keep your ears and head warm.  Make sure it wicks away sweat, or you'll end up with a sweaty, cold head.  If a hat is too warm, try a headband that will help to keep your ears warm.

7)  Neck warmer.  Keeps the neck warm and prevents burning lungs.

Then there's some things that are ancillary that will help you keep up the fitness you've gained.:

8)  Headlamp.  Less daylight means possibly running when the sun is not out.

9)  Reflective Gear. Runners should have this in their attire anyway, but winter hours mean it starts getting darker earlier and stays darker longer.  Most likely some of those miles will be logged at less than ideal sunshine hours.

10)  Treadmill runs, Plans for when it's too cold or too snowy or the weather just isn't cooperating.  These will help to keep things fresh. No need to pay for the plans, it is possible to find free plans online.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What's Next...

After an improvement in my triathlon season, I jumped right into training for a full marathon.  Went from swim, bike, run, to just a run (just a run?! Eh, what's 26.2 mile).  But that will not be the only focus before I gear up for a half year training program for IMLP 2015.

Back in high school I never enjoyed running, even in college when I first began running for exercise, I still thought it was not fun.  But now I'm looking forward to getting out and hitting the pavement.  My times and effort expended have greatly decreased.  I credit not only another year of training under my belt but also a switch in nutrition and more of a focus on food as a fuel. I have incorporated AdvoCare into every aspect of my life,  whether training or overall wellness.  (If you're interested in clean eating, jump starting your weight loss goals, or at a plateau in your performance, this has helped me IMMENSELY.)

Mohawk Hudson Marathon was a success.  I did not hit my 4 hour goal, but I did get under 4.5 hours (4:19:17).  Next is the Goofy Challenge in Disney (a half on Saturday with the full the next day).  My goal is sub-2 hour half and sub-5 full (I'll already have a hard half under my feet the day beforehand).

In the "off season" I'll be incorporating more weights and lifting to not only strengthen the muscles but to give my mind a mental break.  I have already been doing that and feel great!  The mental break was greatly needed; feels good to regroup, refocus.  Sometimes you just need to shift gears and that makes all the difference in the world.

I'm sad this triathlon year is over, but I am so grateful and amazed at the outcome.  I feel I have made great strides. This is evidenced by the significant drop in my finish times for the races I participated in. I look forward to the grueling training I will embark on (weird to think I would ever think that!).  But for now I'm going to recharge by doing some other activities, other fitness avenues.

I'd like to thank my family especially for their love and support.  Without them, none of  this would be possible.  Their sanity and perspective have helped keep me focused.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lessons for longer distances and life

While doing my post-lifting fat-burning 30 minutes of cardio, I read books. At this point, I'm reading "Running on Empty" by Marshall Ulrich. This man is nearly 60 years old he RAN across America! His book has greatly helped me to understand the challenges and mental toughness required to conquer long distances.
This was quite appropriate as I completed my first ever marathon.  WOW!  What an amazing course.  The Mohawk Hudson Marathon is well organized and is first-time marathoners' top-choice for a reason.  The course is downhill and flat.  But even with that advantage, I began hitting that proverbial "wall" around mile 20, which is really when the race begins.  I started to get in my head and feel every little twinge.  At that point I was just merely surviving, not thriving.  I focused on my music, kept in step to the tunes, and aimed for each mile marker, knowing with the passing of each one I'd be closer to the finish.
There is much truth when Ulrich states, "We can be our own worst enemies when it comes to those doubts and negative self-talk."  I tell that people all the time when they say I'm crazy for pursuing longer distance races, particularly a marathon and Ironman Lake Placid.  Once you have defeated yourself, you are done.  But if I can train my brain, just like I do my body to make it through the miles, I'll be successful in completion in my endeavors.  Just like in life, if you tell yourself you can't, then you won't.  But if you believe in yourself, you'll go much farther.
Ulrich talks about having an "out of body experience" and disowning the pain, not letting it get to him.  That's what I tried to remember as my feet started to ache and I stopped to stretch as my hamstrings tightened.  I kept shutting out the thoughts of feeling the pain, I said to myself, "It's there, but you are closer to the finish than the end."
Ulrich writes, "You remind yourself that it you quit but hard to live with afterward."  I may have read that passage after the marathon, but that definitely holds true.  I thought about giving up multiple times, but then I realized how disappointed I would be in myself.  I also realized that even though I would not make my 4 hour goal, I would still finish, which was more than those on the couch had done.  Quitting will follow you the rest of your life, whether in a race or in a job pursuit or in whatever your goals may be.
I ended up finishing 4 hours, 19 minutes and 17 seconds after I crossed the start line.  It took longer than I expected and wanted, but I finished and never actually gave up.  Click here to see:  Video of My Marathon Finish

Friday, September 5, 2014

Post Lake George Half Iron Distance

Actually couldn't wait to get back on the road!

The 7-miler was my birthday present to myself...only 2 days after Lake George. The 8-miler was this morning.  There were weights and Spin on Wednesday and swam yesterday. Feeling good for sure.

Only 37 days left until my first marathon! Going to start adding some more weights in this "off season."

Here we go!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Life After Lake George

Another half iron distance under my belt! This one was so much better than last year.  Physically and mentally it was all around a great feeling.  Last it was all about surviving, this year was about thriving.

Many thanks to all who made this day possible.  Thank God for the ability, resources (time, money, etc.), and support to be able to dedicate to training. Thank you to my family (whether there physically or in spirit) for the support.

Thank you to the volunteers and local law enforcement (NYSP) who kept us hydrated and safe.  I was impressed with several specific incidents in mind.  With 4 miles to go, a Warren County Deputy, on a traffic detail, said,"Looking strong."  Then there was an aid station on the run where it was all teenage boys, rocking out to some music blaring from a radio in a nearby apartment; it was refreshing to see the youth getting involved.  And then there was the girl who not only volunteered all day at the race (from 0600 to end), she then worked at an ice cream shop where my family got post-race celebration dessert!

My biggest accomplishment was staying out of my head.  I felt good pretty much the entire race, focused and mentally aware of form. I might have pushed a little too hard on the bike, paid for it on the run, but stayed strictly to the 5 minute run, 1 minute walk method (thank you Jeff Galloway). I definitely talked to myself a lot, kept me from getting in my head, giving myself pep talks to get through.  I made sure to drink every 15 minutes on the bike, which kept me hydrated (and focused on something).  I even had to pee on the run, but didn't stop (for fear of not being able to get up off the portajohn seat and being unable to get restarted running). I was skeptical of the 5 minute run, 1 minute walk method, because I might not start running again, but tried it during my training and have loved it ever since!

You would think with this race being done, I would be so over doing another race anytime in the near future. But now I'm looking at what's next, the training is part of the fun (at least for me). People say that you loose sight and loose the fun, but part of the fun for me is the training, seeing the results and how I got there.  The journey is truly the adventure; knowing the sacrifices and hard work and effort I put into the destination.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not ready to go out and do another half Ironman, but I'm ready to hit the road running, probably will tomorrow morning.

For my race splits, go here:  Race Results (Bib #163)
Here are the photos so far:  Race Photos (Excuse the emotion, but it was very surreal to have cut over 20 minutes off from last year!)