Wednesday, November 30, 2011

THE RACE: Recover, Recover, Recover and Then - GET UP!

With Ironman Arizona in the books for over a week now, it's time to start thinking about doing a little bit of physical activity.  I spent all of last week when I got back from Arizona on the couch, watching t.v., drinking and eating A was awesome! I had less than no desire to swim, bike, run, stretch, or even skip-to-my-lou.  After nine months of training, focusing on only one goal, I was spent.  The most strenuous activity I performed was putting up my Christmas decorations...and then I went right back to sitting on the my Rudolph slippers...with some wine... 

If you've ever had a period of high stress or some goal that you were committed to achieving, you probably understand what I'm talking about.  And you probably said the same thing I did:  "I'm glad it's over!"  Whenever you accomplish that goal or finish a task that's required an extreme amount of dedication and effort, it's natural to experience a period of stagnation afterwards where you can't or just don't want to do anything.  In the world of endurance sports, we call this the "recovery" period.  After the intense physical demands of an Ironman or marathon, a recovery period is essential.  Every coach and website will tell you that your body (and mind) need time to recover after such an event. In fact, the Ironman website itself says: "For most age groupers you are looking at 6-8 weeks, at least, to fully recover depending upon what you do for training, regeneration, and nutritional support for the body. The body must go into overtime to repair the damage from the race in terms of the muscular and cardiovascular systems.  Your immune system will work overtime as well to help heal you internally along with trying to keep the variety of germs and virus's from getting you sick."  Well hallelujah - I'm on it!  

As much as my body and mind have welcomed the recovery period though, one week after the Ironman was over, I had the itch - the itch to get off my ass (no, my ass wasn't literally itching...)  I've learned that I can tolerate only so much sedentariness and then I start to feel a little stir crazy.  So Monday I went for a nice, easy 30-minute run (and then read tonight that I actually should avoid running for 2-3 weeks...oh well!).  It was a gorgeous day, I wanted to take advantage of the weather, and my body felt ok.  Toward the end of the run, however, I could tell I was feeling a bit tight.  I took yesterday off because I just didn't feel like working out, and then tonite, I went to the gym and hopped on the stationary bike for 30 minutes.  Whether I'll do anything tomorrow, I'm not sure and the nice thing is, I don't HAVE to do anything.  I'm in recovery!!  For this week and next week, I can do - but don't have to do - very light activity (less than an hour).  

Recovery is important in life as well as endurance sports.  You work your butt off, maybe you take care of the kids, manage a household, take care of pets, pay your bills, travel constantly, workout hard...whatever consumes your life, you work hard.  But do you allow yourself to recover?  You don't have to take a 3-week recovery period - but can you take a few minutes to recover each day?  Or take the weekend to recover?  Maybe you're laughing or saying you don't have time to recover. Really?  Do you have time to be sick?  Do you like being irritable to your family, friends, and co-workers?  Do you have time to be run-down?  Do have the time and energy to feel burnt out?  Recovery isn't a shameful thing. It's necessary to get your groove back.  Endurance athletes don't train the same way all year long. Their schedules always incorporate recovery periods, even during the training season.  Recovery is necessary to allow the body to rejuvenate.  Likewise, recovery from the daily grind is necessary to allow your body and mind to rejuvenate.  When your body and mind are under extreme stress, recovery holds the key to giving you back the energy and desire to want to jump back on the bike.  After a week of recovery, I was already missing the workouts...a little bit. Think about this - you probably do the same things, have the same schedule, all year long. But when do you allow yourself to recover?  When do you actually give yourself a chance to miss being on the bike?  

Take advantage of a recovery period...And then, get back on the bike. You may be surprised how much better you feel after you've had some down-time....

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

THE RACE: Which George Bailey Will You Be?

Every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving, I go get my fresh Christmas tree and put up all my Christmas decorations.  Then once the house looks like Santa has puked all over it, I settle in on the couch with some wine, dinner, my Rudolph slippers, and watch Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.  It's my dorky little holiday tradition to start the Christmas season.

If you've never seen It's a Wonderful Life, you need to.  I'm not much of a "black-n-white" movie fan, but this one has become very dear to my heart.  It tells such a heart-warming, timeless story that can make you look at your life in a whole new way.

For those who haven't seen it, there's the not-so-quick run-down.  The movie stars James Stewart as George Bailey, which is reason enough to watch it. They just don't make 'em like Jimmy Stewart anymore.  As a young boy, George Bailey saves his younger brother (Harry) when he falls into the ice and, as a result, George gets an ear infection and loses the hearing in his left ear.  In his childhood job at a local pharmacy, George notices that his boss, Mr. Gower, accidentally puts poisonous pills in a customer's prescription.  George makes Mr. Gower realize his accident, saving the customer's life and Mr. Gower's business.  Growing up, George dreams of traveling the world, building tall skyscrapers, and getting out of his small town of Bedford Falls.

George's father owns a small building and loan association, that provides loans to people to build houses.  Instead of going to college when he graduates high school, George helps his father at the building and loan for four years until his younger brother Harry can take over so that George can go to college.  The night before George is supposed to leave for his worldly pre-college travels, his father has a stroke and dies.  With the risk of the building and loan association being dissolved and the home loans being taken over by the local ogre, Mr. Potter, George is forced to stay in Bedford Falls and assume responsibility for the family business...a course of action contrary to the big hopes and dreams he had of traveling the world.

George falls in love with and marries Mary (played by Donna Reed) - a childhood sweetheart who swears at very young age to love George til the day she dies.  In one of the best movie scenes ever (which I understand was filmed in one take), George reluctantly realizes his love for Mary:

George and Mary get married and, just as they're leaving for their honeymoon, the Great Depression hits, threatening the building and loan association and forcing George and Mary to use their own honeymoon money to bail out the business.  As time goes on, George and Mary have four kids, buy an old dilapidated house that needs major repairs, and struggle financially.  Then one day - Christmas Eve Day - George's uncle misplaces an $8,000 deposit for the building and loan association, causing the evil Mr. Potter to swear out a warrant for George's arrest for misappropriation of funds.  George begs Mr. Potter to help him, offering Potter his life insurance policy, which only has $500 in equity.  Mr. Potter scoffs at him, declaring that George is worth more dead than alive.  

Consequently, in modern lingo, George goes on a bender.  In his drunken stooper, he goes to a bridge and contemplates suicide, looking at his life insurance policy.  Just then, another man jumps into the river, screaming for help.  George dives in after him, saving the man's life.  The man turns out to be George's Guardian Angel, Clarence, who was sent from Heaven to help George realize the value of his life.  In response to George's wish that he'd never been born, Clarence lets George see how life would have been if he'd never existed.  His brother Harry would have died in the ice and, as a result, all the people that his brother Harry saved in World War II also would have died because Harry wouldn't have been alive.  Mr. Gower would have killed his customer with the poison and his life would have been destroyed.  Mary would have become an "old maid."  People who George helped get homes with the building and loan association would be stuck in Mr. Potter's slums.  Through all of this, Clarence gives George the opportunity that none of us will ever have - the chance to see the ripple effect our presence has on those around us, and how different the world would be if we never existed. 

While Clarence is giving George the tour of the world without George Bailey, Mary is telling folks in town about George's trouble with the missing $8,000.  Once George snaps out of Clarence's spell, he runs home to his family.  Waiting for him are reporters and police ready to take him to jail...but he doesn't care.  He's just so happy to be home with his family.  Then, in another memorable scene, Mary bursts in, with the entire town behind her, coming in to give money to George to bail him out of trouble.  All of the people that George had helped throughout his life, asking nothing in return, came to his rescue.  The final scene in the movie moves me to tears every time:  

While everyone is singing Auld Lang Syne, George finds a message from his Guardian Angel, Clarence:  "Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.  Thanks for the wings."  (After Clarence helps George see the value in his life, Clarence finally gets his angel wings).

The reason I love this movie so much is that it's a good reminder of what success really means.  George has two competing personalities in this movie:  The one personality that wanted to leave Bedford Falls in search of a bigger and better life, that was always in search of something "else," and the second one that realizes success doesn't come in the form of money or riches.  You can be the "richest man in town," while still being the poorest in terms of money.  It's not your travels, your money, your house, or your job that give meaning to your life; rather, it's the love of your friends and family and the love that you show them.  It's our relationships that enrich our lives.   

I generally spend a lot of time acting like the first George - the one who's always looking for something better, wanting more money, more "things."  I spend a lot of time comparing myself to other people, especially when it comes to triathlons or my success at work.  I think we all do that, at least to some extent. We see someone with a huge house or nice car and we wish we had their financial freedom. We see someone who's faster or stronger than us and we feel too fat, too slow, too weak.  We see someone prettier or more handsome, and we want their looks and all the "perks" that come with being beautiful.  

All of those superficial things, however, can't fill the void.  In the movie, Mr. Potter had more money than God, and he was a "warped, frustrated old fool" (in George's words).  It's the second George that finally gets it - that realizes the money, riches, and success, won't provide you with a full life.  The richness of our lives can be measured by our relationships; and, not by the number of relationships, but by the quality.  I'd rather have 1 good friend upon whom I could call in any emergency, than 100 friends who would be too busy to come help.  

As you look back over this past year, which George have you been?  Have you been the one who's always wanting more, more, more, or have you been the one who realizes that your cup overfloweth with the loved ones in your life?  It's been a hard economic year for so many people and I don't mean to demean the hardships that many of you have encountered; but, through it all, there are blessings.  Even when you're peering over the ledge wondering how much you're life is worth, remember that you and your presence alone - not your financial worth - have a positive influence in this world.  Do you really understand the positive effect that your presence has on other people?  I'm sure that all of you, in some way, have given wings to someone, whether you knew it or not.  Through some action, some small word, some smile, you've moved someone and made an impression.  Don't ever underestimate your power to leave behind something positive, and remember that next time you're devaluing your life by constantly wanting more.  The love you give is worth more than any tangible thing you can acquire.  Maybe in 2012 we can we all try to be a little more like the second George... 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

AID STATION: Pumpkin Pasta

I've been a vegan for over three years now (or maybe four - I've lost track) and was a vegetarian for a year before that.  Having grown up in Nebraska, you can imagine what a shocker that was for my family and friends.  For various reasons that I won't get into now, it's something I feel strongly about for my own personal well-being.  In a nutshell, I have moral, religious, environmental, and health reasons for choosing to be a vegan. It's a personal choice that I researched before making the decision and continue to research all the time.  I'm not perfect, although I try my best.  Sometimes though, there are things that would never occur to me as being un-vegan.  For example - Worcestershire sauce.  I never knew until my boyfriend pointed it out to me that Worcestershire sauce had anchovies in it!  So I found a vegan version.  Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes with soy milk - the pumpkin mix has milk in it.  Who knew?? Anyway, I'm not perfect (shocker, I know) and there are things for which I make an occasional exception (like my Grandpa's hot cocoa mix recipe during Christmas, which has powdered milk and chocolate pudding mix, for which I haven't been able to find any substitutes).

At any rate, I'm not a pushy vegan, I don't get grossed out when other people eat meat around me, and I certainly don't expect anyone to have to adjust their eating preferences because of me.  By the same token, I don't expect people to give me a hard time about being a vegan or criticize me for my personal choice, which has no impact on them.  I think we should all be respectful of other people's informed opinions.  (If you have a knee-jerk, uninformed opinion, then you'll have a hard time getting any respect outta me for that opinion...)  For those reasons, I want to make sure that I try to account for everyone's personal choices in writing this blog.  There definitely will be recommendations that I make and personal views that I espouse - and you don't have to accept or agree with any of them; but, because I have to assume that my blog will reach a diverse audience (hopefully it'll reach more than the four followers I currently have!), then I want to make sure that I'm putting forth something that most of that audience will want to read or try.  With that in mind, all of the recipes that I recommend will be vegan, but obviously the meat-eaters or vegetarians can substitute to fit their preferences.

So here's an awesome pasta recipe that I highly recommend everyone try as the vegan version, but if you're totally adverse to that, you can make it to suit your meat or dairy preferences.  I got this recipe courtesy of Sarah Kramer's Vegan A Go-Go book (page 100), which is amazing and has simple recipes that even I don't screw up.  This recipe is a great way to perk up your pasta for the fall.  

Punk-kin Pasta
  • Pasta (enough for 2 people)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup vegan sausage, sliced (vegans - I prefer to Tofurkey Kilbasa style)
  • 1 TBSP oil
  • 1 14-oz can unsweetened pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4-1/2 cup vegetable stock (optional - but it helps to think out the pumpkin)
  • 1/2 cup vegan cheese, grated (optional) (regular cheese can be used also)
In a large pot of salted water, boil the pasta.  While pasta is cooking, in a large saucepan on medium-high heat, saute the onions and "sausage" in the oil until onions are translucent.  Add the pumpkin, salt, and pepper and simmer for 5-7 minutes.  This sauce can be quite thick, so to thin it out, add 1/4 cup stock at a time until you've reached the desired consistency.  When pasta is cooked, drain noodles and return to pot.  Add the sauce to noodles and toss well. Serve immediately garnished with "cheese."  Makes 2 large or 4 small servings.

Let me know if you make this and how you liked it! 
Happy eating! 

Friday, November 25, 2011

RECOVERY: My Personal Recovery Plan for the Holidays

With IMAZ (Ironman Arizona) now in the books, and the indulgence of Thanksgiving behind me, it's time to start thinking of how to heal my body.  I don't want to become a couch potato over the holidays, although it is healthy and common for athletes to gain a bit of weight/fat over the winter (which will be used up later in the spring and summer).  Also, I don't want to resort to eating crap and drinking myself into least not for a couple weeks.  So what can I - and you - do during this holiday season to keep yourself healthy, while still enjoying this time of year?  Well, here are my non-scientific, personal recommendations, that will allow you to enjoy the holiday season, while still maintaining your health:  

  • Beer and red wine:  Beer and red wine (in moderation, of course) have certain health benefits.  According to Runners World "[t]he malt and hops used to make dark beers contain flavonoids, the same heart-healthy compounds in vegetables and wine that counter cell damage, thus reducing your risk of heart disease and cancer.  Beer also contains B vitamins and chromium, which aid in converting carbohydrates to energy."  Ye-ah!!  Beer, however, can hinder the healing of injuries by limiting the body's production of anti-inflammatories, so Runners World recommends waiting at least 36 hours after the injury before consuming beer.  Check!  

I'm ready with the flavonoid-containing beer...
  • Raw Multivitamins and Raw or Organic Foods:  Food coming off most farms today contains 25-50% less vitamin and mineral content compared to the 1960's and 70's because of the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizers. And don't even get me started on what happens to most food after it leaves the farm and before it gets to your plate...the adulterations most food undergoes to maintain a "shelf life"!  Basically, your food doesn't pack the punch it did 40-50 year ago.  Plus, most Americans are rushing around much of the time and aren't eating a healthy diet as it is...even a lot of triathletes and runners.  Here are three things you can do to help with any nutritional deficits you may have from eating over-processed, nutritionally sparse food: 
    • Eat some raw foods:  Cooking and heating foods over 116 degrees Fahrenheit destroys some of the nutrients and enzymes your body needs. Now let me be clear (particularly for my Nebraskan family and friends):  eating raw does not mean eating raw hamburger (like we used to do growing up...sheesh!)  Not the same thing!  I'm talking about veggies, plants, etc., and this also includes grains, nuts, seeds, sprouts, and legumes, which can be cooked without destroying the nutritional value.  For some great, easy raw food recipes, see The Best of Raw Food.  If your body has a hard time digesting totally raw foods, you can cook or heat them at a lower temperature, which still will preserve much of the nutritional value.  Bottom line - while you're out running around this holiday season, throw some raw food in your purse or car.   
    • Eat organic foods:  I'm planning a future blog on organic food, but for now, suffice it to say that eating organic foods yields benefits not only for you, but also for the farm workers.  There are various standards for what constitutes "organic" (the familiar USDA standards are but only one).  In general, however, organic foods are grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers, meaning that the farm workers aren't exposed to those chemicals and neither are you.  Unfortunately, organic foods usually are more expensive. Fortunately though, you don't need to break the bank for your health - you can consult the Environmental Working Group's Guide to the "Dirty Dozen" - the best 12 foods to buy organic and foods that are lowest in pesticides.  
    • Take a raw multi-vitamin:  Taking a raw multi-vitamin may help with any nutritional deficit you have (**legal disclaimer (because I am a lawyer) - consult your doctor first!).  Why a raw multi-vitamin as opposed to a regular one?  Well, I'm a big fan of the Vitamin Code products, and their website explains that its formula results in a "process that mimics plant activity" so that the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are surrounded by probiotics, enzymes, and phytonutrients that create a more beneficial source of fuel for the body.  The vitamins in Vitamin Code are not treated, adulterated, or cooked, and there are no binders or fillers.   
This is what I take...
  • Accupuncture (or Massage):  This past year I started seeing an accupuncturist recommended by some ultra-runner friends of mine. We lovingly refer to him as Mr. Miaggi (even though he's a tall, skinny white dude who also does triathlons and marathons) because he literally works wonders.  He (along with my re-vamped running form) have fixed injuries that plagued me for 14 years.  Accupuncture can be used to treat everything from running injuries, to headaches, to insomnia.  Here's an article for how accupuncture works, but if it's been around for over 5,000 years, that's proof enough for me.  If the small little needles aren't your thing, then maybe a massage? A massage for tired, overworked people isn't really a luxury.  Massage can increase your flexibility and circulation in addition to alleviating your pain.  

Accupuncture needles are teeny-tiny
  • Cross-Train or Sign Up for a Fun Race:  Winter is the perfect time to change up your fitness routine (or, ah-hem, start one...) and focus on the ease and fun of exercise.  For triathletes and runners who abide by the "periodization" plan all year (breaking up your training season into specific periods so that your body doesn't have to maintain the same kinds of stresses all year long), winter is the time for relaxation, which doesn't mean plopping on the couch; rather, it means ratcheting back your workouts and do something other than triathlon- or running-related workouts. Take the opportunity this winter to ratchet back your normal workouts, or to ease into a new workout program, and have fun with it!  Sign up for a Jingle Bell run.  Take a Zumba class (although you won't catch me dead in one of those).  Lift weights.  Go cross-country skiiing.      
What's your personal recovery plan for the year?  It's been a tough year for many of you and so what better time than this next month to try to figure out how to recover and start next year off on a better foot?  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

THE RACE: Direct Your Thanksgiving Gratitude Outward

Many blogs and Facebook posts today are focused on folks' expression of gratitude for that which they are thankful. For some folks, every day is an opportunity to take stock of their blessings; for others, it takes a holiday to take inventory. Regardless, we all know it's good to give thanks.

If there's one thing for which triathlons and running have taught me to be thankful, it's the sheer resilience of our human body, fueled largely by our spirit.  Each time I finish a triathlon or running race safely, particularly where someone else may not have been as fortunate, I give thanks.  As I've mentioned, some triathletes drown during the swim; some are struck by cars while on riding their bike; and others, suffer from heart failure (due to pre-existing heart conditions) during the run.  So yes, finishing an endurance event is something for which I am always thankful.  What's interesting is that you can't be thankful for something unless you recognize that the subject of your gratitude could easily cease to exist.  In other words, implicit in your gratitude is the recognition that others do not have the benefit of that for which you are thankful, or that someday, you may not have that benefit either.

We all know the story of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. But did you know that it wasn't until 1863, at the height of the civil war, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday? According to, President Lincoln issued a proclamation challenging all Americans to ask God "to commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife," and to "heal the wounds of the nation."  With that backdrop in mind, I also want to challenge you to try to extend your blessings this year to someone or something else.  So here are some statistics worth thinking about to see how you can extend the blessings in your life...

  • Veterans:  Thankful for your American freedoms?  Think about these statistics:  
    • 107,000:  the number of homeless veterans on any given night, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans ("NCHV") states that about 1/3 of the adult homeless population in the United States is veterans, with roughly 5% of those being female.  In addition, about 1.5 million other veterans are at risk of becoming homeless because of poverty, lack of support networks, or poor living conditions.  The NCHV also has a website for finding resources in your area to help the homeless veteran population, or you can call 1-800-VET-HELP.
    • 6,319 and 47,061:  according to the Department of Defense, the number of soldiers killed or wounded, respectively, in the three recent wars:  Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Enduring Freedom.  In the wake of soldiers' deaths, spouses and children are left behind, and when wounded soldiers return home, they and their families (if they're lucky enough to have families) have a whole new world to which they must adjust.  Organizations such as The Wounded Warrior Project and Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund provide services for fallen and wounded veterans and their families.  
  • Homelessness:  Thankful for a roof over your head?  According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, approximately 1.6 million people in American from October 2009 to September 2010 were homeless.  That organization also estimates that the homeless population could increase by 5% in the next three years due to the recent economy. For a directory of local homeless service organizations in your state, go to
  • Animals: Thankful for the food on your plate, or for the companion animal in your home?  Think about where that food comes from or how many pets don't have a home.  To quote President Lincoln again, "I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being."  There is a YouTube video I recently watched that truly is worth 3 1/2 minutes of your time because it has some moving pictures, along with though-provoking quotes about our treatment of animals from famous people that span the centuries:  Lincoln, Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, Albert Schweitzer, Leo Tolstoy, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Ziggy Marley, Ben Franklin, Pythagorus, and Thomas Edison.  Here are some animal statistics to think about:    
    • 242 million:  the number of turkeys raised to be eaten every year, according to the Animal Welfare Institute ("AWI"). Although giving up the turkey would be the best way to change that statistic, if you don't want to forego the turkey, consider one that has been humanely raised in accordance with AWI's Animal Welfare Approved Program rather than raised in the deplorable conditions of a factory farm.  You can also sponsor a rescued turkey through the Farm Sanctuary's Adopt-a-Turkey program.  
    • 3-4 million:  the number of animals euthanized at animal shelters each year according to the ASPCA.  Why buy a dog or cat at a pet store, when you can adopt one at a local shelter and literally save a life.  For a list of shelters in your area, see the ASPCA's shelter finder.  With a little effort, you can even find a specialized breed in a shelter, or you can find a breed specific rescue organization.  
What other ways can you think of to turn your gratitude outward rather than inward, and help bestow that for which you are thankful upon someone or something else?  In what ways can you take President Lincoln's proclamation to heart, to heal the wounds of those around you?  

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! 


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

THE RACE: Spirits Soaring Over Arizona

Every so often in life we're blessed to witness the true depth and strength of the human spirit, be it yours or someone else's. Many call the human spirit the presence of God or a different spiritual force, while others just call it true grit that comes only from the individual and not some higher source. Whatever you want to call it and regardless of its origin, the human spirit is a formidable power within us all. A power that can propel you through circumstances that you never imagined you could face.  

Flying at 39,000 feet on my flight home from Tempe, Arizona, soaring over the magnificent redddish brown mountains of the southwest, I couldn't help but think how the human spirit can soar if we just let it.  Sometimes we're too afraid or unwilling to tap into the full potential of our human spirit.  Sometimes it takes witnessing someone else's spirit soaring to motivate you to let yours free. I've witnessed the beauty of the human spirit on many occasions and Ironman Arizona this past Sunday was filled with people who let their spirit carry them through a long grueling day that represented the culmination of months of training and dedication.    

On November 20th, 2,565 triathletes gathered in the dark, cold morning hours at Tempe Town Lake to begin a day of 140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running, which would begin at 7:00 a.m. and had to be finished by midnight - in 17 hours.  Unfortunately, approximately 124 of those triathletes didn't finish the race for one reason or another.  For the remaining 2,441 athletes, the day was marked by a frigid swim in Tempe Town Lake, a windy three-loop bike course through the scenic Arizona landscape, and a three-loop marathon course around the lake.  The finishing times ranges from 7 hours 59 minutes (for the male professional who won) to a last second finish at 17 hours on the nose by the last "age-grouper" (regular Joe-Schmoe amateur athletes like me).  Each finisher, regardless of his or her finish time, displayed an tremendous amount of physical and mental strength.  Each, I'm sure, has a story about their road to Arizona, the training, their sacrifices, and their ups and downs.  What I saw in several individuals, however, during the race, epitomizes the stuff of which the human spirit is made.  

Shot of the swim start of Ironman Arizona with 2500+ athletes in the water at once...
For starters, I believe that everyone who jumped into 61-degree water to stroke their way through a 2.4-mile swim had to unleash the fury of their human spirit just to make it back to dry land. Triathletes, unfortunately, can die during the open water swim portion of any triathlon event. In fact, before I left for Arizona, several people made me aware of a Washington Post article about triathlete drownings, which the reporter attributed to possible panic attacks.  Washington Post article   For that reason and for the majority of triathletes, the open water swim causes the most anxiety and fear. To overcome the powerful fear of, well - dying - you have to tap into something even more powerful than thst fear:  the human spirit. Even if you were a strong swimmer at Ironman Arizona, your spirit had to push you through bone-chilling water, the chaotic flailing arms and legs of other swimmers, and, let's not forget, the sheer distance of the Ironman swim. 

For me, armed with my wetsuit, neoprene swim cap and booties, and an extra layer of a dive/surf top for warmth underneath, I had to hurry to jump into the murky Tempe Town Lake as the announcer said there were only 30 seconds remaining to get everyone onto the water. As I hurled myself over the side of the dock into the lake and the cold water rushed into my wetsuit, my fight or flight reflex instantly kicked in. While my body screamed "get me the hell outta here," my mind remembered the last piece of advice my boyfriend gave me before I got into the water:  before starting to swim, just take a breath, put my head down into the water, blow out the air, and repeat a few times until I can feel my body start to calm down as it tries to acclimate. So I did exactly that (which worked), heard the cannon go off, and started swimming. Surrounded by panicked swimmers bumping into me and sometimes trying to swim over the top of me, every time I felt the fear creeping in, I turned my focus to God, my Grandpa, all the months of training, my mom, boyfriend and friends who were there cheering me on - whatever I could - to fill me with the power to keep putting one arm at a time in the water and pulling myself from buoy to buoy. I didn't focus on the bridge and turn-around point over a mile away and, instead, just looked for the next buoy that I could see. Soon, something took over and I just started getting pissed - not in a bad way, but in a productive "hell if I'm gonna let this swim defeat me" way. My spirit took over, and buoy by buoy, I made it through - chilled to the bone and shaking uncontrollably from the cold, but in less time than I thought it would take me. Out of the entire day, the swim honestly is what I'm most pleased with, not because I had a fast time (trust me, it was far from fast), but because the swim was my biggest fear, yet I willed myself through.  

Before the's hopin'...
The 112-mile bike ride in Arizona was a bit of a buzz kill for me. I usually love the bike portion of triathlons; but, unfortunately for me, I lack the strong cyclist legs that generate a lot of power. Plus, I'm like a feather in the wind and my lack of power makes a headwind my biggest enemy on the bike. The Ironman Arizona bike course is nothing but wind. Unpredictable, demoralizing wind as you ride a gentle incline for 10 miles out of town, then a couple small climbs before turning around at about 18.5 miles to head back downhill into town. And you get to do this three times. Only on the first loop did I get lucky enough to have the wind at my back on the downhill back to town. The other two loops, I was cursing mother nature and the Arizona desert. So the bike ride just took good ol' fashioned sitck-to-it-iveness and the spirit not to give up (and a lot of swearing)...

Coming back on first loop of bike course...

More impressive though was a woman I saw on the bike ride who demonstrated the pure beauty of the human spirit.  Tina Ament - is a blind triathlete who came to speak to my triathlon club earlier this year (the Dominion Cycling and Triathlon Club in Virginia). Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend her visit with the club, but I understand that she was very inspirational. If you think doing a triathlon or running is hard, try it blindfolded with someone else leading you the entire time. Imagine not being able to see the water you're about to jump into and being tethered in the cold, wet darkness to your partner, in whom you have to place all of your trust to steer you from buoy to buoy around all the falling ninnies. Imagine flying on a tandem bike at 18-20 mph or more, while not being able to see a thing - including the beautiful Arizona scenery around you - as your partner sits in front of you steering and giving you updates. And imagine not being able to see where you're going while you're running and having to trust that your partner will safely guide you through every single step. Yes, Tina would get one of my human spirit awards. She not only overcame the fears and obstacles that every triathlete does, but she did it without the blessing of her sight.  Like her, there are many triathletes and runners who have lost or never had some of the things we take for granted, like our arms or legs. Every time I see one of these athletes in a race, my heart literally warms. The power of their human spirit is undeniable. 

Coming off the windy, slow bike ride, I was not a happy camper. But I tried to put it behind me and focus on the 26.2-mile run. The marathon portion of the Ironman is where you have to leave everything you have out on the race course. I've run two marathons - the Marine Corps Marathon - and not particularly well. In fact, they rather sucked, and the amount of pain I was in after my second one is part of what made me decide to switch to triathlons. The marathon portion of the Ironman though was different. Fortunately because I've changed my running form, I didn't have the same debilitating pain (illotibial band syndrome) that I had during my last marathon. I did have, however, different pain - the kind that comes from moving your body at an aerobic level for 10-17 straight hours. I tried to start out the Ironman run at a slow enough pace that I could maintain it or st least not slow down significantly. Unfortunately, unless you've already done an Ironman, you can't really plan for how tired and banged up your body is going to feel. So in hindsight I should have started out even slower.  I also should have walked this annoyingingly long hill that I ran up on the fist two loops but, by the third loop, said "no way in hell."  Running up that hill really banged up my knees, which were pretty sore for about the last half and so on the final loop, I ended up walking a lot more than I'd planned.  So there are some things I would have done differently and maybe I would have gotten closer to the marathon time I wanted. (I was about 17 minutes slower on the run than I'd hoped). At no point, however, did I want to quit or start walking before my body absolutely needed to. By the time the marathon portion rolled around, I was into the last hours of a very long training season and a tiring day, and I tried to give it all I had. 

The will to finish though was even stronger in one man I saw on my run. I first saw him about half way through my second loop. I assumed he was on his third loop because he looked like a super fast cyclist who would have lapped me a couple times on the bike. I saw him on the run just as he stopped, pulled up, and grabbed him hamstring. He bent over to stretch and tried to run, but his leg seized up again. (Something you see a lot in marathons).  Then I saw him start to take a very tiny baby step to the side - he couldn't even move his leg to the front. He was near an aid station, so I assumed he'd tell the volunteers that he was done or that he'd be able to walk it off.  I was wrong on both.  I saw him again on my third loop - about a mile away from where I last saw him. In the time it took me to go a little over 8 miles, he'd side/baby-stepped about a mile. I can't describe the pain this man looked like he was in. He had a woman walking with him and whether she was a friend or volunteer, I don't know. But the tiny side/baby steps he was taking with his hurt leg were maybe three inches at best. I saw him again as I looped back to go to the finish line and he was still baby stepping. I was amazed. If I'd been hurt that badly, I honestly may have thrown in the towel. I don't know his name or number or whether he finished. He had a little over two hours left to go about 1.5 miles to make the cutoff, so he may have. I truly hope that he did. Even if he didn't, however, his spirit to at least try to finish will stick with me.  At that point, his human spirit was stronger than his pain. 

Finally there was the woman I also saw on my third loop who was throwing up. I saw her come off the side of path holding her stomach and walking, so I asked her if she was ok. As she started to say that she felt sick, she moved over to the side again and threw up. I stopped to stand with her to make sure she wasn't going to pass out. When she could walk again I walked with her for a bit and gave her some Tums and Immodium I had, hoping that may help. Fortunately, she too was near an aid station and she said she could make it there. She said she was so close to the finish she didn't want to quit. I hope she was able to push through it and finish -puking or not. Again, the power of her spirit was stronger than her stomach's visceral reaction to what she was doing. 

As I crossed the finish line under the Ironman timing arch, I heard the announcer call out the four words most triathletes dream of hearing: "You are an Ironman." Probably sounds silly to anyone else, but I guess like anything, you had to be there. And by "there" I mean you had to be there for the months and hours of training, for the worry and fear of not succeeding, for the pain of injuries, for the sacrifices, and, most of all, for the long, exhausting hours of the Ironman event itself. If you've been there you'll understand that the physical preparation truly is only half the battle. Even when your body wants to give up - when you can't see, when your legs stop working, or when your body just rebels against you - it's your human spirit that has to carry you the rest of the way. Without it, you may as well just lie down. 

We've all had to call on our spirit to help us soar above what may seem insurmountable. Sometimes, however, it's hard to fully harness its power. During those times, just think of what you can do if you don't put limits on yourself. You can fight cancer one day, one hour, or one minute at a time, just like I swam one buoy at a time. You can find the strength to overcome a personal tragedy and recognize that even though there may be times when you feel like you're pedaling into a headwind going uphill with weak legs, you're still making progress. You can keep walking through anything, even if it's just by taking 3-inch baby steps. You just keep moving forward. Your spirit will pull you through if you only let it, and even if you don't make it, at least you go down fighting. 

“The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur.” -- Vince Lombardi

Thursday, November 17, 2011

THE RACE: Supreme Court or Ironman Kona?

I've worn the hat of an attorney for 14 years, runner for the same amount of time, and the hat of triathlete for 3 years. Each of these hats has required extreme dedication and investment of time. Each also has brought me various blessings and happiness, while at times filling me with frustration and doubt. Over the course of my Ironman training this year, I've had a lot of ups and downs, struggling often with my fear of failure. As a type-A, motivated, perfectionist, fear of failure drives me and, contrary to what some people think, actually has brought me great success rather than failure.

Earlier this year I came to two immensely enlightening realizations, one of which I'll share now and the other I'll share in a later blog. The one I'll share now occurred after a period of time during my Ironman training this year when I was experiencing a wave of emotions that were eerily familiar. I had been focusing for months on one goal, dedicating a huge amount of time to that single goal, missing out on time with family and friends, and fearing the potential failure to meet that goal. The central focus of my summer was training for Ironman. Then one day the reason for my familiarity with these emotions popped into my head: I'd gone through this same wave of emotions and mental stress back in 1997 during the summer I was studying for the Nebraska bar exam. That summer of '97 was spent obsessing about the bar, spending the bulk of my time studying, going to prep classes, and taking practice tests, spending less time socializing, and living with the weight of fear stemming from the possibility that I could fail the bar. Unlike Ironman training, however, my entire future and career rested on passing the bar. Fail the bar, you may be screwed on getting a job, face financial hardship, and end up working as a temp contractor (if you're lucky). Fail to finish the Ironman, well it's months of hard work down the drain, but it's not going to impact your livelihood.

There also were other similarities between studying for the bar and Ironman training. Aside from the "fear of failure" factor, there was the fact that my workouts or my practice legal tests never left me feeling particularly confident about my abilities. I'm the kind of person who doesn't practice well. I thrive better under pressure. So practicing always leaves me feeling like I'm falling a little short, and then I spend time focusing on the weak areas where I need to improve, which actually helps me succeed (the topic of another future blog). Also, there is this adolescent desire among many (not all) triathletes and lawyers to talk about their stats. In law school and during the bar study, the vast majority of students want to talk about what percentage they fell in with their grades, or how they aced a practice bar exam. With triathlons, so many triathletes constantly want to talk about their time splits or the time it took them to complete a particular race. In both areas, the law student and the triathlete often freely offer up their stats without being asked (something that may come across as cocky to some, but to a psych major like me indicates that the person doing the bragging actually has low self esteem). Finally, I feel constantly surrounded by people who don't know when to just let it rest: the law student who is still cramming for the test 5 minutes before walking into the room or the triathlete who can't stop talking about all the intricacies of the race as your wading into the water. Just give me a 30-minute zone of peace before my event, please!

Cut to the chase - all of this made me realize that there's one more thing the legal profession and triathlons have in common: there is a penultimate, highly sought after cherry-on-top for each of these fields. For lawyers, it's arguing in the Supreme Court. For triathletes, it's competing in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. I'll admit- I'd love to do both of these. As a litigator, it just don't get any better than arguing before the nine most brilliant legal minds in the country who are the final say - above Congress and the President - on our nation's laws. I get filled with an overwhelming sense of pride, patriotism, and humility when I step foot into that beautiful majestic building and watch legal arguments that will shape the lives of the American people. It's truly moving shit and something I think every American should witness (and you can - Supreme Court arguments are open to the public).

The Ironman triathlon in Kona also is moving to watch, but for different reasons. There you will see and hear all kinds of stories of triumph - from people who have overcome life-threatening illnesses, to a drug addict/ex convict who used triathlons to turn his life around, to people with amputated limbs, to an 80 year old who finished Kona 21 times. Watching these every day people with regular jobs compete in and finish such a grueling race of 140.6 miles in under 17 hours is a true testament to the human spirit.

Both the Supreme Court and Kona represent the best of each field. They are the stuff of which dreams are made. Few, however, get to realize those dreams. In fact, each year, roughly 120-150 attorneys get the opportunity to argue before the Supreme Court, and, in 2011 roughy 1,800 people competed in the Kona world championship. Small numbers given the number of lawyers and triathletes in this country (and the 1,800 Kona participants are from all over the world). So for many, these are pipedreams, but dreams nonetheless.

Because I am both a lawyer and a triathlete, I have to wonder: if given the chance - and setting aside what it takes to actually qualify for each - would I rather argue before the Supreme Court or participate in Kona? Drumroll please....

I'll take the Supremes, hands down. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to compete in Kona (will never happen though); but, the Supreme Court, for all the reasons I mentioned above, would be sheer joy for me. To know that I had a role in shaping this country's laws in front of the most elite legal minds, would be beyond humbling and gratifying. Plus, I think my Grandoa would be really proud. He'd be proud of me no matter what, but the Supreme Court would probably make tears well up in his eyes - and mine. For a government lawyer like me, the Supreme Court would be my crowning moment.

So there you go. Maybe I'll change my mind after this Sunday's Ironman Arizona. In the meantime though, bring it on Justice Scalia...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

THE RACE: The Crap Factor

The topic of this blog post may seem a bit shocking, but stick with it and I guarantee you that there's a good point.  It's a topic that comes up often among triathletes and runners.  Poop.  Or, I think since we're all adults here, we can give it the more appropriate connotation that it deserves - crap.  (I'll try to keep it PG by saying crap, rather than using the other 4-letter word, but feel free to substitute if you like it better).  Face it - like the children's book says, everyone poops - it's just a natural part of life.  Yet, it's not always kosher to talk about our crap and, because it can be such a taboo subject, many people don't really know how to appropriately deal with their crap.  Unfortunately, it's not just the crap from our gastrointestinal tract with which a lot of us have issues and end up carrying around.  What we can all learn from endurance events like triathlons and running is that you can feel so relieved if you can just figure out how to address your crap and get rid of the crap that weighs you down. So step into my office and let's talk about your crap...

Ever since I started running about 14 years ago, I've had never ending GI issues.  I'll be blunt - I've taken more than my fair share of craps in the woods.  And thank God for McDonald's because even though I don't eat there, I use their restrooms frequently (McD's usually has really clean bathrooms).  I've commiserated with many of my friends about the junk that's ended up in my trunk on long runs.  It's miserable.  Plus, as a vegan now for about 3 years, I eat A LOT of fiber...a lot.  So the GI issues were becoming even more prevalent.  I've had to learn to plot the routes for my long runs in areas where I can hit up the restrooms at least once or twice.  It's just one of the many joys of being an endurance athlete, and I am not alone.

When you're running, it seems to literally jar the crap out of you.  When you're out on a run and you feel that explosive burst of fire about to shoot out your butt, or your stomach starts to cramp up, it weighs you down and takes your focus off your run. Finding a porta potty or bathroom therefore is the most wonderful blessing.  Once you've done your business - expelled the crap - you actually feel lighter and you can get back to the business of focusing on your run.  It's such a relief!  Come on, you know I'm right.  Don't you feel amazingly light and relieved after a good poo?   

Fortunately, over the past year, I've gotten my crap issues a little more under control on my runs.  I realized I was eating way too many calories before and during my runs, and consuming way too much sugar through all the sports drink and Cliff Shot Blocks.  So now I use the sports drink, but then eat potatoes or a particular kind of vegan cookie on my long runs rather than the Shot Blocks.  And I stay far, far away from goo's.  (For those of you who don't know what goo's are, they're little packs of a flavored gel-like substance that's packed full of electrolytes).  Let's just say, the goo makes me poo.
After having been plagued by years by crap on my runs, it's such a relief to have it under control. I still have issues on some days, that's why I continue to plan my long runs around the availability of bathrooms; but, it's nice not to have that crap hanging over my head so that I can just enjoy my run.

Now, let's focus the discussion on the crap in our lives.  Everyone has crap to deal with on a daily basis, whether it's an unfulfilling job, an obnoxious boss, financial stresses, or traffic.  The daily crap with which you deal can weigh you down.  It can divert your focus away from the task at hand and make you less efficient, make your stomach upset, and maybe even make you feel toxic.  Sometimes it may feel like there's no relief in sight - like you're on a long run without a porta potty for miles.  The crap just keeps building up and gets to the point where you feel like you're going to explode.  Well, before you get to that point, why not learn how to control the crap in your life?

Think about how relieved you would feel if you could eliminate some of those heavy, toxic things that weigh you down during the day.  You'd be lighter, better able to focus on the important things or what's right in front of you instead of being distracted by the discomfort of the crap.  Think about what crap is - it's the waste product of the food that our body consumes for energy.  Crap is waste.  So change what goes into your system - your body, mind, and soul - so that you can change what comes out.  Just as I learned to control how much and what I put into my body before a run so that I could control the build-up of crap, you can control what comes into your body, mind, and soul, to literally and figuratively minimize the build-up of crap.

How can you start to control the crap in your life?  Are there things that you can eliminate or control so that you're not weighed down?  Or, if not, can you at least talk about your crap with a good friend?  Sometimes, it's just nice to know that someone else is dealing with their own crap too...Maybe together, you can find a solution or, at least, the nearest bathroom.

Monday, November 14, 2011

AID STATION: Michele's Power Oatmeal

It's Ironman week, counting down to Sunday, so time to make sure I'm hydrating and eating lots of good stuff.  Plus, with the cold season and chilly weather upon us, everyone could stand to perk up their nutrition.  One way to kickstart your health this winter (and all year long) is with a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast.

Not a picture of my oatmeal, but it sure does look good...
Now, some of you may not even eat breakfast.  Really?  If you're one of those people, then you seriously need to have your head examined, along with your health.  The importance of a good breakfast is as fundamental as getting a good night's sleep.  (And I'm guessing the folks who skip breakfast are the same ones who don't get enough sleep...hmmmm).  Think you're going to lose weight by skipping breakfast?  Wrong! An NYU peer reviewed medical blog explains that people who eat breakfast tend to have a lower body mass index ("BMI"), a.k.a. percentage of fat, than those who skip breakfast.  The article notes that although there is no established causal link between skipping breakfast and weight gain, various theories seem to show a relationship, including the tendency of people who skip breakfast to eat a higher caloric intake throughout the day.  Skipping breakfast also has been associated in one Japanese study with fatigue.  In addition, the NYU article noted that in adolescents, academic performance, problem solving skills, attendance, and mood all are affected by breakfast consumption.  Finally, children who eat breakfast are more likely to maintain a healthy weight, according to an article on Livestrong.  I could go on and on about the benefits of breakfast, but just know that if you don't eat breakfast, you're really starting your day out on the wrong foot.  

I know that people are in a hurry to get out the door in the mornings. I'm the same way. So oatmeal has become an easy option for me to eat either before I leave or when I get to work.  It's easy to mix together the dry ingredients in a plastic container and pour some hot water over it when you get to work.  So why oatmeal instead of sugary cereals?  Natural Home and Garden lists some of the benefits of oatmeal:

  1. Lowers cholesterol:  a special strand of fiber called beta-glucan has been shown in studies to reduce levels of bad cholesterol, to help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.  
  2. Boosts immune system:  that same beta-glucan also revs up your immune system by helping fight bacterial infections. 
  3. Protects good cholesterol:  oatmeal contains special antioxidants that prevent free radicals from attacking good cholesterol, which also helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. 
  4. Stabilizes blood sugar:  fiber-rich oatmeal helps stabilize your blood sugar and stave off the sugar "crashes" that result from eating refined sugar.
  5. Lowers risk of diabetes:  oatmeal also is rich in magnesium, which can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by helping the body properly use and secrete insulin.
  6. Protect against breast cancer: a UK Women's Cohort Study found that pre-menopausal women who ate diets rich in fiber from whole grains had a 41% reduced risk of breast cancer over women who ate less fiber from whole grains. 
If you really want to delve into all the wonders of oatmeal, check out The World's Healthiest Foods

So how can you jazz up your boring morning oatmeal?  One of the things I love about oatmeal is that it's great way to sneak in other foods with awesome nutritional value. Throw in some almonds or walnuts for some good fat and protein, apples for some Vitamin A, or raisins for iron.  (If you're my mother, you throw in M&M's, but that may defeat the purpose of the "healthy" oatmeal, although it's better than eating no breakfast at all!). Feel free to experiment with your oatmeal and make it your own, but here's my recipe for a hearty, warm oatmeal that will amp up your day:  

Michele's Power Oatmeal
  • 1/3-1/2 cup quick oats (I buy mine at the bulk bin at the organic store, but Quaker Oats will do the trick.  Just try to avoid the instant packages of oatmeal if you can, which can contain a lot of refined sugar)
  • 1 TBSP peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 slivered almonds or 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • Sugar in the RawOrganic Raw Cane Sugar, or Organic Maple Syrup to taste (if you like your oatmeal sweeter, like I do).  NOTE:  Avoid using refined white and brown sugar and, instead, use raw sugar (which is brown but is not brown sugar).  "Unrefined raw sugar is made from the juice from the sugar cane plant and has trace minerals and nutrients present. Refined sugar is devoid of all nutrients."  See Natural Organic Lifestyle for a discussion of raw vs. refined sugar.  Maple syrup also is a good sweetener because it has been called a "superfood" like blueberries or green tea. 
  • Optional:  1 TBSP Chia seeks (for Omega 3 and 6) or 1 TBSP ground flaxseeds (for Omega 3, 6, & 9).  
  • Hot water (I use about 12 oz for all the ingredients listed above, but use more or less for your desired consistency). 
Combine all the dry ingredients together, along with the peanut butter, in a bowl, pour hot water over it, and let it sit for about 3-5 minutes.  Enjoy with a glass of orange juice or almond milk.  This will fill you up and get your mind and body fueled for the day.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

THE RACE: Be a Force...

My original intention in starting this blog was to take the lessons I've learned from running and triathlon, draw analogies to life, and try to provide some insight about all of the tests of endurance we encounter. What I didn't anticipate though, but should have, is that life actually could teach me some lessons applicable to endurance events.

Last Sunday, I found out that a dear friend of mine from college April.   That's right.  He died six months ago, and I just found out...through the wonders of Facebook no less.  I was shocked, deeply saddened, and angry.  It's taken a few days to sink in and, of course, there's something I've taken away from the situation.  

There should be a new word invented to describe John because current English vernacular just doesn't cut it.  So let me do the best I can with what I have.  We met when we were freshmen in college and he was magnetic - people were just drawn to him.  The guys wanted to be his friend.  The women wanted to date him.  He was the proverbial life of the party without being obnoxious.  He was handsome in a Mel Gibson kind of way (back when Mel Gibson was normal and popular), but didn't know it one bit.  He made everyone he met feel special because he exuded warmth.  He was quick to hug you, but just as quick to punch someone in the face if they were causing trouble.  Once he was your friend, he was always on your side and he'd be harder to shake than a bad habit.

After college, he joined the military and we lost touch for a period of time while I was in law school.  Then sometime after I moved to DC, we managed to get back in touch (although I'm not sure how because this was before the days of Facebook).  Eventually we drifted out of touch again and then a couple of years ago, up popped a message from him on Facebook.

The thing about John is that it didn't matter how many years had lapsed, we could always pick up like no time had passed.  In the intervening years, he'd been married, had two children, and gotten divorced.  He was still in the Army, had been deployed I don't know how many times, and was now stationed in Oklahoma.  I hadn't seen him since college, but we'd always talked about trying to see each other over Christmas when he'd be traveling to Nebraska to see his kids. Unfortunately, it never happened.

I know that I talked to John last Christmas, but I honestly can't remember the last time I talked to him this year.  I got too busy with my house, Ironman training, etc., and it'd been several months since we talked.  I had sent him some text messages and emails a few months ago because I hadn't heard from him.  I even thought he "de-friended" me on Facebook because I tried to check his page one day and it wasn't there. So I sent him a text message, didn't hear back, and a few days later his page re-appeared.  Finally, last Sunday, I went onto his Facebook page to send him a message and see what he'd been up to.  I thought maybe I hadn't heard from him because he'd been deployed.  I literally almost posted a message on his Facebook page to say "Hello, are you alive? Haven't heard from you, so drop me a line." Then for some reason I started reading through some of the other posts on his page.  People were saying "I miss you. Wish you were here."  "We felt your presence over us today."  And as I continued to scroll through all of these posts, I slowly started to realize what happened....

John's last Facebook post was right before Easter, when he posted a message to his kids telling them to find lots of Easter eggs and saying how much he loved and missed them. Then a few days later, he died.  I emailed one of his fraternity friends to find out what happened. Apparently, he had gone out for a run, came back to his house, and had a heart attack.  That's it.  This larger than life guy, who had kicked some major middle eastern ass as a First Sergeant in the Army, went out with a heart attack alone in his house.  

I was beside myself.  It was 11:30 at night and the first thing I did was call my boyfriend to leave him a message while he was sleeping just to tell him I loved him.  Then I called my mom, sobbing.  The next day I was a mess.  Thank God most of my good friends are at work, so I was able to talk to a couple of them during the day and am so thankful for their support.

Besides just struggling with the fact that my friend was dead and I could never talk to him again, I was torturing myself because I didn't make more of an effort earlier this year to talk to him.  I don't pretend to think that I could have somehow prevented him from having a heart attack. Although if I'd talked to him earlier in the year and he'd mentioned to me that he was thinking of going for a run, I may have advised him to consult a physician.  John had always been pretty lean; but, judging from his pictures on Facebook, he'd gained quite a bit of weight over the years, due in part I'm sure to a diet high in beer.   John had always drank a lot - he was a good Irish boy - and he liked hs beer and cigarettes.  So although I'm not sure why his heart gave out, I wouldn't be surprised if the beer and cigarettes had something to do with it.  Anyway, doesn't matter.  What matters is that I don't remember the last time I talked to him and I didn't put in the effort to make time to talk to him.

I've already done the blog about what an ass I've felt like over the past year because I've neglected my family and friends because I was "too busy."  That's not really what this is about.  Yes, I've learned from John's death that life is precious - time missed with your family and friends is time you'll never get back.  While your busy life is ticking away the minutes, someone dear to you can literally die.  I certainly don't wish that upon anyway, but that's the cold hard truth.  So, yes, from John's death I certainly have solidified my recent realization that I need to be better at balancing my priorities and making time for the loved ones in my life even amongst the chaos.  This, however, isn't about what I learned from his death.  I think that the best way you can honor someone who has died, is to take what you learned from their life and put it into practice.  So this is about what I learned from John's life.  

What I learned from John's life is this:  Be a force.  John was a force.  He moved through everything in his life with a force.  He had tremendous obstacles in his life to overcome, from both his childhood and adulthood.  Yet through it all, good and bad, whether it was a party, a deployment in Afghanistan, time with his kids, or his relationships, he put it all out there.  He put his heart, mind, blood, sweat, and tears into all of it.  And you felt the effect of his force.

Merriam Webster defines a force as "strength or energy exerted or brought to bear; cause of motion or change; active power."  I guess maybe that's the best word I can find to describe John - he was a force.  In response to any obstacle, he brought to bear every ounce of strength and energy he had.  

Next Sunday, November 20th, I'll be doing my first Ironman.  One of the reasons I wanted to talk to him last Sunday was to hear his words of encouragement.  John was always one of my biggest fans.  He supported me, no matter what, and knew what to say to motivate me.  Now that he's gone, I have to imagine what he'd say to me to settle my nerves.  But what I don't have to imagine, are his actions and how he got through challenging times in his life.  I can think about his courage, strength, passion, and heart, and I can draw on those.  I can think about how he used all the strength and energy he had to move through any resistance he encountered in life.  He truly was a force to be reckoned with, and I will do my best to emulate that - not only in the Ironman, but in all things.  To honor my friend, I will be a force.  

In all things in life, whatever obstacle or challenge you encounter, be a force...

"Obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it." - Michael Jordan


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

RECOVERY: These Aren't Your Grandma's Foam Rollers...

One of the best things I did for myself this year was to start using a foam roller...and no, I don't mean for my hair...

Not these...
The kind of foam roller I'm talking about is for your muscles and, as far as I'm concerned, it's a miracle tool.  

I'm talking about one of these bad boys...and no, that's not me.
For basically all of my 14 years of running I've been plagued with numerous injuries, predominantly relating to my illiotibial band ("IT band"). I would stretch and take yoga, but nothing seemed to stop the sides of my legs/knees from feeling like someone had beaten them with a baseball bat during and after my longer runs.  Plus, my hips and hip flexors were wicked tight.  I just figured it came with the territory as a runner. 

Then earlier this year, I changed my running form (hopefully the topic of a future blog), which helped immensely with my various pains (albeit there were new growing pains associated with the new form, but those worked themselves out as my form improved).  In addition, I started seeing an accupuncturist (hopefully another future blog topic) to heal my various training injuries.  Finally, instead of all the stretching, I started using a foam roller after my runs and bike rides.  The result of these three things:  I actually love running now!  I don't just do it to lose weight or stay healthy - I actually feel like a runner and am able to enjoy the simple pleasure of running.    

So, what the heck is a foam roller?  It looks like a pool noodle but more dense, not as long, and bigger around.'s Sports Medicine page contains a good description:  "Foam rollers offer many of the same benefits as a sports massage, without the big price tag.  The foam roller not only stretches muscles and tendons but it also breaks down soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue.  By using your own body weight and a cylindrical foam roller you can perform a self-massage or myofascial release, break up trigger points, and soothe tight fascia while increasing blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues."  

If you have sore or tight calves, glutes, hip adductors, or IT bands, a foam roller would be worth a try.  According to Strength Coach"[r]olling can provide great benefit both before and after a workout.  Foam rolling prior to a workout can help to decrease muscle density and allow for better warm-up. Rolling after a workout may help to aid in recovery from strenuous exercise. The nice thing about using the foam roller is that it appears it can be done on a daily basis."  

Depending on your soreness, you should roll for 5-10 minutes.  Also, although I use foam rolling instead of stretching, you should figure out what's best for you.  For me, I tend to over-stretch and stretching just seemed to be causing me more injuries.  If you've been successfully stretching, then maybe you can just incorporate the foam roller a few times a week for added benefit.  If you're like me though and don't seem to get much benefit from stretching, maybe you should start with a foam roller until you can get your muscles to a point where stretching can be more beneficial.  

I must make you aware that foam rolling can be painful, depending on your particular muscular issue.  It should never cause bruising and it shouldn't be so painful that you can't stand it.  But this type of deep massage that works at myofascial release and breaking up adhesions in your tissues isn't going to feel like a day at the spa.  But stick with it - it will get better and you will reap the benefits.  When I first started using the foam roller on my IT bands, it nearly brought me to tears; but, consistent usage over the past 9 months, and my IT bands feel smoother, looser, and don't have the bumps and knots they once had, which I could feel as I moved them over the foam roller.  It may take awhile to work out all those adhesions - which you've taken a long time to build up - but it's worth it.   

Now for the disclaimer/cautionary note:  Make sure to consult a doctor before you engage in any physical activity and you may want to seek the advice of a physical therapist, coach, or doctor before using a foam roller. Blah, blah, blah...Just go buy one and Google how to use it, be careful not to do anything stupid with it, and please avoid doing any rolling with your spinal cord and neck.  And you probably shouldn't let your kids play with it or leave it anywhere that would make the dog think it's a chew toy....

Here are a few websites I found with good foam roller exercises:  
Happy rolling!