Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Vineman Full Triathlon - Race Report

These are the Vinemen. We trained together - with 50 other teammates - for 38 weeks. On Saturday, we raced the Vineman Full Triathlon, the oldest ironman-distance race in the country. Through the hills and valleys and vineyards of Sonoma County, CA, we swam, biked and ran for an entire day. Not just for the sake of a challenge, but also to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma society find a cure for blood cancers, and all cancers.

The Vinemen: Rona, Lisa, Tiffany, me, Marissa, Alex, Amanda, Beth, Marianthe. (Not pictured: Rene, Elissa, Solange, Ben, Naomi)

Back in October, I dedicated my season to my friend, Fern. She's one of my biggest supporters and cheerleaders. I know other folks who can say the same. Despite her multiple bouts with three types of cancer, she shares her warmth, spirit and charity with everyone she knows. And though she does not do marathons anymore herself, she's the first to yell your name on twitter on race day. She deals with insurance and doctors and extreme weather in Colorado. I deal with steep hills, little sleep and temperate Southern California. If she can do it. I can do it. That's why I race for her.

I was especially nervous in the days leading up to the race. When you train for something for nine months and sacrifice important parts of your life for a goal ... that one day that it all boils down to becomes very, very important. And sometimes daunting. As Christine described, I had ants in my pants all week. It was a relief to stop juggling work and packing and my general well-being and just head up to NorCal on Wednesday. Holly and I made the long car drive in 9 hours. We definitely did not PR that trip. But we got there, joined the team, and settled into a few days of light workouts and race prep before the big day.

Pre-Race Thoughts:

The coaches (Holly, Dave, Jason, Amy, Adam and Quinton) would check in with me now and then to make sure I wasn't overly nervous. Simply asking, "How are you feeling?" was helpful. I chatted with Coach Brad, too, about performance anxiety and the pressure I felt. Easy conversations helped keep my butterflies from morphing into monsters. I used a few phrased to help myself get through the lead up time.

"It's just pain." I've been telling myself this for the past couple of weeks, mostly to calm my nerves. When I think about why I get anxious in the time leading up to races, it partially comes back fearing the pain that race brings about. Sure, no one likes to be in physical pain, and I know that I have many years of experience dealing with it. But the anticipation of it nags at me. So I spoke to myself directly about it. It's just pain. It's not fatal. I've survived it up until this point of my life. I will make it through no matter how badly it hurts.

"Identify the problem. Make a decision. Move forward." This is the strategy I try to take with me in any endurance race. We try to prepare so that problems do not arise during an event. We aim for a perfect day. But realistically, shit happens. The approach I've found works best for me is to figure out what's wrong (my stomach hurts or my legs are cramping or my sunscreen is getting in my eyes...etc), make a decision about it (do x or y), and keep going. Reevaluate if necessary. Indecision and wallowing don't get you through the miles. So I mentally prepped myself to be ready for this ID/decide/move strategy. And I definitely used it on Saturday.

"Race hard. Make it hurt. It is for others."
Amazing words from Georgia Ironteam member Adam Heiser. He donated to my fundraising page and left those thoughts in the comments section. They capture so much. I wrote this on my right leg right under my race shorts so that every time I pedaled, I could read it. I repeated it throughout the day.

Race Morning:
Normally I'm a ball of nerves before the race. This time was a little different. Our schedule was methodical so I just approached each task individually (check bags one last time, meet team, ride bus, retrieve bike, check gear, set up transition) and staved off any overwhelming feelings. For the most part. I admittedly spent 5 minutes during the bus ride not fighting back some tears that I was probably harboring for the past couple of months. But other than that, all went smoothly.

My nerves that morning were channeled through my bladder - holy hypo-hydration! I was in the bathroom (or river) at least four times. That's not usual for me. And I learned a valuable lesson about dark port-a-johns that hopefully will save you in the future: The toilets have lids. Make sure the lids are up before you pee. Because if you don't, you will pee on your socks and shoes. You're welcome.

Saturday 5:15am. Time for a Wetsuit Adventure of sorts

Oatmeal and his rented wheels

Some final tunes

After finalizing my area, checking my brakes for rubbing and going for a warm up jog, I hung around with our team at the edge of the water. A quick warm up swim and a few last minute hugs were in order. Oddly, my heart rate never rose in anticipation of a long and grueling day. I stayed very calm, probably in denial that today would be as long as it was. My teammate Marissa and I waded into the water together and hung out before our wave went off. No fireworks, no big count down. Just the announcer sending us off.

Good luck hug from Coach Dave. Marissa's Disney princess hair stealing our moment

The swim is a two-loop out and back section of the Russian River. You swim against the current going out, and with the current coming back. Man, that turnaround buoy seemed so far away! It was only 0.6 miles away ... but it felt like an eternity! I suppose that was slightly due to said current (because the way back felt faster). I got elbowed and kicked a couple times - expected. But I found my rhythm quickly, and the only thing that threw my off is that it felt like I was swimming through hair. Yes, hair. I kept lifting my arm up and looking underwater to see if i was bringing along a glut of seaweed with me. But I saw nothing. Just felt this creepy sensation (particularly up river) that I had spiderwebs caught on my arms and face. Gross.

My GPS report of the swim

Made the full loop turn for one more out-and-back. Peeked at my watch. Felt like 60mins, but was only 35. Swim, kick, swim, kick, all the way down and back. Second time seemed shorter and soon I was heading toward the Swim out arch. Popped up, got my barring and went on my way. My teammate and amazing photographer, Pai, saw me first and cheered me on. Moments later, at the wetsuit strip station, my other teammates were yelling for me.

One sport down. Two to go.

Swim Time: 1:10:26

Things you rarely hear from strangers on a Saturday morning: Volunteer, "Can I help you lube up?" Me, "You know, I think I'm all set." She decided helping me sunscreen was a little less invasive. I wanted to improve on my 10-minute transition from IMCDA '10. So I sped through my checklist, only forgetting to wash my feet with my water bottle. A dirty towel casualty but it worked well enough. I racked at the end of the setup, right next to the rug leading to Bike Out. So soon enough, I was on my way.

PR'd my transition! Never thought that would happen

Transition Time: 4:36

Bike: The theme of the Vineman bike for me was gambling. I didn't set out to gamble. I set out to 'race my plan' as Coach Dave and I had chatted about. I aimed to keep my pace between 17.5-18.5 mph for the first loop, which would hopefully ensure fresh legs for the second half and for the run. Play it safe.

But once I got out among the vineyards, I changed my plan. This was partially fueled by the wheels I was riding. I'd decided to rent some Zipp 808s from Podium Wheel Rentals (which, by the way, I HIGHLY recommend. The owner, Tony, is a great guy and did everything he could to make sure my bike and the wheels were in top shape before the race). I didn't rent them because I wanted to win by any means. But, as Holly put it, "Whatever will get you off the bike sooner." Hey, the less I have to sit there and pedal, the better. So I rented them and figured I'd buy some speed. Oh boy, did they feel great! I felt lighter and faster with the same effort I normally grind along in. I hadn't ridden with these wheels before, so it took me a few miles to adjust to handling them (ie - you need to be more mindful and gripping of the steering), but I easily fell in love with the discs by mile 15.

All morning these guys would pass me on the bike

Trying not to chase the stranger

So, me and Oatmeal and the new wheels arbitrarily decided to go for my 'A-Race" / non-conservative time which in my head was two 3-hour loops, an 18.6mph average for each. I very well knew during the ride that I was pushing pretty hard without the safety-net-knowledge that I could run a consistent and 4:30-ish marathon after this bike. Every couple of minutes, I reminded myself of our coaches words, "Chess not Checkers" meaning that this wasn't a balls-to-the-wall race to win here. Every move you make in the swim and the bike sets you up for the run. Be strategic.

I chugged through the first section of the course - River Rd and Dry Creek - all alone. Some of the faster guys with aero helmets whizzed by me and I fought to keep my cool and not chase. One guy who saw my leg pedaled by and said, "29 and looking fine!" which made me laugh. After climbing Canyon Road - which I didn't realize was a climb so I started to get worried my brakes were rubbing or my legs were shot - I descended into Geyserville. Rode by Jason and Dave at mile 28 - quick cheers from them. Onto Route 128 and eventually Chalk Hill.

I didn't see anyone I knew for a long time. All I saw was a slew of 40- and 50-year old men speeding past me. I'd chase them for a minute, and then return to my "Checkers not Chess" mantra. I saw one woman pass me too. I didn't have a death wish to chase her, so again, I sat back and rode.

Chalk Hill is a .75-mile climb at mile 44 and mile 100. I knew my teammates would be there at the top to cheer us all up. Unfortunately, I arrived a little too early and they had hit traffic getting there from the swim location. So up and over Chalk Hill I went to the clapping of a few strangers. I didn't have any problems on the climb, and a few miles of a descent that followed it cheered me up. More rollers through the last section of the loop.

As I pulled into mile 56 at Windsor High School, I saw a crowd on the sidewalk. And there was my teammate Lindsay cheering me on. It was a little moment that boosted me up big time. Arrived at Special Needs (mile 57) and saw Holly standing across the road. Can't remember our conversation other than I felt okay and proceeded to shove a ball of salted rice into my mouth. A great break from my Cliff Bar bite every 20 minutes. Unbeknownst to me, she was updating facebook and twitter all day with my progress for my friends. That was cool to come back to and read after the race.

Shoveling a rice ball and quietly celebrating the end of loop one

About 15 miles after special needs, I saw two sets of Cheer Squads - in superhero costumes - along some lonely stretches of the course. Not only were they cheering me up, but a few riders thanked me for bringing 'the cool kids out on the course'. I can't say that I went to a 'dark place' during the race, but if I were to pinpoint my low moments, they were here on the second loop. 1) The rough roads started to piss me off. Very few sections of the ride were paved smoothly. Mostly, it was pitted, pocked asphalt that rumbled under the tires. After 3+ hours of trying to steer on the smoothest parts of the grooved road, I was cranky.

Speaking of cranky, my neck and left shoulder were exactly that. I'd been riding mostly in aero and straining my neck. I had to keep rubbing my shoulder so it wouldn't mutiny on me.

And then there was my stomach's refusal of Gatorade around mile 85. I had grabbed the lemon-lime drink at an aid station right before mile 85 (Geyserville, where Jason and Dave were waiting). I drank it without a problem for a while. But as I approached the station, I took the last two sips to finish the bottle and prep for grabbing a replacement. Those sips kind of doomed me. My stomach went sour immediately. It hurt enough that I couldn't get back in aero. Cramped, bloated, uncomfortable. So, I made a decision - water and solids only if I could help it. Kept going.

That pretty much worked. After an hour, my stomach settled. My legs were getting tired and I was ready to be done with the bike. I looked forward to getting up Chalk Hill again because it meant I'd get some downhills and be heading into transition soon. Coach Amy was standing at the aid station before the hill - great to see her! She yelled something about being number 2, but I wasn't sure what she meant and I was tired, so I just kept going. Luckily, the cheer squad was working their magic the second time I arrived. So amazing to see them in costume and running up the hill as we biked. I high fived them, got to the top and sped down and away.

Excited to see my teammates!

Lindsay and Pete and the best cheerers ever

Jared wearing my new favorite T-shirt

Cheer Squad with one of my teammates

Saw another section of cheerers a few miles later. Coach Brad screamed words of encouragement and off I climbed on the last little hill (Faught Rd, I think). An easy 2-mile downhill into town after. Before hitting downtown, I saw Megan and Bobbi cheering. They, too, yelled, "You're number 2" as I passed by. I assumed that meant either I was in second for women, for my age group or for Team in Training participants. Since I was alone almost the entire second loop of the bike (a few guys around, and only two girls), I had no idea where I was in the field. Nor did I care. I didn't show up to race, so I just stayed focus on holding off the pain and fatigue as long as possible. I decided that I'd put placement thoughts aside and just stay within myself.

That smile says: "Oh my god get me off this bike! I'm chaffing! I just peed on this bike 10 minutes ago and I really want to change my socks!

By mile 112, I was ready to be done with the race. But there were plenty of miles to go. I pulled up to the dismount line and breathed out, "It's about time." Another watch glimpse showed I'd pretty much met my A-goal. For better or worse. I had no idea how this run would go.

Bike Time: 6:01:22

T2: The jog from bike in to my actual transition area took about a minute in bike shoes. I heard Holly yell to remind me where I'd set up my Mario Kart cinch bag the day before. Once found, I dumped the contents, made some quick decisions (no new shorts, definitely new socks, no hydration belt, yes nutrition belt, OMG I need vaseline stat!) and got all dressed up for the final legs of the race. She pointed me to the Run Out arch and reminded me to pour water over my head at every aid station and to stick to my interval. As I jogged forward I registered that my Achilles were not on fire, as I anticipated. Happy to be on two feet instead of two wheels!

Transition Time: 4:52

Run: It was a happy run. That's pretty much it. Three loops out and back through some farmlands and vineyards. Less hilly than I remember it being when we ran this course on training weekend six weeks ago. I completed my first loop feeling pretty great. I knew I couldn't have the Gatorade, so I stuck with water, cola and a few shot blocks. In hindsight I could have eaten a little more to ward of some cramping at mile 21. And thanks to my teammate Anabel for suggesting we carry ice in ours hands to keep our temperatures down. I carried ice for more than half of the run. Every aid station (each mile or so) I'd refill. Lifesaver move!

Happy runner!

The cheer squad appeared on my second loop, and having a group of friends to loop forward to seeing - at the finish and at the middle of the loop - was invaluable. Since I don't normally race with people I know in the crowd, the whole spectator-cheering-for-me concept was a little new. But it was so great, and I'm really grateful they made the trip up and staying all day (16+ hours) to cheer us all on.

I ticked off each mile steadily, my pace hovering between 9:20-10min/mile. I walked the hills I needed to, and walked through the aid stations. Other than that, just kept moving forward. I was in great spirits, laughing and smiling and chatting with the volunteers. I returned back to town to start the final loop. I eyed the race clock (total time) for the first time all day. It read 10:13:15. I did some quick math. I had 1hr50mins to go about 8.5 miles. I figured if I didn't blow up, I had a shot at a sub-12hr time. In the least, I felt pretty confident I'd best my IM CDA time (12:42).

Out on the last lap and despite the miles behind me, I still felt good. It wasn't until mile 21 when I hit a steep hill that my left quad screamed with a cramp and I went dead stop. Uh-oh.

Decidedly less happy runner. Muscle mutiny imminent

I was with my teammate Lisa, and she handed me some salt pills. It was too late for them to do me any good then, but I swallowed them anyway. I gritted my teeth and walked through the cramp. Okay, so this is the pain I had been fearing. Hurts like hell, but it's manageable. After a few minutes the seizing ceased. But for those last 5 miles, my body crept toward the edge of total spasm. Calves, quads, hamstrings, ankles even! I made it to the turnaround for the last time (4.8 miles to go!) and headed to the finish. I passed the cheer squad and asked Bobbi to text someone at the finish line that I'd be arriving with all of my cramps ready to take over.I adjusted my gait and slowed my pace just a little. I'd see some Ironteammers from San Francisco, or some of my own teammates, and would cheer them on at a whisper or give a thumbs up. Things were turning south for me and I needed to finish soon.

Still clocking 9:50-10min/miles when I made it to mile 25. I was taking an interval walk break when Brad saw me and yelled at me to run. So I did. Well, I hobbled. Down the street and toward the finish. I took a minute during that stretch to let it hit me that this journey was over. My breathing hitched a bit but I kept my head about me and motored on. My quad cramped with 0.4 miles left to go. I grabbed it with my left hand and kept running. Hell if that quad was gonna make me stay out there any longer! Two turns through a throng of spectators and suddenly I was alongside my teammates Clare, Riz, EWS and Raul. Had to delicately negotiate a speed bump with almost-cramped legs. Approached the volunteer directing folks either to the turnaround or the finish. I told him that I was heading to that finish and he high fived me along. Heard my name, ran as best I could, and crossed the line. My Campaign Director Rachel was standing there to medal me. And then Jason and Dave on either side welcoming me in. Kind of a perfect end to the season.

Down the finisher's chute

Stupid Happy Finish Grin

Run Time: 4:17:24

Finish Time: 11:38:39

By the numbers, I improved over IMCDA by 64 minutes: 7min on the swim, 5min in T1, 42min on bike, another 5min in T2 and 5min on the run. Oddly enough, I thought more 'went wrong' here than at CDA. Stomachache, sore neck and cramping. But no matter, it all worked out fine.

The race continued for hours. I called my parents, ate some chicken soup, and cheered in all of my teammates. In the time between finishers we swapped stories and hugs and I checked my phone to see a billion great messages from friends and family. One in particular, some emails from my Dad, made me laugh. He started this string of emails about 45mins before I crossed the finish line. He and my mom were tracking me on the Vineman site from back home in CT. These made me laugh.

Click to enlarge

Yeah, I finished second in my age group (25-29) and the 9th female overall. Cool? Sure. Do I want to train harder to 'up' those placements? Hmmm...I appreciate balance, so I think the answer is 'not right now.'

Once the clock wound down to 16hrs 30mins, 11:00pm, the Ironteam got together for one last photo and cheer. Transition bags and bikes retrieved. Car loaded. Headed to the hotel. And with that ... the season ended.

Tunnel of Love for Tiffany

Final 'Go Team!'

Final Photo Op

Final Thoughts: I believe you should get a starter's medal at the beginning of race day. Because making it to that start line, through the training and through the stress and through life in general, is a feat. It does not matter how fast you can propel yourself through 140.6 miles. To practice doing so over and over again for so many months in a row is deserving of its own award. Each one of my teammates - Wildflowers, CDAers and Vinemen, did this, regardless of what the clock said on race day.

I have sworn up and down that I'm not a triathlete. I still kind of don't think I am. I'm a bit of an imposter, a runner who happens to go to the pool a few times a week and a little kid who likes to climb mountains on a bike that costs more than most things I own. I'll concede, however, that I'm an adventurer and an endurance junkie. Okay, if my fun comes in three flavors like swim, bike and run ... well then, sure, call me the T word. I can get used to that.

Thank you everyone who cheered me on throughout the day. I read facebook and twitter and text messages on the ride home from the race, and they made me smile knowing that across the country there were people rooting for me to keep going.

Three years ago I was a very different kid. When I completed CDA, I knew I had done something life-changing. I had proven to myself that, with enough effort and desire, I could go after the things I wanted. No barriers. And in the years in between then and now, I realized that what I wanted was more balance in my life. More fun. More love. More kindness and charity. Cheesy, of course, but I stand by it. Perhaps my Vineman race time isn't 'proof' that I've accomplished those things. The clock doesn't measure your quality of life. But looking back on this season as a whole, with the race being a bookend to the whole journey, I am confident that I have made strides. After all, aren't these sports just one big metaphor for life? Year by year, you work hard to get a bit better. Well, I have. Cheers to progress and to the next adventure.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Race Brain

Race Brain. It happens often during the week prior to an event. Luckily, I don't race all that often, so I don't deal in this kind of stupidity frequently. But when I do approach an event weekend, inevitably the important parts of my brain take a quick holiday. My abilities to do math, read, sit still, make sound decisions and feed myself go on hiatus, and I end up in odd situations, like standing in my kitchen, staring at the microwave, trying to calculate arbitrary pace per mile stats or applying for jobs on crab-fishing fleets outside of Anchorage, AK.

I haven't felt the shadow of the impending event on me recently. The taper has felt normal, complete with heavy legs and odd knots in my quads. Since we're traveling north (by car) for this one, I don't have any added "pack for the plane" pressure. I was all good, humming along last week and this weekend without a race nerve in sight. Well, I thought I was but everyone around me may beg to differ. But last week was fun, and I had extra time to be social - go out during the week and on the weekend and after practice. Then yesterday had to come along and remind me that it's time to start thinking ahead to next weekend.

Before and after our wonderfully funny team send-off dinner, I began the packing process. I remember packing for IMCDA three years ago. I was clueless, but managed to get all my stuff together. I vividly remember having to sign off of twitter for the week, though, because I was so overwhelmed with race chatter. I didn't want to read or talk about it - it stressed me out. My living room became a tornado of gear and clothes. It all got thrown in a bag - and off I went.

This time - because I am with a team that is very methodical and specific and plan-oriented - I have a different approach. I have a list - a couple drafts of it. I have piles of things based on days and workouts. (We race on Saturday, but will work out multiple times Thursday and Friday). I have a lot of gear because we're driving and it all fits, so why not pack extra.

And so I sit and stare at this list that says things like, "Buy rice" and all I can think is, "Where do I get rice from? How does someone 'buy rice' as my list is suggesting that I do?" And suddenly I'm once again an amoeba of a being who, instead of understanding our national currency system and the logistics of a grocery store, chews on the dollar bills because they feel funny in your mouth.

So I let my stress level - or, ants in my pants, as my friend calls it - rise. And in reaction, I turn my brain to something else completely random in avoidance. ("I could be a lumberjack. I like to be outside.") And the stress subsides. And then I turn back to the task at hand, which still hasn't gotten accomplished because of the mental ebb and flow that's been tidaling inside my head.

The coaches provided race notes and an itinerary for the weekend, which I read through this morning. Some people are comforted by knowing how a course is laid out (exact aid stations, hills, hot stretches, etc.) I'm finding out I am not one of these people. I like to know the macro view - where's the big hills? About how many miles to the aid station? What are they serving there? But reading through an extremely thorough (bravo to the coaches who compiled this!) description of the course did not do well for my race brain. I don't want to anticipate tough stretches because optimistically I hope that I won't have too many of them. I'm not being naive to think they won't happen. But I'd rather try to turn my focus on all the good that can happen instead of the suck.

In the moments I rise out of my own head and garner some perspective, I'm able to appreciate this experience (this season, this week, Saturday) for what it has been and will be for me. Keeping my expectations in check is something I've managed all season. I didn't train with individual improvement in mind. I trained with this group to learn how to coach swimming and biking and the entire trifecta together. That goal I think I achieved, and there is no medal or finish line for it. Saturday is for fun and a celebration of not only the training we've all done, but the fundraising impact we've made. Over $450,000 our team raised for LLS. I won't win, but as long as I finish, then I won't call it a disappointment. I'll think of my friends, my friend, one of my heroes Fern (@sitbones) and all the choices I've made in life that have lead me to sitting on that bicycle seat for many, many hours. I look forward to the challenge and hope it's not too painful. But when the day drags on and my legs hurt or I'm low on energy and spirit, I can remind myself that it's just pain: it's temporary and it sucks. But it's just pain. Nothing new. Just that same old feeling to work through.

So hopefully Race Brain will recede soon and excited energy will take over. Full focus will turn onto the event on Wednesday. Until then, I have to use my race brain at work. Which is difficult enough in itself, and I'm considering bringing in this little champ as replacement for the rest of today and tomorrow. Not sure bosses would even know the difference.

Don't worry Goofy, go do your race. I goat this.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Buckle Up Buttercup - Vineman 140.6 - July 2013

“So this is the part where I’m supposed to tell you it’s not scary. Well, it is. But fear is natural, fear is good. It just means you’re growing.” - unknown

It's not quite fear. It's not really nerves. Or even excitement or anticipation. I'm not sure it has a single word assigned to it in our language. It's the feeling you get when you've been doing something for so long that you forget it's part of a larger end goal, and that goal is finally in sight. Like when the captain of the plane wraps up the multi-hour flight with 'we've begun our initial descent' and you suddenly remember that you're on a plane heading toward a destination. You haven't been aimlessly floating in the giant metal bird without purpose.

That's what 25 days out from an Ironman triathlon feels like. It's time to store the electronics and return the tray tables to their upright and locked positions. And buckle up, Buttercup, the fasten seatbelt sign is on.

We officially started this season on November 2nd of last year. But with unofficial preseason workouts, meetings and planning sessions, we are well over 8 months into this endeavor. I've never training for anything this long. And never spent so much training time with...people. Other than just me and my brain. My previous races of this distance - iron and ultra - were 22 and 20 weeks respectively. One ultra with a buddy. The other ultra and one Ironman alone. So being in week 35 of the same training program is a little odd. On the one hand, the amount of dedicated time is comforting - I damn sure know I've put in the training. But on the other hand - it's startling to realize we actually have to take the race-day test soon.

Maybe it's in my head now because I got to see the majority of my teammates compete and complete Ironman Coeur d'Alene last weekend. Whirlwind tour of beautiful Idaho. A wonderful race exhibiting some extremely determined people. Walked away from that trip very impressed by the group. My friends became Ironmen for their first and second time. A few were halted by the clock, but are still some of the most inspiring and determined folks I've ever met.

A visual summary of the fun this season

With my fellow Coaches and Campaign Manager in Lake Coeur d'Alene. 3 years and a day after after a 2.4-mile swim. Surreal.

And now the lens turns to the remaining 14 Greater Los Angeles Ironteam racers - the Vinemen. We've got our two biggest weekends of the season lined up. This weekend is a 100-mile ride and short transition run on Saturday. And then an ocean swim (somewhere in the 2-mile range) and a 20-mile run on Sunday. The following week is our mega-brick, 5hrs of riding and 3hrs of running on Saturday. And then another ocean swim and double-digit run on Sunday. Top of the mountain! We'll recover for a week and taper into the race day on July 27th.

I'm as happy-as-a-hamster-on-a-wheel working out for hours. So, barring nutrition or heat fails, it will be an enjoyable climb to the top of this mountain. But I'm also looking forward to our recovery and taper. This season did not go as expected. The demands of my day job shifted dramatically this spring, and a lot of the time I had allotted to balancing my life disappeared. I have done the best I can to handle. And my friends have weathered my complaints and frustrations. The tiny dance parties I held at the beginning of the season are long gone. I miss having downtime, laughing a lot, and having fun outside of the sports world. I'm weary. But everyone who trains for events this extreme deals with these sacrifices. And it's worth it in the end. I have raised funds in good cause, met a whole group of wonderful people, and gotten to do things I never thought I would.

In these last-stretch in-betweens, when the people I talk to daily grow tired of my work grips and my waning enthusiasm... I watch this video. I first learned about John Blais from "A Life Without Limits" - Chrissie Wellington's autobiography. And while I swear I've had my tear ducts removed, this story gets me every time.

When you are sitting on an airplane and going through turbulence, there is something oddly comforting when you look across the aisle and see that your fellow passengers are right there - jangled along - with you. No one is comfortable. No one enjoys the stress. But everyone is in the same situation, just dealing with it. I watch this video and I feel connected. John achieved his Ironman status in the face of the debilitating disease that would eventually take his life. I cannot fathom his pain, but I try to channel his courage. These days, I watch my teammates workout and I am reassured that I'm not the only one going through the tough stretch. We are all in it.

Rarely is there a plane ride that doesn't have a hiccup. It's all part of the trip. And getting from there (who I was in October 2012) to here (who I am now) is the purpose behind why I signed up for Vineman in the first place. To challenge and to change. So, Buttercup, this it is. Put the distractions away and focus on the touchdown. Turbulence or none, fog or none ... stick that landing.

My efforts are for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program. Check it out here.