Coming back strong after breast cancer.
Keep going -- the pain is only temporary.
I am so tired, I can barely think about the past 10-sometimes painful and sometimes amazing-days. Saturday was Ironman Texas, a race I signed up for with a lot of excitement, and looked forward to for the whole year. While the trip and the week leading up to it didn’t go as planned, once I got on the road it was easy to try to forget the pain I was leaving back home, and focus on the 24 hour road trip ahead. Once I arrived in The Woodlands, Texas with my fellow IMTX crazy Cortney, I threw myself into the race experience. We picked up our packets, ate some lunch, and even after over 24 hours of travel, decided to go out and recon the 112-mile loop bike course. It was, mildly put, an adventure of country roads, bad directions and missing street signs that had us going in circles, making seven point turns, and wondering what the course was going to be like on race day. By the time I checked into my hotel, I was too tired to think about much of anything, and was so glad for some time to sleep.
The next couple days leading up to the race went by in a blur, with some bike, run and swim time. My mom arrived, and I was so grateful for her being there. I even had the chance to have the Ironman film crew interview me about my race, and I was lucky enough to have them on the racecourse with me some of the time. They are an enthusiastic group!
By race morning, we knew the water was going to be hot, and I had heard some scary stories about the very congested, full body contact swim course. With all of that, I decided to not use my wetsuit for the swim. It was already 81 degrees in the water race morning, and a wetsuit would make for one hot swim. Even with that, I carried around my wetsuit like a security blanket, trying to calm my nerves and help me focus. It was hard not dwelling on the things making me unhappy, and I was going over and over in my head the events of the past week. I wondered how I was going to make it through the day. I tried to push it aside when I was with my support crew, Jill and my mom, because if you put the positive happiness out there, eventually it will be true. I needed the race to start, and to get out there and go. Once the cannon sounded, I settled in for what I hoped to be a 15-15:30 hour day.
The swim was a tough, full contact, congested swim where I felt I was constantly trying to find space to move. I got hit more than I thought possible, but kept calm, channeling my fishy friends to keep moving forward. When I exited the water, I wanted to hug someone I was so happy. I hit the bike, ready for an amazing ride, and the first 40+ miles gave me just that. It was hot, and there was a mild tail wind, but I had some shade and great support on the course, so I felt really good.
Things changed very quickly, when I started to have a hard time pedaling. I thought I was running out of energy, until I realized my bike was making some noise. Ultimately I realized I had a flat—my first long course flat—and I stopped, resigned to losing some time on what had been a record morning ride. Luckily, as I struggled with the flat, the support car came and helped me get back going. I started riding again, feeling back in the groove, but getting hotter. And about 25 miles later, going up hill, I realized I had another flat. I stopped and with some help again, changed my tube and started riding…. for about 2 miles. I was out of tubes and in the sun without water. I had gone from a 17 mph pace average to a 14 mph average with all the stopping, and I thought my race was over. Then, there came my rescuers in the support car to save me. Turned out my tire had some metal that had gone through and created a hole, leaving a metal shard that kept puncturing my tube. With a new tire, and a spare tube, I was back on the road…into a nasty headwind for another 50 miles. It was the most painful, slow going ride of my life.
I stopped being able to eat and had to keep stopping due to nasty thigh cramps and the heat making it hard to breathe. I resigned myself that this might be my first DNF (Did Not Finish) Ironman, and I wondered how so much could go so wrong in my life the last few weeks. I felt so sorry for myself, and wondered why I thought I could even do something like this. I admit, I felt like a failure, like I was in a black hole that I honestly wasn’t sure I could, or even wanted to, find the other side. I was in a negative, painful place both mentally and physically, and it just felt like too much. The weird part was, that while I was going through this negative mental drama, I kept riding. When I could pep myself up I was faster, when I was down in the black, I was incredibly slow. Eventually, near the bike cut off time, I was one mile from the finish. Every part of me hurt, and I felt physically, mentally and emotionally drained, but I could hear transition and all I wanted was to get on the run. If they pulled me off the course, I could accept that, but I couldn’t accept just walking away.
When I hit the timing mat for T2, I saw my mom and Jill and I told them I wasn’t sure I could run. It took a long time to get myself into my running shoes and be able to walk out of the changing tent. I was dizzy and burnt and there was no way to run. I spent the first two and a half miles walking at a slower than 15 minute per mile pace, which was not going to let me finish this race. The nice thing was I kept pouring water over my head and ice down my shirt, I had some cola and my legs started to loosen up.
The cramps started to release and I found some shade and then I started to run. It was a long 26.2 miles of running and walking and sometimes shuffling. I met some amazing athletes out there struggling to finish and beat the cutoff and we helped each other keep moving forward. I saw my mom and Jill and got energy from them, hearing about everyone back home sending me positive racing thoughts. And I saw the camera crew, who seemed more excited to see me running than I was to be running. When I realized I was going to make the final cut off, I stopped running and cried. This was the hardest race I had ever done and I realized that if this had been two years ago, I would not have had the endurance or strength to push past the struggles on the bike course to make up the time and get to the run.
When I hit the turn to the finish, I walked for a bit to take it all in and appreciate how far I had come that day. As I ran down the final stretch and saw the finish line, I could feel the smile that had been on and off my face throughout the day, spread to a grin and I heard them announce my name. It was surreal to finish when I had accepted the potential for it not to happen. I had given everything I had, holding back nothing and I had made it to the end. It may not have been in my goal time, but I would not have done anything different.
I know it may seem odd to some to participate in an event where you often find yourself in such an ugly, dark place that all you want to do is stop. It is something that you hear when people talk about making it through a challenging race and it never sounds like a pretty or worthwhile place to be by choice. Yet, I keep going back and doing it again. And I love it. I love the challenge to see how far I can go and what my body can overcome. I love having the mental strength to keep moving, even when everything inside is saying to just stop. And I love being out there with others who are facing the same struggles or having an amazing day, and being able to share that all with them.
This was a hard day. I came into it mentally broken and emerged physically tired and still wondering how to get past the pain in the rest of my life. And as I sit here in the dark writing this, the joy I feel in accomplishing my goal while with my family and friends is shadowed by a sense of loss. While I want it to all be okay right now, I realize that I have to trust that I can make it through anything if I just keep moving forward. That I don’t have to be fast or run every step, but I do have to keep making progress, because even when I feel like a failure, I know somewhere that it is temporary, and eventually, I will find that joy again.
After my last blog, I had a friend who said it bothered her that I felt like a failure or not worthy of the person that walked away. While I understand what she is saying, I also think that it is important to be honest about sometimes feeling like I am not enough. It’s not that in the end I truly believe that, but I think we all feel that way at one time or another, regardless of the validity of the feelings. I think it is a way to process events and emotions and try to work through things that might leave us questioning everything we thought we knew. The real issue is whether we stay in that black place and start believing that we are not worthwhile, or if we accept that we can feel that way for a while, and then start to move on.
I know I will be hurting from the events of the past weeks for a while to come and that I will struggle with these negative thoughts about myself, but that’s alright I think. I know it has to happen and I have to hurt and process and move on to something better for me. Because ugly things and people in life sometimes are like the ugly nasty places in a race—where you cannot see the light as they happen, but if you hang on long enough, you know the light will eventually come. And when it does, it is absolutely amazing.
At 35, I was diagnosed with breast cancer -- with no family history, risk factors or warning. Over the next 18 months, I weathered multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and the end of my marriage. When I thought I'd lost everything that mattered, staying active kept me going. I finished my first Ironman triathlon two months after the end of my treatment. Even more important, the friends I made while training helped me see that I am not alone, and today my life is better than I ever thought possible. Whatever new challenges await, I'm ready!
Gear Check with Katerina Nash
Join a group, stay motivated.
We’re all in this fitness thing together. One surefire way to stay motivated is to work out with a friend or join a group, like a local team LUNA Chix, that meets to run, cycle, swim, whatever. Not only is more fun to exercise with some pals, it also gives you a sense of obligation to get your butt out the door on even the nastiest days.
Drinking while cycling.
When you’re on the bike, 12 ounces of water every half hour is a good rule of thumb, so make sure your bike has room for a couple of bottles. For longer rides where you’re not planning to stop (woo hoo!) you’ll want to kick your gear investment up a notch with a large hydration pack.
For long races, change is not good.
For an endurance race like a triathlon, fueling well is essential, but DON’T eat or drink anything during the race that you haven’t already practiced with during your training. Think of long training sessions as “race simulations” for your fuel plan on the big day. This will help you avoid indigestion and “potty issues”.
Triathlon fashion tips.
While having a lot of clothing options is great for a weekend in Vegas, in a triathlon you really want to shoot for something you can wear throughout the race to make transitions as easy as possible. Tops and shorts specifically designed for triathlons are a great choice—they’re made to go into the water, on the bike, etc.
To clip, or not to clip…
Clip in pedals are a better choice for power efficiency, but they can be a bit intimidating for newbies. Go with flat if you are really uncomfortable, you can always switch to a clip in pedal later. If you do get clips, it should only take a few rides to master how to quickly twist your foot out.
Turbo charge your run.
If you always practice at the same pace, you’ll always run at the same pace. You need to do intervals if you want to get faster. Start with 30 seconds hard every five minutes and work your way up to five minutes hard and five minutes easy. Play AC/DC, Jack Johnson, AC/DC, Jack Johnson…
Running requires patience.
If you are really new and running doesn’t come naturally to you (and really, it doesn’t come naturally for most of us!) start with a combination of running and walking. Run for four minutes, walk for one. Keep repeating this until you get to 30 minutes and then add in longer phases of running the next time you work out.
Building endurance for a triathlon.
If you are ready to try a tri, each week of training you’ll want to do one longer workout in each sport, to build up your endurance.
Be kind to your knees.
Running on dirt trails provides the best cushion. Concrete is the worst because there’s no shock absorption. Asphalt is somewhere in the middle. Choose wisely if you have problems with your knees.
85-90 leg strikes per minute (count on one leg) is what you want to aim for to work on improving your running speed and time.
Be a stronger swimmer.
To improve your swim performance, practice rotating from the hips, and dragging your fingertips on the recovery. Use a kickboard to focus on strengthening your leg. A pull buoy and paddles can help you work on your arms.
Land with your foot flat.
If you land on your heel when you run, you’ll put a lot of strain on your knees. Landing on your toes strains your calves. Land with your foot flat, and more importantly, land it under your body for good momentum and shock absorption.
Let’s get this (cycling) party started!
Looking for a group to ride with? If there’s local LUNA Chix team in your area, you’ve already found a great way to connect with other women who ride. You can also find out about groups at your local bike shop, in cycling magazines, or just ask other cyclists—they usually know.
Glide out of your wet suit.
Wet suits can leave nasty hickey burns on your neck, and really, who wants to explain that? Before a long swim, lather your neck and ankles with Body Glide and you’ll be much more comfortable while swimming and get your suit off with ease. Plus, you won’t have to show up at work the next day looking like you’ve been mauled by a vampire.
Another great way to stay motivated? Enter an event. Whether it’s a charity ride for a cause you really care about or a competitive race, having a goal to work towards can really give you that extra push to pull on your workout gear and go.
Riding with turtles and hares.
Whether fast or slow, ride with people you know! It’s more fun that way. Fast friends will push you a bit more, which is great if you’re prepping for a race, and you can draft off them on big climbs. If you’re the quick one, get out in front and give your less experienced friends a break!
Have you checked your tire pressure and brakes? Did you give your bike the once over to make sure nothing’s cracked or otherwise out of whack? OK, now you can go.
Chasing those elusive zzzz’s.
Hard-core trainers will tell you that 8-10 hours of sleep a night, plus a daily nap, is optimal while training for a big race. Back in the real world, those of us with busy jobs or little kids can only dream about this much. Shoot for as many hours as you can and stick with a consistent schedule—quality rest will help your muscles repair and protect your immune system.
If your knees are sore after a ride…
It could be that your saddle is too low. Try putting your saddle at a height where your knee is soft, but not locked at 6 o’clock.
Cycling time, optimized.
If you have an hour or less and want a good cycling workout, crank it, sister! You can go high intensity by hitting steep hills hard or by going out with a riding group that challenges you speed-wise and hanging on as long as you can. If you’re feeling really feisty, get out in front and “take pulls” every chance you get. Just don’t forget to warm up for 15 minutes first.
Keep those hands where they belong.
On your bike’s handlebars. Road cyclists don’t use hand signals much, aside from pointing out hazards like potholes or rocks. It’s also polite to indicate a turnoff. Otherwise, give a yell if a car is coming or if there’s a need for a quick stop.
Let your bike do the work.
When riding off road, your bike should be moving more than your body. And unlike road cycling, you’ll need to use your upper body as much as your legs to absorb those bumps. And don’t forget to look ahead… that way your body will have a chance to anticipate changes in the terrain, like that tree.
Tired muscles need a little TLC. Massage is great as a recovery aid, and working out extra hard is the perfect excuse to indulge. Yoga is also wonderful for increasing flexibility and focus. Distance runners can benefit from 8-10 minutes in an ice bath. If you are brave enough to take the plunge, have a tall Starbucks on hand.
Say no to saddle sores.
Think only cowboys get saddle sores? Nope, they’re also a problem for cyclists. Finding the right bike saddle can help, but if you ride long enough, you’re occasionally going to end up with a sore butt. A good chamois cream can help soothe those sores, but many bikers swear by a cow utter cream called Bag Balm. Who cares as long as it works!
Cyclists are drafting when they line up behind one another to conserve energy. The rider in front breaks the headwind, those behind get a break. Mastering this move can be tricky: the closer you ride to the person in front, the better the draft, but you also risk a pile-up! While learning, stay at least three feet away from the tire ahead.
Building tri strength with “bricks”.
A “brick” is a workout where one activity is directly followed by another (a bike ride + run, for example.) Training this way 1-2 times a week is a great way to gear up for a triathlon.
New to the dirt?
Go out on easy unpaved roads or wide fire trails with a more experienced friend who can show you the ropes. Relax your arms and legs, and let the bike do the rest. And remember, there’s no shame in getting off and walking for a stretch if the terrain gets hairy.
Dust off that road bike.
Been a few years since you’ve cycled on the road? Before snapping on your helmet, take your bike to a local shop for a safety tune up. At minimum, have them check tire pressure, brakes, the chainring and gear shifts to make sure everything works and that all connections are snug. Now you can feel the wind on your face without worrying about your brakes giving out!
Shape up for cycling.
A hour long ride once or twice a week is just about right for a beginner looking to get her legs (and butt!) in cycling shape. And if you want to enjoy that post-ride high all day, set your alarm and head on out there when the sun is coming up.
Climbing with conviction.
Positioning yourself for a big climb can be tricky. Common mistakes are leaning too far forward, putting too much weight in the hands, and straining your quads. Lean back a bit so you’re centered over the saddle, let your glutes and hamstrings do some of the work, and go easy on those handlebars.
Aching arches in the morning?
Most likely it’s Plantar Fasciitis—an inflammation of the tissue along the bottom of the foot that connects the heel bone to the toes. Caused by increasing your running volume too quickly, bad shoes, or poor foot mechanics, this annoying injury requires some TLC, ASAP. Slow down for a few days, do some stretches and apply ice. And see a doctor if there’s no improvement.
Training for open water.
There’s no black guideline in the ocean. To prepare for an open water swim, practice in the pool with your eyes closed. (No cheating!)
Surviving the inevitable tumble.
If you mountain bike long enough, there will come a time when you will dismount and tumble unexpectedly. The good news is that most crashes happen at low speeds, either when clipping out or on switchbacks. But if you are really moving, let go of the bike, tuck your arms and legs into your chest and try to “roll” with one shoulder in and your back to the ground.
Pain while running means one thing: STOP.
A mild pain can turn into a major injury over the course of a single run, so listen up when your body says “ouch!” Most problems can be alleviated with a few days rest. If you still feel bad after taking a break, it’s time to call the doc.
Time to go shoe shopping.
Running 300-500 miles is the perfect excuse for a new pair of shoes! Once you’ve gone that far, they lose their support, shock absorption and the wear can mess with your foot biomechanics. Might as well throw in those new wedge sandals too—you’ve earned them.
Lycra or baggie shorts?
Well, that depends on whether you are casual girl at heart or like showing off that booty! Some mountain bikers like the non-racey, looser look of baggie shorts off road, but there is one caveat: when you are bouncing around coming downhill, they can get stuck on your seat.
Try a bike ride.
When giving cycling a try, the objective is fun! Borrow a bike, keep it under an hour and don’t let your Lance-obsessed neighbor talk you into some crazy 100-mile loop. Bring a helmet, water and LUNA Bar in case your energy flags. Also important: a portable pump, tube and repair kit for flats that hopefully the more experienced friend you’ve invited along knows how to use.
Beyond the obvious helmet, no cycling woman’s wardrobe is complete without a pair of tush-friendly chamois shorts, a lycra jersey, gloves and sunglasses to deflect bugs. Any kind of soft-soled athletic shoe will work for flat pedals, but cleats are a must if you clip in. A light jacket is a great accessory for colder climates, as is a safety light when riding after dark.
Stop that stitch!
While the cause of the always-annoying side stitch is up for debate, deep, full belly breathing can help chase it away. Namaste!
Buying a mountain bike?
Before hitting the shop, ask yourself how you want to ride. If you just want to have some weekend fun in the dirt, a bike with full suspension will ensure maximum comfort off road. A more light-weight cross country bike is best for climbing and racing. And if you like tearing it up in the mud, disc brakes are must!
A bike that fits.
Like your favorite black bra, a bike performs best when it’s fitted specifically for your body type. Many pro shops offer this service, so check in with your favorite local outfit to find someone who can take measurements and help make the proper adjustments to your bike.
Saddle up your bike.
Just like a too-soft mattress can be bad for your back, a too-cushy bike saddle can be bad for your butt. Flat and slightly wide is best, with a women-specific slot up the middle. (Trust us on this one—you’ll be thankful.) It doesn’t hurt to check out what the pros use—they definitely put their tushies to the test!
Tart up your transition towel.
Triathlon transitions can slow you down big time if you’re wandering around like a doof looking for your stuff. Buy the loudest, brightest towel you can find (think 80s neon) and park your gear near an obvious signpost in the transition area. Even if your mind is still rehashing your last leg, you’ll be able to transition quick.
Ah, the simplicity of running gear…
Not much is needed to get up and running. Good shoes are essential, of course, and a running specialty store can help you with the best fit for your foot type. You also might want some socks, shorts and tops that can help wick away sweat to keep you cool. Add one iPod for cool tunes.
Fueling for a ride.
Carbs are what you want—about 30-60 grams of carbs per hour, depending on your weight and pace. This can either be in solid or liquid form (try a LUNA Bar or some Clif Shots) but be sure to eat before you are hungry. Forgetting to fuel means you’ll run out of gas mid-ride and have to call your roommate to come pick you up in her car. Embarrassing.