Reflections on 2011

“From a little spark may burst a flame.”~ Dante Alighieri

I sit here two days after our trip to Ironman Arizona (volunteering, not racing) and I'm overwhelmed with the sheer force, strength and resilience of the over 2,500 athletes that competed on Sunday. As someone who (as of Monday) stepped up to the task of taking on the full Ironman distance (2.4 mi swim, 112 mi bike and 26.2 mi run) I realize the power of that choice. Sunday I watched friends, teammates, and strangers race together, but very much alone at the same time. Some people's stories I knew firsthand - the whys and hows, the reason behind them, the banners they carried mentally to push them onward. Thousands of individuals - made up of the same flesh, bone and blood as everyone else, yet differing in their desire to push themselves beyond their limits and into the unknown. I felt as though I was looking at a sea of stars. Each person with their own story, their own reason, drive, year of arduous training. For those of you that I know who raced, for friends new and old, I cannot capture my joy for you in words. Each of you a tiny spark, bursting into flames, brightening the world with your courage. I feel lucky to count so many stars in my sky.

Tomorrow I turn 31. This year has been full of so much growth that I hardly recognize who I was last November. I was still trying. Trying to be healthy, trying to be calm, trying to be focused, trying to exercise. Despite all of my trying, my body was breaking down inside. After an immensely rich and delicious dinner on my birthday with my girlfriends (and copious amounts of wine), I wound up extremely sick. Sure, I had way too much to drink, but it wasn't just the alcohol - the food was making me sick as well. I started the year with a round of lab tests and doctor visits and frustration at the ineptitude of the medical world. I began to wean the problems from my diet by removing alcohol, fried foods, unhealthy fats, dairy, and eventually meat. Since I cut out the alcohol (with the exception of a few rare instances this year), I also cut out the cigarettes I was only "socially" smoking. It's pretty easy to only smoke when you drink when you drink daily. I found myself with only one choice - to be healthy once and for all. I was signed up for Escape From Alcatraz and I couldn't let me generous race sponsors down. Since I was used to letting myself down, it took being accountable to someone else to make it over the hurdle.

I grew up thinking it was absolutely normal to drink daily. Every single day, happy or sad, busy or bored, sick or healthy - a few glasses of wine was always the perfect way to unwind. Yet, a few glasses a night usually became a bottle of wine a night. And bad decisions became easier to make. And I never woke up to work out early, nor opted for healthy food choices. I felt like I couldn't get a grasp on what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, and felt frustrated at my life. I was always on a cycle of extreme moods - volatile one moment, happy the next. Every morning I woke up tired, a little full of regret, and craving a cup of coffee, some satisfying food and maybe even a cigarette.

I threw myself into training in the beginning of the year and eventually, I started to feel really good. My life became calm, easy, decisions were clear, I could see where I was going and began to feel in control of my destiny. I woke up each morning feeling clean, pure, vibrant and alive. I was hungry for life, laughter and to expend my excessive energy resources by running with Adam or riding bikes with friends. I began to channel the energy I tried to dull for decades. I spent years of my life trying to either bring myself up or take myself down in an effort to catch up with my wildly fluctuating energy. I wasted a lot of time trying to corral a rushing river instead of learning how to swim. In the end, I realized that it wasn't more of something I needed, it was less. I needed less food, less toxins, less drama, less excitement, less bullshit,  less gossip, less arguments, less processed food, less sugar, less fat, and less alcohol. Only with a clear head did I begin to understand the depth and width of my dependence on external things to make me happy. Somewhere inside me, a change began to occur. A new voice clean and strong, asking to be cared for better. As I listened to my new voice, doing the best thing for myself became easy. Clean, healthy, easy to use food. Solid, unbroken rest. Fresh air, movement of my limbs and enough exercise to satiate the wildness in me. Everything became quite clear - no regrets, confusion, apologies, or misinterpretations.

I always wanted to do great things. To achieve the impossible and to push my limits. Yet, I always pushed that off to another day, some day, not today. By accepting responsibility for my own life and keeping my body and mind healthy, I was granted the power to do the impossible. I feel now as if there is nothing that can stand in my path. No journey too long, no goal out of my reach - everything is possible with time and effort. It's quite an unusual feeling and I'm just beginning to believe it.

I no longer view exercise as a chore - it's a privilege. It's also the cheapest way to get high and the only side effects are feeling good and a longer life. I am building my character each time I do an ocean swim and conquer my fear of open water and sharks. I learn how to focus with every hill repeat. I learn to not give up when doing mile repeats at tempo pace. I learn patience in my long runs. I learn to see the beauty, the good, the whole and the right in life. I surround myself with people who believe they can do anything and who are healthy,  I wake with the sunrise feeling grateful and I go to sleep each night feeling like I did the best I could for the day. Tomorrow I will celebrate the beginning of another year on Earth. I will celebrate having the opportunity to experience life the best I can and to improve the experiences of others. I am grateful for the support of friends new and old, family and most importantly, Adam. I am also grateful for the incidences and individuals who provided me with a challenge, and gave me the time and place to commit to my principles and exercise the fibers of my new self so that I became stronger.


Off Season Adventures

Ahhhh off-season! The time of year to sleep in, stay off the bike, skip chilly a.m. pool workouts and enjoy life. Oh, and learn how to run. My goal for off-season this year was to work on my run, and I have been putting in the work. In the past few weeks, I've run a lot - hill repeats, long slow days, easy runs, mile repeats, and even a 10 mile race in Huntington Beach (in the pouring rain)!

Last weekend I accomplished something that's been on my list for quite some time - to run around the Back Bay from our house. The fun part about this run is that there is no shortcut. Don't feel good? Don't want to run anymore? Tough %$&#! There's only one way home and it's around the whole thing. The total mileage from door to door is about 11 miles. It's a beautiful run that took me from our house to Castaways Park overlooking the harbor, then to Pacific Coast Highway and finally in around the bay on Back Bay Drive.

This curvy but flat section of the Bay is one of my favorite places. It's relatively quiet, it's flat, and it takes you through some stunning vistas. Once you get to a certain point on Back Bay Drive you can see the other side of the Bay where you hit the 9 mile mark. You can also see Jamboree and how far away it is and you know that between you and Jamboree is a steep little climb up to Eastbluff. It felt great to come up that hill and head on across Jamboree! Absolutely gorgeous post-rainy day views from every side of the bay!

Then there's been the early nights - it's been getting dark here around 5pm which is crushing my runs! I don't mind running when it's dim, but the other night it was pitch black even with my headlamp on. I'm going to switch the runs to the a.m! My paces are improving and I feel healthy overall. I'm hoping to continue chipping away at my running until I'm satisfied and ready for next year. 

Lastly, we're heading to Arizona tomorrow for Ironman Arizona! We're volunteering at the race (run aid station #2) and we will be registering to race 2012 on Monday. I realize this concept is befuddling for non-triathletes who look at me and question our sanity that we're driving to Arizona to volunteer and pay for our own trip/travel expenses only so that we can pay money to register for an IRONMAN. Yes, yes, I realize this is a little odd for outsiders. But, for those of us that are triathletes, this makes perfect sense. 

The Iron distance (2.4 mi swim, 112 mi bike and 26.2 mi run) is an impressive feat of physical, mental and emotional strength and no one person finishes (or starts) that race alone. That distance is traversed by a single person, with the aid, support, assistance and encouragement of many. At every race, the volunteers have made a tremendous difference in my overall experience and time. Seeing volunteers I know (like at Orangeman) was like having your personal on-course cheerleaders where often, there were no spectators. I feel that by volunteering, we are giving back to the community/sport that has given us so much. There's also quite a handful of Team FC athletes (and our coach Joby) who are racing on Sunday, so it will be great to be out in AZ supporting the team, being inspired and watching our friends and teammates succeed.

Lastly, we will register. Volunteers get priority registration after current IMAZ athletes and before it opens up online. My biggest and most amazing sponsor is paying for my race entry fee and I'm beside myself with gratitude! I am so excited about what next year holds for me on so many levels. With the year wrapping up, I continue to feel grateful and humbled by the amount of positivity, love, friendship, and possibility that exist in my life. 

"It's kind of fun to do the impossible"~Walt Disney