Blogs tagged with "injury"

My training is so inconsistent lately that I have very little news to report, but here's a quick overview followed by something else I've been doing lately that I feel like blogging about.

On the injury-front, I've been working hard on healing my hamstring tendon and strengthening other muscle groups with the goal of no more hamstring problems. Ever. There's still a long way to go. My relentless pursuit of squats and bridges and planks is - I think - finally forcing my glutes to take the workload off my hamstrings. My latest revelation is that when I focus on good form while running, I can ward off the hamstring pain for a progressively-longer time. I managed 11 miles two weeks ago and 14 miles on Saturday without serious pain. I might be willing to celebrate when it gets up to 20.

January sent me onto the bike trainer where I've slowly worked my way up to 3:35. Riding long on the trainer is a bigger struggle this year than it has been in the past. One of the reasons may be that I'm trying to ride too hard. Sunday, I focused on keeping my heart rate low which seemed to alleviate some of the struggle. Swimming - although inconsistent - seems to be the one thing I'm NOT struggling with.

When I look at the big picture, the problem has been getting more than one workout a day. There are two main reasons. The first is that my [regular] job has me working late on weekdays and weekends. Not because I'm slow, but there's just a LOT to get done and only one programmer (me). We just hired another so I'm hoping it will help with the workload in the future.

The second reason is that I've recently been hit with inspiration to create new fine art prints. As an artist (or someone who wishes she could be a working artist), I have learned one thing: never f*ck with inspiration. If my art were a source of income, I'd probably suffer from debilitating artist's block 80% of the time. But when uninspired, all I do is flip the switch and running, biking, and swimming become my physical and mental outlet for stress. So, when the rare event of true inspiration happens, I must follow it. It's not like I even have a choice. And I have absolutely no control when and where it happens. All I know is I have to drop everything and "get it out" to avoid becoming agitated, edgy, and losing sleep.

My latest print was inspired by an iPhone photo I took of a bunch of snow-covered trees in University Circle - the "museum-university-hospital" area of Cleveland. I don't know why, but I felt compelled to take this particular photo from the fourth floor window of my workplace (the

The first color (actually the first two colors, the other one being white) was a light pastel orange, here is the linoleum block and the printed color:

The second color was a blue-green. To some, it looked finished at this point (because most of the tree shapes were carved) - I have always been very precise in carving linoleum, but this new Clear Carve stuff was a more difficult to work with because the "carved" pieces don't break away nicely, so I was expecting some major issues ("easy to carve" isn't how I would describe it, as I have several v-shaped scabs on my fingers after stabbing myself several times with linoleum cutters), but was happily surprized with the result after this color:

And the final color was an almost-black with violet added:

I made only ten prints. But I was very happy with the result, and I'm already working on another one with the other piece of Clear Carve that I bought.

My training is so inconsistent lately that I have very little news to report, but here's a quick overview followed by something else I've been doing lately that I feel like blogging about.

I may be quiet these days but I'm certainly not idle. My training has taken a backseat during the holiday season because of personal commitments and also to try again to heal my injured hamstring tendon with modern medical procedures.

Thus, I had my third PRP shot about a month ago and it was more painful than ever. I was in agony for several hours and then sore for several days afterward. The good thing about the pain is that it probably means my doctor hit the "right spot" with the injection. The bad thing about the pain is that I couldn't use any anti-inflammatory methods to make it go away because the inflammatory response is exactly what we wanted (more blood = healing).

After Thanksgiving, I jumped into my yearly design and printing of Christmas cards. This year, the design dictated the choice of methods -- the colors were very flat and bold, and the design was very hard-edged, so I chose to attempt a hand-cut stencil with screenprinting once again (after 10 years of lino-cuts). Unlike usual, the screenprinting process started out great with color registration working well. Then after printing three colors quickly and without incident, I botched the last color and the whole thing almost ended up in disaster.

Here are some photos of the process.

I started out by putting all the stencils on one screen
which was great until the last one with the largest print area
(stencil in the foreground). By that time, the screen tension
had decreased, causing ink to bleed under the stencil.
The first color (smallest area) was red. It took about an hour to print 106 cards. My husband Jim and I measure the time we spend on each color in terms of number of albums that we listen to while printing. Red was a one-album color. I think we listened to a Counting Crows CD. Red also had a near-disaster as I tried to fix one part of the stencil and accidentally stuck my exacto knife right through the screen itself. Lucky for us (and unusual), it held up until the last card was printed.

The second color was yellow. Yellow was also a one-album deal. I think yellow was printed to OK Go.

Third was blue. The blue was a two-color blend, and surprisingly, NOT a disaster as expected (because any time you mix two colors in real-time during printing, something goes horrifically wrong). Blue was also a one-album color - I think it was Travis's "Where You Stand."
And finally green. It took two tries, and two stencils, and two screens. And several albums. Too many to be sure. Here's the can of green and the wrecked first screen which I just tore off the frame and threw away because it had already become a victim of the exacto-knife faux pas.
And... the finished product. It took an additional cut stencil and a brand new screen to get through the green. We lost about 20 cards and about 20 more were barely salvageable. The design is based on the Tree of Life window/sculpture that is part of the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.

My other art project of late was a new drypoint print that I wanted to make to give away as part of a Facebook "pay-it-forward" post I made in early 2014. I decided to try out a new very thin plastic plate made by Akua that I bought earlier this year. Here is the plate and the finished print, titled "Scenes from the Towpath: Fitzwater Bridge View."

I may be quiet these days but I'm certainly not idle. My training has taken a backseat during the holiday season because of personal commitments and also to try again to heal my injured hamstring tendon with modern medical procedures.

It's a struggle to figure out what to write about my race in Kona that hasn't been written before because I seem to be plagued with disastrous races in Hawaii and this was my fourth time there. Because I wanted to thwart disaster this time, I knew I had to do some things differently. I trained differently. I mentally prepared differently. And I raced differently. And yet, the result was the same - actually, it was worse in terms of overall finish time and place. What was different this time was my attitude.
First of all, I never expected to be in Kona this year. My age group win in Ironman Coeur d'Alene was a bigger surprise to me than anyone who knows me. I even considered giving up my Kona slot because it was not in the original plan for 2014. The plan was to get my hamstring tendinosis healed and my body healthy enough to be a major contender in my new age group (50-54) in 2015.
After Coeur d'Alene, there was a major restructuring. I decided to train more seriously for Kona, and for the first time ever, I bought a 12-week training plan - an advanced program from Dave Scott. As a self-coached athlete, in retrospect I probably stuck too close to the plan and didn't adapt it for my needs, strengths, and weaknesses. However, by the time I toed the line in Kailua Bay on October 11, I felt I was in THE best athletic shape of my life. I had dropped about ten pounds and was finally feeling lean and strong. I felt like I finally deserved to stand among all the amazingly fit athletes there (this was a new feeling for me - in the past, I have felt out of shape and that I didn't belong).
Everything else in my life was in less than stellar shape. During the last three months, my stress levels had reached an all-time high. With a full-time job and a worse-than-usual construction-ridden daily commute, I struggled (and usually fell short) of getting the prescribed 19-21 hours of training per week - and I was stressed out about that. My workload had increased and I often worked late and had to get on my trainer after 8:00 pm - which meant riding until after 10pm and skipping valuable time for eating and sleeping. My work stress was at an all-time high because I was (and still am) doing the work of about three developers (if you don't know, I'm a computer programmer by trade).
So yeah, I was in the best physical shape of my life, but I was an emotional mess and mentally frazzled.
Checking the bike in.. after getting the coveted Cervélo shirt

I truly believed things would fall into place - both physically and mentally - when I tapered. And overall, my body did start to feel rested and I was less stressed (once we got to Hawaii - let's be real), but I had worrisome pain in my hamstring that worsened as I tapered more. I convinced myself it was normal. Athletic friends reassured me this was normal during a taper, so I ignored it. But something wasn't right, and even during the easy days of running, riding, and swimming in Kona, things were far from perfect. The hamstring pain just would not go away. But I refused to believe it would become an issue.

Pre-race in the King Kamehameha hotel

So race day came and there were many things about it that went well. Although I had trouble falling asleep, I still managed to get about three hours of shut-eye (that's three hours more than usual). I didn't panic when it took me about a half-hour to get through body-marking because of inefficiencies in the way they were doing it. I was able to get to the bathroom with time to spare and I was also able to get a wide-left spot on the swim start. But most of all, I was able to remain in good spirits throughout the morning and the day.

But I'm too mentally exhausted at the moment to write up a play-by-play of my race. If you've read anything about Ironman Kona this year, you already know that swim conditions were less than ideal (i.e. the swim was rougher than usual and therefore slow) and the cross-winds on the bike have been quoted as "the worst they've been in the last 15 years."

For the swim, I was about five minutes slower than expected. But, because of the rough water, you know I had a blast in the bay that morning. Right up until I climbed out of the water, I was actually expecting a time of about an hour. I was surprised and a little bit disappointed when I saw 1:05 on my watch as I ran to grab my transition bag.

On the bike, everything seemed to be going well despite the horrific cross winds (starting around 20 miles into the bike leg). My nutrition was good (timing was the only issue because it was hard to take my hands off the handlebars because of the wind). By the time I hit mile 90 - where I dropped out in 2012 - I still felt things were going well, albeit slow.
Starting the bike

It was in the last two hours of the bike leg that I realized things were, indeed, NOT ok with my left hip and hamstring. I started feeling pain and weakness on my left side, and all I can attribute it to is having to fight the crosswinds. This was never an issue in Coeur d'Alene as the wind was either in our faces or at our backs and rarely from the side. My left hip joint still has some kind of mechanical problem that still fails in the presence of side-forces (as we assumed in 2012). And my biggest fear was that major damage had now been done.

Around mile 100, I started to ponder the upcoming marathon. Depending on whether things continued to go downhill (they did), I had to make a decision getting off the bike:
  • try to run (possibly limp) the whole marathon, potentially cause more damage, and/or have to drop out
  • walk the marathon and secure the finish
Starting the run

When I got off the bike, the pain in my hamstring was excruciating and I could barely take a step forward. It started to work itself out during the long transition run - it was enough that I was able to get somewhat of a running gait going out of transition. But I was was having trouble taking normal steps with my left leg and when I saw my husband Jim, I let him know I was in pain.

I shuffled along for the first few miles, making sure to attend to nutrition at the aid stations. During this time, I was also fighting with myself about whether it would be better to stop and walk the marathon. Because it was much less painful, I knew I could finish if I walked. At mile 8, I saw Jim - he said he was there to convince me to walk the marathon. There was no reason to keep running because I wouldn't catch enough people to get on the podium anyway, and thus, it was better to avoid injury and finish. I knew he was right and I was terrified of losing another year to injury. After a panicked "am I going to disappoint everyone?" mental struggle, I made the call to walk the rest of the marathon. It would take a while, but at least I would get the medal and not feel empty handed on the trip home like last time. Besides, it might even be fun.

Once the decision was made, everything got a little easier. And, surprisingly, everything got a little more fun. I now had nothing to prove. I made a conscious decision, one of self-preservation. Seriously, why risk my next season by being stubborn? And now I knew I would finish. It was up to me to make this thing whatever I wanted to make it.

So I started taking in the scenery. And I found my smile. I watched people surfing in the waves. I laughed with the people at the aid stations who thought I was suffering (I wasn't). I walked with other athletes while they were struggling. Sometimes I jogged a little. I met a man named Tom who was retired from the Navy and lives on Oahu working in sports medicine. I met a woman from the Netherlands who qualified in Sweden and was having serious cramps in her calves. I met a woman who had to ride the last 60K of the bike in a single gear because she was having mechanical problems with her derailleur. After she told me she was from South Africa, she and I discussed a documentary called "Searching for Sugar Man" about an American musician named Finish chute

Once it got dark, it was less fun, and it even got a little tedious, but I arrived at the finish line, smiling, well after 13 hours, with my worst time ever in an Ironman. But I finished. And I think (hope) I avoided a serious re-injury to my hamstring. And I learned something new: it's NOT EASY to walk a marathon. I have terrible chafing from my triathlon shorts and blisters on my feet in places I never had blisters before.

All in all, I'm at peace with my decision. I'm not happy about it, but I accept it. It's not the race I wanted to have. It's certainly not the race I trained for. Hopefully, I can regroup and deal with all of that in the coming months. I certainly would NOT have been able to deal with another next-season-ending injury. I did that in 2012-13, and I'm not in a hurry to do it again. I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid.
And despite a sub-par race, Jim and I had an amazing time in Hawaii once again. We visited the island of Oahu this time - the weekend before the race. Going to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial was an emotional highlight of this trip. My father was stationed there in the later years of WWII (he was one of the young men who enlisted in the Navy as a result of the Japanese bombing). He had never been back there, even to take my mother, and I hope that in going there, his spirit was finally smiling on me and I could be at peace.

Here are some photos from our trip.

In Honolulu and around Oahu:

There's a lighthouse on the flip-side of Diamondhead

Looking down the beaches from the Halona Blowhole
Hanauma Bay
Beaches on the North Shore of Oahu:

Waikiki Beach:
Morning shot - looking toward Diamondhead
Statue of Duke Kahanamoku

In front of the Royal Hawaiian
Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial:

Road to the Sea Beaches on the Big Island (green and black sand) -
it took us over an hour to drive 6 miles on this road, but the
beaches were incredibly beautiful and worth the drive:

And an amazing sunset:
When I qualified to race in the 2014 ITU Age Group World Championship in Edmonton, Alberta, I decided to go for two reasons. At the time (August 2013), I thought my long-distance racing days were over and Olympic-distance would be my future - that is, if I could run without pain. The other reason, perhaps even more important to me, was that it would finally put me in striking distance of the Canadian Rockies and Jasper National Park.
Why was this so important? You ask..

It's a proverbial bucket-list location for me. A dream more than 40 years in the making. There was a photograph I had cut out of a calendar, framed, and hung on my wall when I was a little kid. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. There was an emerald-colored lake, evergreen trees, and a mountain in the background with diagonal stripes of snow. And I dreamed big. I declared to everyone that I would one day find this place and take my own photo of it. If it really existed. Seriously. Corny? Yep. It was sort of my Shangri-La, paradise on earth.

Over the years, I spent many days dreaming of this place. Eventually, the thought it faded into the background, a distant memory in my busy no-time-to-smell-the-flowers existence. And the photo found its way into a storage box somewhere (my husband Jim swears I've shown it to him). But the day I found out the ITU World Championship was in Edmonton, the image returned instantly - and the dream had now become a distinct reality.
I knew EXACTLY where it was. I had done my research as a kid - with maps and road atlases and books - long before the internet existed. The snowy peak was Mt. Edith Cavell. It was considered one of the "50 classic climbs" in North America (I found THAT information browsing a book store - This photo shows the hanging Angel Glacier (top right)
which spills over an almost 1000-foot cliff.
This photo shows Cavell Glacier and Cavell Pond.
In 2012, the trail to the pond was completely washed away
by a mini-tsunami caused by the fall of a glacier above this one.
Then, we went to find my lake. It was there. In fact, with the weather conditions, it was ALL you actually could see. I can't say I wasn't disappointed. But there was absolutely nothing we could do. We decided to hike the trail a bit in hopes it would clear up. But instead, it got much colder and we hurried our way back to the car.

Jim's words to me? "I'm sorry sweetie, but this might be the. best. we. can. do."

Mt. Edith Cavell is behind the fog.

My heart sank. I begged him to wait a half hour, even though it was almost 6 pm and the sun was on its way down.

And you know what happened? A miracle! The first of two. The time-zone difference was two hours from Ohio, and when we got in the car to warm up, satellite radio was airing the Cleveland Indians game. We (especially my Indians-season-ticket-holder husband) could pass that half hour with no worries. We listened. And waited. And the rain eased a bit. We made a final trek down the trail and I prayed that the low clouds had lifted.
And we got our second miracle. No, I didn't get the perfect shot. But the weather had cleared enough to show Mt. Edith Cavell's characteristic snow bands. The lake was choppy and not nearly as green as the original photo, but it was just as magical. And it acted a little like Shangri-La - I felt young, like a kid again. With big dreams - dreams big as mountains:
This is what it's supposed to look like except the summit is missing.
Proof that I made it there.

Taking the iPhone version.
And later it really cleared up and you could
see the summit from the town of Jasper as the light was fading.
More from the Canadian Rockies once the sky cleared up
in the waning daylight.
On the way back to Edmonton, the sky cleared up completely. It was so dark you could see the Milky Way winding its way through the stars. And then, we got a third miracle.

Midnight was approaching and I looked out Jim's car window to the north. I knew what I was looking for because our airplane pilot had pointed it out two days earlier on our flight in: the green glowing sheets of the Northern Lights. They once again appeared in the northern sky - an extremely rare sight in summer. And I caught it just in time, before light pollution would have snuffed it out. I immediately urged Jim to stop the car. We took a quick detour off the highway, pulled over to the side of a dark road, and scrambled to get the camera out. Jim played around with the shutter speed and managed to capture the final amazing event from this miracle of days:

The Northern Lights (aurora borealis), 30 August 2014

The next day would be a difficult one. We got to bed at 1:30 am but would need to take a train and a shuttle down to the race site - Hawrelek Park - at 9 am to check in my bike. I did final race prepping, and that evening, we visited the West Edmonton Mall - a huge indoor wonderland that contains a hockey rink, a water park (wave pool and zip lines included), and an amusement park with a full-size roller coaster:

The Mindbender coaster in Galaxyland inside the
West Edmonton Mall. The ride is much longer than you think
with three loops and many spiral turns.

The only thing left to do was race the next morning. AND, be ok with the fact that I had probably used up all our miracles. I thought it would be easy, but it turned out to be the hardest part of the entire trip.

Race morning brought very low temperatures - 6-7 C (low 40s F). Most of the athletes were losing the battle to keep warm. Last year's ITU World Championship in London was cold, but this seemed much colder. I was shivering even with five layers of clothing. My wave started at 9:40 but we had to be there before 7am to set up transition. We were late to the party, but we finally found the warm indoor area near the swim start in which athletes were relaxing and getting into their wetsuits.
They lined us up just after 9 am, so we still had a long cold wait. The 1500m swim was two loops in a chlorinated man-made lake. The start was fun - we all lined up with one foot on a platform, then ran and dove into the water. It was my first time diving head first in a triathlon swim (usually it's a deep-water start or a beach sprint into shallow water). I was relieved to start swimming because the water temperature (at 19 C/66 F) was balmy compared to the air.
Hurry and start this thing before we freeze.

My swim was the one thing that did go well. I felt strong - no back pain, no problems staying on course. Going into the second loop, I was able to drop the two women flanking me for most of the first lap (usually not the case). I think many made the mistake of going out too hard.

The run from swim exit to transition was ridiculously long as they sent us past screaming spectators in the grandstand. A long run makes it harder to get out of a (partially dry) wetsuit, but surprisingly, I had very little trouble. Surprisingly I stayed on my feet despite my disc problem, and I was on my bike pretty quickly.
The 40K bike course was also a double loop with a steep climb at the beginning. The course was very fast, but the cold was an issue for everyone. My legs were not burning like usual, and I thought I rode really strong, but my time was the same as Nationals in Milwaukee. It was extremely disappointing to say the least.
Coming around for the second loop.
At least I had my homemade custom Toothless helmet.

Thus, when I saw the time as I pulled into transition, I started to mentally unravel. Then things went really wrong. After racking my bike, I couldn't get my helmet strap unclipped because my hands had gotten so cold my fingers didn't work. They were frozen. I struggled and struggled with it and then tried to pull my helmet off while it was still strapped. In retrospect, it must have looked quite hilarious. But then I started to panic as other women came in and start the run while I was still struggling to get my helmet off. I finally yelled for help and an ITU official came over, but right before she got to me, I actually managed to unclip the strap myself. I took off running as fast as I could.

The run transition was also ridiculously long, and my legs felt fried before I even got out on the run course. I saw Jim on the way out and just shook my head in frustration. I knew right away that I had nothing. This, combined with the cold, the disappointing bike split, and the helmet disaster had rattled me beyond recovery. And instead of reminding myself this was a "C" race, I ran frustrated and discouraged. It shouldn't have mattered that much, but it was a world championship and spectators were acting like it. I was getting my butt kicked by women I've beaten in the past and all I could do was "run through it." I had mentally checked out.
First loop of the run.

The 10K course was two loops, partially on a gravel trail. The second time I saw Jim, he told me to back off and not hurt myself. I was probably hurting myself more mentally than physically at that point. By the time it was over, the only positive thing I could glean from my run was that I actually started to feel good around mile 5 or 6. Unfortunately, I had no speed, and that was when the race was just about over.

I grabbed a flag for my run to finish anyway, and I didn't complain or sulk until I was out of sight, showered, and had lunch. Lying in the hotel room was when the uncontrollable tears came. And the fear and worry has come back. And I have about six weeks to work through it so that I can toe that line in Kona with the confidence and killer instinct I need to get through it.

Writing this has helped me put the whole thing in perspective. Sometimes I need to stop and smell the flowers and appreciate the journey. I guess that's why I keep writing - to step out of the momentary and consider the enduring. And perhaps tell a race story that might save someone else's race. And add things to that "bucket list." While I can. Because there is no Shangri-La. It just looks that way in pictures.

When I qualified to race in the 2014 ITU Age Group World Championship in Edmonton, Alberta, I decided to go for two reasons. At the time (August 2013), I thought my long-distance racing days were over and Olympic-distance would be my future - that is, if I could run without pain.
Rainy starting line (pink caps = age 40+ chicks)

In March of this year, I was in search of nearby (read: within driving distance) spring triathlons to do once my hamstring tendon healed. At the time, I wasn't sure if I'd be in shape for, say, a half-iron distance, but if I conquered a marathon in May, then it might work - since the running part (the most damaging to my injury) would be only half that distance.

The

Swim exit, still raining. Me in pink cap. Wetsuit strippers at left.
Guy who missed the wetsuit strippers at bottom right.

Several races were taking place that morning. The half, an Olympic-distance triathlon, a sprint triathlon, and aqua-bike races in all three distances. The half-IM went first, and my wave was fourth - 40+ women - in pink caps. While waiting for the start, a few of us lined up wide, noticing the outside line was actually shorter because of a turn in the swim course. We "smart ones" probably had the easiest time in the water on Sunday, and I made it through the 1.2-mile swim un-clobbered. I didn't get my split time (no watch), but I knew I had a good swim because: (1) I spotted only a couple pink-capped women in front of me, and (2) Jim yelled "nice swim!"

I almost missed the wetsuit strippers. Jim had to point them out because I was oblivious and ran right past them. In less than a blink of an eye, I was on my way - I found it strange that I wasn't as exhausted as usual running to my bike. That was the last I saw of Jim in T1. He missed that I struggled clipping on my number belt in the rain, but other than that, my transition was decent, including getting into my bike shoes, and I surprisingly remembered to hit the start button on my Garmin once I mounted the bike. The only problem remaining was that my helmet shield had fogged up. Trying to wipe it while being careful about what was in front of me on wet roads meant that I didn't even look at my speed for the first five miles.

So I had to do a double take when I saw my first 5-mile split. Hard work on the bike this year wasn't expected to pay off this early in the season, and yet, there it was, the first number (the "minutes") on that display was 13. For the math wizards, that meant I was riding between 21-22mph (note: I did not do the math while riding, I just knew that 5 miles in 15 minutes is 20mph, my usual target). I chalked it up to a relatively flat start to the bike leg.

The great thing about the Grand Rapids 56-mile bike leg is that it only has a few turns. It's an out-and-back course with gradual rolling hills - a few are good climbs but nothing really steep where everyone has to get out of the saddle. Unfortunately, because of the large number of participants and long uphills and downhills, Grand Rapids suffered from a serious drafting situation. I wanted to ride my own race, but it was hard to stomach watching a whole peloton of guys with women just hanging on their wheels. Hopefully the USAT officials on the course were paying attention.

Besides trying not to draft, I spent most of the ride doing two things: blowing my nose and mentally assessing if I could keep this pace and still have a good run. After burning my quads for the first hour, I expected a major slow-down at some point, but I backed off a little in the second half to prepare for the run, still thinking it would probably be in vain.

T2. Wet running shoes are not easy to get on.

When I pulled into T2, I saw Jim and I think I yelled something about it being my fastest bike split ever in a half (it wasn't but I was really excited anyway). I knew several women had passed me and I'm sure some of them were in my age group, but I kept repeating to myself "don't do anything stupid on the run... don't do anything stupid on the run..." knowing I have a tendency to chase. The rain had mostly stopped but I still struggled to get my running shoes on wet - I gave up perfecting it, and decided to run with the tongue buckled under the laces.

Based on how I felt getting off my bike, I expected to start the 13.1-mile run fatigued with wobbly legs and thinking "there's no way I can run the whole thing." What happened was the opposite. I felt pretty good. I heard Jim tell me to ease into it, so I backed off a bit, but my legs were not suffering the way I expected, and I went through the first mile in 7:03.

Finishing the run.

The Grand Rapids run course is a two-loop out-and-back. Everyone from all three races is running the same course with different turn-around points, so it's very difficult to know who you are racing against. I really had no idea. I spent much of the run talking to myself to "avoid doing something stupid," assessing how I felt, making decisions about what to drink and/or eat, and looking for two friends who were also racing.

The course had two substantial hills, but to my surprise, my mile splits were pretty even 6:50-7:10 on the flats and downhills, and 7:20-7:30 on the hills, and I managed to survive on only Gatorade without walking the aid stations. When I crossed the finish line, my first thought was that I felt way better than I should have - I immediately regretted not trying to run faster. I asked Jim how I finished - the live results had me second in my age group. My time was 4:46:21, and we both had my run split at 1:34 (my fastest 13.1 miles since 2011).

It took me a while to digest the whole experience. I hadn't raced like that in a long time... and I was on no sleep and I was sick. I came in second in USAT Nats. I spent the next half-hour walking around trying to figure out what I thought of it. Jim kept asking how I was feeling. My answer kept coming back to "way too good" and "I should have run faster," and "I should have gone harder on the bike." I guess this is what happens when you're out of practice. And I am seriously out of practice at long distance racing.

Hanging out with super-fast people - teammate Brian Stern (middle)
and the 9th overall finisher, Nick Glavac (right)

We gathered everything up and took a long walk back to the car while waiting for the awards. After talking to a few athletes and checking out the unofficial results, we found that there were several mistakes that put athletes and relay teams listed in the wrong races and wrong age groups, and one of the mistakes was in my age group. The preliminary "winner" had competed in the Olympic-distance race, not the half, which meant that I was the age group winner. But even more surprising, I finished fifth overall - and no one was more surprised and delighted than me - except maybe Jim, who was adamant about getting things straightened out in the results (I love when he does that).

And so.. that was how an accidental registration resulted in a national championship. And now I have a big decision to make: to decide if I want to go to Motala, Sweden, for the ITU Long Course World Championship. There are worse fates. And I can't say enough huge thank-you's to the people who helped me in my recovery from injury to getting fast enough to stand on that podium Sunday: my P.T., Mike DeRubertis, my ortho doc, Sam Patterson, my awesome teammates from

Age group winners got very cool Rudy Project National Champion jerseys.

The clocks went forward a couple weekends ago. It's usually my wake-up call for the upcoming season. We'll get more light in the evening hours and I can now think about getting my bike off the trainers and out to ride after work. With my an almost-two-year injury on the mend, I am once again struggling with something that has weighed heavily on me for the last five years of racing. How can I ever hope to compete with people who have all the time in the world to train when I have a nine-to-five job with no flexibility in my work hours?

Here's a quick update on my injury. A couple months ago, my physical therapist gave me the green light to put more stress on my hamstring tendon (it started out as more and harder miles on the treadmill as February has been mostly sub-15-degree days). I've also been increasing my time on the CompuTrainer and spending more time in the pool. Although there's still pain, my hamstring has responded much better than expected, and I've had several hard running workouts with no pain at all. The pain usually subsides before the next training session, but the tendon is still not at 100%. My orthopedic doctor recommended another PRP injection which I will got a few days ago - right before I left for a four-day vacation in Los Angeles.

Increased training time has also brought to light the limitations I now have in pursuing additional goals outside work and racing. It's more difficult than in the past because I've been focusing on my art during the injury recovery, and now I'm torn between wanting to make a go of it (showing/selling my work) and go back to racing Ironman. With a full-time job and trying to get 7-8 hours of sleep nightly, I can only expect about 5-6 hours on weekdays to spend on myself, my family, my social life. When I write it like that, it sounds like a lot of time, but when you add cooking, shopping, housekeeping, etc., and bad rush hours, that time disappears very quickly. Pop culture TV series have been right out - to my dismay.

Until now, most of those hours have been spent stressed out about what I cannot do - or what I didn't get done - and feeling like a failure for it. Recently I found myself being overly honest about it in social media.

Fortunately, I've made goo friendships over the years, and my stressed-out, injured plight turned out to be near and dear to another athlete I've known for many years - his name is Kevin. In his own state of injury, he reached out to me and it turns out that we have quite a bit in common: the same orthopedic doctor, the same physical therapist, the same sport (although he was a triathlete back in the days when it wasn't popular like it is now), and the same worries.

As good as my husband Jim is at helping me through these rough times, having a peer to discuss it with has eased my mind in a way that I never dreamed was possible. Here was someone I had always admired as an athlete - someone I deemed "one of the cool people" because he knew, trained, and raced with all the local heroes of our sport (I mostly trained alone with my self-deprecating thoughts). For the first time ever, I have been able to see myself through another athlete's eyes. I didn't think anyone noticed what I did or how I raced, and Kevin regarded me (ME?) as somewhat of a local hero. He was one of "those people I was always trying to impress" (for lack of a better way to say it). Brain-dumping our thoughts about racing on each other has resulted in an amazing transformation: his outlook on life (somewhat stress-free but not without a lot of work to get there) had begun to affect my own. And now I want to achieve a similar state of ease with who I was and where I was at this point in my life.

It doesn't (and won't) come without sacrifices. I know I have to make big changes in attitude and behavior - changes to be fair to everyone, especially myself. Setting lofty race goals in hopes of being noticed by others was something that only mattered in MY mind. People HAD noticed, but it didn't make me any happier. It was a behavior pattern that began in high school - trying to be a famous athlete and exceptional student so my parents/teachers/coaches/schoolmates would pay attention to me. It was also when the constant stress began.

Thirty years later, I'm still trying to be the best employee, the best web developer, the fastest triathlete, an accomplished artist, and the perfect wife. But all I am is the best at being stressed out and depressed. I've lost any concept of success. And this is what Kevin taught me (because he's been through it): I had to (truly) search my soul for why I couldn't be happy with myself no matter what I did or excelled at.

It came down to something I've known for years.. that I wanted people to notice. That I only judged myself through how I thought others viewed me. My accomplishments only mattered if other people acknowledged them.

So why is this realization different this time? Because this time, unlike the last many times, I have a working model of someone who's been through it and came out the other end with flying colors. Someone I admired, an equally-accomplished athlete. Someone who has the perspective I need. And I've started to let go of trying to impress people and stopped looking at myself through other people's eyes.

One of the first things I did was quit my triathlon team. I used to think being part of a team meant I had "arrived" - that I was "good enough" to be on a team. I wanted to perform well to make my teammates proud of me and thus be worth keeping me on the team. Being injured for a year made me feel I had failed at that too. I maintained the team's website to make up for it. But in the end, no one seemed to care either way and I found it nothing but frustrating. Since it didn't seem to matter if I were on the team or not, or doing the website or not, and knowing I couldn't get to the team's once-a-week rides because my job was on the other side of town, I decided I needed to stop feeling useless and just quit. I still feel sad about it, but I no longer feel stress from it. And I'll always be grateful for three years of support I got from Fleet Feet Sports and Bike Authority.

This  is obviously just the beginning. I still need to get healthy. I still need to learn how to leave work at work. I still need to learn how to say no to extra work and freelance web jobs. And I still need to decide if I want an art career more than racing long. I can't help that I will put my heart and soul into anything I decide, but at least I can be sure it's what I enjoy doing - and not because I need to prove anything.

Meet my little etching press.

I've been dwelling on a new blog post for so long that I can't remember when my last one happened or what it was about. But I feel a brain-dump coming on so I'll just start writing.

Several times since creating this blog, my first post of the new year has been a recommitment to personal athletic goals. It usually comes after the realization that spending most of my time trying to please others (family, friends, peers, bosses) is a losing battle, that hard work rarely pays off in the workplace, and that I am crap at office politics (well,.. politics in general). After the realization, I crawl in a hole and bash myself to pieces, then crawl out, stand up (slowly), and recommit myself to a new season of running or triathlon. This has been the only thing that depends entirely on me.. and the one way for me to reap the benefits of goal-setting and hard work.

This year, part of me so desperately wants to write that athletic recommitment blog, but I can't. I can't put my "all" into training when I know damn well that my hamstring tendon is still injured. Lately I've had to remove myself from social media because most friends and those I follow are runners and triathletes. After reading and celebrating everyone else's successes for the last few months, I now find myself, not inspired by them, but feeling like a bigger loser, viewing my 2013 season as a huge fail, and declaring my 2014 season a failure before it even happens.

Before racing in London, I had the injury diagnosis. And after returning, I was forced to take time off and focus on healing. Then I survived a car accident. Then I survived buying a new car - which was, perhaps, more stressful than the accident. To avoid going insane, I started compulsively drawing again.

And then came an unexpected light at the end of the tunnel that had nothing to do with training. Somewhere in the mess of the interwebs, I landed upon several artists' websites describing intaglio printmaking with an acrylic plate. I was instantly hooked. My etching press (bought to expedite the process of making Christmas cards) would no longer have to sit in a corner unused for eleven months out of the year. Almost immediately, I was digging out tools, impulse-buying plastic plates and ink, and pulling my old printmaking studio books off the shelf.

This was mid-November - in the midst of the pre-holiday rush. Still hanging over my head was my yearly "other" creative endeavor: block-printing my 2013 card (which due to my procrastination, became its own fiasco of a time crunch). But, I don't f*ck with inspiration. Especially when it is artistic inspiration. I must drop everything and follow it.

And now, after a couple months, I am able to relax a bit and write about it.

For my first prints, I used random photographs I shot on my iPhone. And I couldn't even wait for the purchased materials to arrive. In desperation to get started, I scrounged up some old scraps of plexiglass from an old picture frame and secretly cut it into rectangles at 5:00 a.m. in the farthest corner of the basement to avoid waking up my husband Jim. (If you've ever scored and cut plexiglass, you already know it sounds like a gunshot.)

My first print was average at best, and more impulse purchases were required to find the right ink and all the right tools. I'm still developing my techniques, but I'm seeing improvement (there's that hard-work thing again...). In the even that I never race again, I hope I've found something that keeps me creatively and energetically engaged and has future development and growth potential.

2014 now seems like a new direction. I have some new art and I'm hopeful about my future artistic possibilities for the first time in about ten years. Creating stuff is giving me a sense of internal fulfillment, and if I can no longer compete at the level I'd like to as an athlete, all does not seem lost.

Anyway.. below are a few of the new intaglio prints - starting with the first one - made from a photo of my headlights while I was driving at night. The method I'm using is called "drypoint" - scratching the image into the plate directly instead of etching it with acid (and thus avoiding the hazardous-materials-in-the-house issue). In the future, I would like to switch the imagery and use some of my drawings for inspiration, but my photos are giving me ideas for now.

"Headlights on Boston Mills Road"
"Riverfront Trail Scene 2"
"Le Canal"
"Scenes from the Towpath I"
"Afternoon Near Corn Hill"
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