Thursday, May 15, 2014

Welcome to 2014!

School is out for the summer, I am well aware that I did not update my blog during the fall…or the winter…or the spring, so let me give you the cliff notes version of my P3 year.

Fall: I celebrated my 25th birthday with the Richmond Half Marathon. In one of my best-paced races ever, I hit a solid PR (1:18.17), dropping nearly 90 seconds from the same course in 2012. I ran alongside a running friend (thanks Sallie!), descending the entire race and feeling strong while doing it. The race improved my confidence in the distance and was one of the most fun races of my career.

We literally slept in a cave
Winter: Tim and I took full advantage of our long Christmas break (there are perks to being a professional student). My younger sister Margaret came to Richmond for a week of sister bonding and liked it so much that she’s moving to Richmond this month! We then celebrated Christmas with both sides of the family. During my time in small town Indiana with my in-laws, I was able to swim with a local high school team. Though I had sworn off 3+ hour Christmas break swim workouts long ago, I found myself spending all morning at the pool and loving every minute of it. We then embarked on a little tour of the South. In addition to spending the night inside a cave outside of Chattanooga, we enjoyed time in Savannah and Hilton Head.

Lobster dinner in the Naples sun!
Spring: Tim and I had a blast in Florida with my grandparents and great aunt over spring break. How many people can say they genuinely love spending spring break with three 80+ year olds and a 70-something? I was voted “Most Likely to Be the First to Pay off Their Student Loans” in the Class of 2015 superlatives, an award I celebrated by making a payment to Sallie Mae. I also finished the coursework portion of my PharmD (FAQ: So does that mean you’re almost done with school? Answer: No, but I only have PharmD rotations and my PhD coursework/research left!). While I will certainly miss seeing my friends and classmates every day, I do not anticipate a sense of loss if I never again have to memorize thick packets of PowerPoint slides filled with drug names, dosages, indications, contraindications, side effects, monitoring parameters, etc. (PSA: Yes, your pharmacist knows all this information – take advantage of this accessible health care provider!). 

As my summary of the last nine months attests, my P3 year included a number of incredible experiences with great friends and family. In between these considerable highlights, though, were significant, non blog-worthy experiences that made me feel a bit like life’s punching bag. Difficult times often require self-reflection, and one particular moment of introspection was inspired after spectating the major Junior Elite triathlon hosted by my triathlon club, Endorphin Fitness. As I cheered on a number of junior athletes who I train with and reminisced about junior racing, I decided to reread – for the first time since submitting it - my Common Application essay for college. I’ve included my opening paragraph below.

Dismounting from my bike, I depart on the final run of my triathlon with equal amounts of trepidation and excitement. My exhausted body knows the pain I will endure during the ensuing run; my mind recalls how laborious each step will feel as my legs adjust from biking to running. The hours of painful training, the numerous fans who sacrificed hours of sleep to support me, and the sense of accomplishment I’ll feel at the finish line drive me, pushing my mind and body to new limits. Amidst my haywire emotions, I feel a sense of calm, a connection with God as I race, and I know that I have found my ideal sport. Triathlons are more than my greatest hobby; the sport embodies my character and ambitions. Triathlons exhilarate and excite me, challenge me physically and mentally, and teach me invaluable lessons about faith, determination, and success.

Junior Racing. Margaret is behind me wearing her "coach" shirt.
The essay reconnected me with my 17-year old self. As a homeschooled high school senior, I was in nearly complete control of my education. I accomplished an incredible amount that year, as I was free to pursue my passions in coursework, research, and extracurricular activities. Life beat me down this year, and in the fight to keep my head above water, those passions became a dim light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. I am reaching the end of that tunnel, though, and my excitement for triathlon and my education are as bright as the Richmond sun that has so cruelly begun burning me on runs. My race season will start later this year - in June - but when I do toe that starting line, rest assured that I will feel the exhilaration, excitement, and challenge that I so accurately described seven years ago as a junior triathlete.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Augusta 70.3 Race Report

Last weekend, Tim and I traveled down to Augusta, GA for my half-ironman debut.  The race was the finale of my 2013 triathlon season. 

In my race-related travels this summer, I have been able spend Friday nights before Sunday races with family, friends, and a stranger who became a friend.  My streak of good fortunate continued, and Tim and I spent Friday night in Newberry, South Carolina with Emil, one of our best friends from college.

As an aside, these years are really a primetime for Tim and me. You may have heard the term “DINKs” (double income no kids). Well, Tim and I are “NINKs” (no income no kids). We’re poor students living a double-student loan lifestyle, but the adventures and experiences we have now will be some of our best memories. Combining triathlons with visits to family and friends helps me feel like I’m making the most of the opportunities I have because of triathlon. Some of my most poignant triathlon memories are things like watching the Kentucky Derby from a restaurant in Knoxville and stopping on the way home from Collegiate Nationals at Foamhenge, a life-size replica of Stonehenge made entirely out of foam. So, I’d like to take the chance to once again thank all of my hosts this summer – Ingrid and David, The Troy/Grundy family, Lauren, my parents, and Emil.

Back to Augusta. In order to give a complete tale of my race, I need to back up a few weeks.  I lost two members of my extended family in the month before the race. First, my great uncle passed away. Then, ten days before Augusta 70.3, I lost my life-long next-door neighbor, Bob. His death hit me like a series of unrelenting punches to the stomach. Bob was a hero to me. He flew bombers in the Asian Theater in WWII, was married to his high-school sweetheart for 69 years, and, as my next-door neighbor since I was six months old, has been a constant presence throughout my life. Furthermore, three days later, I came down with “the viral crap”. Yes, that’s an official diagnosis by a medical professional. I had to take my very first pharmacy school sick day. To add insult to injury, the lecture I missed was on fecal transplantation for C. diff infection. I take one sick day and miss one of the best lectures in all of pharmacy school.

Once again, I found myself deciding whether my body was up for racing. I was nervous about racing my first half ironman while recovering from illness, but I wanted to race for one primary reason. My heart was quite literally aching with grief. I wanted to race because I wanted my legs to ache and my lungs to burn so that those pains would overpower the pain in my heart.  So, once again, I decided to race.

I did not have a great swim, but apparently a lot of others didn’t either, because I came out of the water in the top half. I ended up swimming most of the race with a girl who I raced with back during my collegiate days. She earned her pro license while in medical school, so I have a lot of respect for her as someone who can understand my balancing act. Plus, she pointed out the wetsuit strippers to me as we were running into transition, which she definitely didn’t have to do. These wetsuit strippers weren’t just the ones who unzip your wetsuit. They actually sat me down and pulled off my wetsuit in less than five seconds. That may or may not have been one of the coolest parts of the race.

My bike leg went pretty well. I held the high end of my power range (for the first time of the season!). Unfortunately, I misunderstood the directions my coach gave me about nutrition on the bike. It’s a long story, but it suffices to say that I ingested approximately 500 calories during the entire 56-mile ride.   Do you know what it feels like to run a half-marathon with an ~2000 calorie deficit? It feels like…

…. a wrecking ball. Yes, my mind was actually citing Miley Cyrus lyrics during the race. But, if you’ve ever bonked that hard, you know that the feeling resembles that of being hit with a wrecking ball. So props to my fatigued brain for coming up with a witty pop culture reference.

Seriously, though, the run was one of the most miserable things I have ever done. By mile four, I had bonked so completely that I told Tim that I was done. I could not imagine running nine more miles. The distance seemed impossible. Tim told me to focus on getting to the next aid station and advised me to stop there and eat and drink as much as I could. So that’s what I did. I stopped at each of the next seven aid stations. I do not remember much about those nine miles, but two things stick out to me when I think about that run. First, I didn’t feel alone. At least half of the age-groupers who I passed on my second lap of the two-lap run course cheered for me. The course was lined with fans, and countless kids gave me high-fives. People always talk about the strength of the triathlon community, but sometimes it’s hard for me to really experience that when I’m training and racing alone. I felt embraced by that strength in Augusta, and I am so thankful to the fellow triathletes who encouraged me. Secondly, I realized around mile eight that, despite the pain in my legs, I could still feel the pangs of grief in my heart. In that moment, though, I recognized that not everything can be powered past through sheer willpower.  I am not weak because I still feel heartache over the loss of Bob, and I need time, not brute force, to overcome that grief.

When I crossed the finish line, I felt humiliated. I knew that people would see my time and place in the results. They’d see that I ran a 1:38 half marathon (which is actually way faster than I would have expected based on how terrible I felt) and judge my second-to-last place finish as a failed attempt at the distance.

Eventually, though, I started to feel differently. I started to feel empowered. I had kept going, one step at a time, through a challenge that, in the moment, felt impossible. So I learned again a lesson that attracted me to the sport nearly a decade ago: triathlon empowers me. It makes me realize that, by some combination of willpower, family/community support, and faith, I can overcome even the most daunting challenges. Triathlon is not a cure-all. It did not change the fact that I had a RAT, homework assignment, therapy final exam, and take-home statistics exam in the first three days of returning from Augusta, but it did change my perception of the challenge. I’ll tell you what – memorizing 20 HIV drugs that all sound identical (atazanavir, darunavir, fosamprenavir, saquinavir, anyone?) was really not that bad compared to that darn half ironman.

Next up? Celebrating my 25th birthday at the Richmond Half Marathon.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hometown Racing and Back to School

Time flies – it’s already been over two months since my last blog post! Here, I offer a few reflections on the end of summer and beginning of school.

5150 Giant Eagle
I last blogged following my race in NYC, which took place two weeks before my hometown race of the year: 5150 Giant Eagle. Unfortunately, when I returned from NYC, I got very sick. After losing eight pounds in three days (breaking my post-2010 Collegiate Nationals record of six pounds in three days) and eating only rice for the next week because of intense stomach pain, I wasn’t sure whether I was in any condition to perform at the Giant Eagle race. Nonetheless, the race was in Columbus, OH, my hometown, and Tim and I were looking forward to visiting my family. I decided to head home and make the decision to race closer to race day. I ate a full meal for the first time two nights before the race and decided that was good enough for me – I was racing.

The swim took place at Alum Creek, the site of my first ever triathlon in 2004. Alum Creek is where I raced my first junior elite triathlon, won my first junior elite triathlon, earned enough points to gain junior All-American Honorable Mention status, and swam with my sister one last time before my wedding a year ago. On top of that, I had a number of fans show up for the swim – my aunt and uncle, my cousins, my dad and Tim, and my former neighbor who was one of my earliest triathlon fans. Standing at the starting line, I felt these memories and fans near to my heart, and I really began to feel like the race was MY hometown race. I managed to get into the second pack of swimmers and felt pretty relaxed swimming in that group.

I’ve had a frustrating season on the bike. My coach consistently gives me achievable wattage goals on the bike that I just haven’t been hitting. It’s been a blow to my confidence, and my confidence was even lower going into Giant Eagle because two weeks of illness had worn my body down. Nevertheless, I actually had a good bike, which I attribute to two reasons: knowing the course and an emotional connection to the ride.

I rarely have the opportunity to drive an entire course before a race, but my parents and I were able to drive the entire Giant Eagle course. I had also studied the course and had a good sense of it based on my experiences growing up in Columbus. Knowing the course made an immense difference for me, especially since the course was not particularly well marked. I knew every single turn and how long I’d be on each road, which really boosted my confidence. Knowing the course contributed to my success on the bike that day, but the emotions that I experienced on the course played an even more critical role.

When I think back to my best college races, three come to mind, two of which were very similar – my first race, and my last race. I never thought much about what motivated me in these two races, but I recall feeling the same underlying emotion in both races: pride – not in myself, but in who, and what, I was representing. When I raced for the first time at the 2007 XC conference championships, I was so proud to put on that Richmond jersey and to have the opportunity represent my school and my program. I felt similar emotions at my last 10K race at the 2011 NCAA D1 East Championships. I was extremely proud to represent my coaches, who had transformed me from a ragtag runner to an athlete prepared to break a school record. At both races, I blew away my race day expectations.

When I was on my bike at Giant Eagle, I felt a similar sense of pride in the ways in which people in Columbus have influenced, inspired, supported, and shaped me. As I biked out of Alum Creek, I recalled the time I got lost in a race in that very spot. My mom chased me down on her mountain bike, shouting at me to turn around. I passed the first triathlon shop I ever frequented, the driving school where I spent long hours watching movies about organ donation, and the deaf school where we often rode our bikes on family outings.  I passed family friends cheering for me before heading to church. By the time I turned onto High Street and entered the campus of Ohio State, which I attended for two years in high school, I was overwhelmed with emotion and choking back tears. I saw the bus stop where I suffered through bitterly cold winters and imagined going to school in the South. The parking lot where my parents picked me up from class to go visit the University of Richmond for the first time. I entered the Arena District, where my boyfriend nervously asked my father to go to breakfast the following morning. Both knew full well of his intentions to ask for my hand in marriage. The people of my youth made me who I am today by giving me opportunities to learn, grow, and chase my dreams. I was so proud to be racing there, in that city, representing that place and those people. So I pushed and pushed, harder than I thought my exhausted body possibly could, and you know what? I had a great bike ride that day.

I had a reasonable run given the circumstances and maintained my third place position. I was so honored at how many people came out to cheer for me. In addition to my immediate family members, I had two aunts, one uncle, two cousins, a grandma cheering me on during the run. Upon my finish, the announcer said something about my PharmD/PhD program and concluded that I must have brawn, brains, and beauty. That was definitely the best finishing remark I’ve ever gotten. More importantly, though, for the first time after a professional triathlon, I was genuinely happy. I had raced amidst friends and family and felt confident that I had pushed my mind and body to its best performance considering the circumstances. 

Aside from two running races, I haven’t raced since Giant Eagle because my schedule has been complicated by a little thing that I like to call “pharmacy school”. I’m finishing my last year of PharmD courses. In the coming year and a half, I will complete my PharmD clinical rotations and begin my PhD coursework. For those of you who were following my advisor situation, I’ll let you know that it worked out extremely well for me. My new advisor understands me, my interests, and my motivations in a way that only my very best mentors have, and I am so excited to work with him in the coming years.

My school, professors, and pharmacy friends are all incredible, but life isn’t all peaches and roses, either. I study long hours and memorize more information in a shorter period of time than I ever though possible. On top of that, I’ve been attempting to train for my first half ironman next weekend.

My feelings surrounding my 70.3 debut go back and forth nearly hourly, but I think that I had a mental breakthrough last Thursday.  I sat down that morning to study for my therapy test. I had exactly 4.5 hours until I had to leave for class. I thought to myself: which would you rather do: memorize disease pathophysiology and treatment regimens for 4.5 hours or swim/bike/run for that long?

I think you can guess my answer. Bring it on, Augusta.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Big City Racing: Philadelphia and NYC

Since I last blogged, I raced the Philadelphia and NYC Triathlons. Here, I’ll briefly recount both triathlons and the three weeks between the races.

Philadelphia Triathlon.
The highlight of the Philadelphia Triathlon was my incredible cheer squad. I felt so honored that Tim, my parents, my mom’s best college friend and her husband (who is a pharmacokineticist…it was really nice to be able to use words like lipophilic in normal conversations with him), and my college teammates Dana and Diana all got up very early to cheer for me (Dana also made a pretty spectacular sign for me). I had a lot of fun racing for many of my biggest fans, and I logged another fifth place finish. I was happy to finish fifth in a competitive field, but I felt like I could have done better in all three disciplines. Still, I left the race confident that I’m steadily improving in training and racing. 

The “In-Between” Weeks.
I thoroughly enjoyed the time between Philadelphia and NYC. First, my grandma and great aunt visited Richmond and took Tim and me out for one of our best meals of the year. Then, Tim and I finally took the romantic getaway my siblings gave us for our wedding, spending a long weekend at a B&B in the Northern Neck. The biking and kayaking in the region are both spectacular, although I did get stuck on a ferry that ran out of gas as I neared the end of my long ride on the Potomac Heritage Trail. Meanwhile, I made substantial progress on my summer research, spending many afternoons outside by the pool researching or coding on my computer. Every day I think, “how in the world am I getting paid for a job this awesome?”

NYC Triathlon
I have four really positive things to report from NYC:

1) The race director and race day crew did a remarkable job of running the event. How they manage to pull off a large event in a city as big as NYC baffles me. The volunteers were numerous and incredibly helpful, and the entire event was organized and efficient.  I give the race organizers two thumbs up/five stars/A+.

2) I finished in 3rd place! I came out of the water in sixth, fell back to eighth when I lost my water bottle right out of transition, caught several women on the bike, and started the run in fourth place. I knew the top three were well ahead of me on the bike and was just hoping to maintain my position on the run. Then, with only one mile left, I heard someone yell to me “you can catch her,” suggesting that I was within striking distance of third place. Sure enough, I was about 60 seconds behind third place with a mile remaining. I dug deeper and caught her with less than half a mile remaining.  My dad asked me after the race if it was cool to race in Central Park. Honestly, the run course was far more challenging than I anticipated, and I was so focused on trying to keep moving that I was hardly aware of my surroundings. In fact, I don’t even remember having a single thought during the entire race other than “I’m in millionaire zone” as I ran down 72nd street amidst luxury condominium sky rises.

3)  I got to pop a champagne bottle while on the podium with the other top finishers. This experience was a “bucket list” item for me, so it was definitely the highlight of the trip. The last bucket list item that I completed was SCUBA diving at the Great Barrier Reef. That experience cost me a chunk of my balance and hearing, so the cost of this bucket list item ($500 in traveling expenses and the logistical challenges discussed below) was thankfully lower and much less permanent.

4) My host on Friday night was phenomenal. After a long, fruitless search for a friend in NYC to host me on Friday night, I put out a plea for help on Facebook. I was overwhelmed by the number of people willing to help connect me with a host. I ended up staying with a stranger, the friend of a friend and fellow UR alumna, Lauren. Lauren really went above and beyond. She met me when my Greyhound bus arrived to escort me to her Washington Heights apartment and made me feel right at home. I am so thankful to Lauren for her willingness to host me (a stranger, on incredibly short notice) and for making me feel so welcome. Side note: Greyhound has an express route from Richmond to NYC with only two stops. I was skeptical, but it’s actually a pretty decent way to travel.

My trip to NYC had a lot of positives, but amidst those positives, I encountered a stream of what felt like relentless hurdles. To put it briefly, all of my personal pre-race day and race day logistics were a disaster. For three days, I hauled a 49-pound, oddly shaped bike box around the city (at one point a 10 minute walk turned into 50 when I got lost), through multiple modes of public transportation, and up and down dozens of sets of stairs. This was overwhelming and exhausting, and I woke up race morning sore in every muscle of my body. By the end of the weekend, both of the handles on the bike box were broken, leaving me to push the box around the crowded city (including Times Square) with little to no steering capability. Additionally, for a number of reasons, I ended up getting three hours of sleep the night before the race. I did a good job of banishing thoughts surrounding my lack of sleep prior to and during the race, but there were times when I could feel that body wanted nothing more than to curl up and fall asleep. I also had some misfortunes during the race. My water bottle fell off my bike within the first quarter mile of the bike course. By the time I got off my bike and recovered it, all of my electrolyte mix was gone. I managed to take a few swigs of water from the triangle-shaped water bottle on the back of my Felt TT bike, but the water bottle is hard to reach and drink from, so I lost a fair amount of wattage from my average power every time I tried to drink. The lack of electrolytes on the bike had serious leg cramping consequences on both the end of the ride and on the run. Thus, I was disappointed in both my bike and run splits.

All in all, the weekend in NYC was quite the experience. Many thanks to the strangers who helped me out this weekend (especially the man took pictures on my camera of my podium experience), Rianna for hooking me up with my host Lauren, Lauren, Tim because he's the best, my Dad for getting my website ready to go live, Jill for lending me her speed suit, Courtney for helping me with open water swimming, Elizabeth and Dana for always remembering to say good luck, EF's Dane and Andy for helping me out with all my last minute bike needs, and Michael for believing in me even when I don't believe in myself. I'm so happy about my 3rd place finish, and I’m incredibly relieved that my next race will be in my hometown. Logistics for that race will be substantially easier, and I’ll have the luxury of a battle-ready support crew who is already stocking up on all of my favorite foods. I can’t wait!