Sunday, October 18, 2015

From the Inside Out

Where to start! I'm worried this could be a long one, but I'm laying it all out there. My main audience for this post are those dealing with gut discomfort or digestive issues.  I hope through telling my (long/painful) journey that I can hopefully help others find their own answers. It is my sincerest hope that others do not have to experience 3, 4 or 5 years of discomfort before finally finding answers.  I can never get the past three seasons of professional racing back and I'd do anything to have discovered answers at the onset of symptoms! Well, time to dive in.

It was over three years ago when symptoms first started to impact my everyday life.  Looking back the symptoms started even earlier, but things were manageable.  With each passing year my symptoms worsened, and eventually hit a point, earlier this year, where I took matters into my own hands and demanded answers.  I'd been given many "answers" from doctors, nutritionists, and coaches, but in the end none of them made any sense. I knew something wasn't right deep inside.
This is simply my story and the research I discovered in my search for answers. I'm certainly not an expert in gut health, but I am most definitely an expert in my body and how my degrading gut health impacted everyday living and my athletic pursuits.  Here we go...

Onset of Symptoms & Gluten Testing: 

The first symptoms I experienced were bloating and gas. I decided to cut dairy from my diet (goodbye beloved greek yogurt) and noticed a significant improvement. Little did I know this was only the beginning...

Approximately one year thereafter I struggled with severe anemia (again), stomach discomfort, gas, bloating and other symptoms stemming to common vitamin deficiencies. After several visits to doctors and GI specialists I got a physician to prescribe i.v. iron treatment to help restore iron levels. While sitting through one of my weekly i.v. treatments I met another girl suffering from similar symptoms. We started talking and within 10 minutes we were both in tears. Not only did we sympathize with each other, but for the first time we felt we were talking to someone who completely understood and believed how the other was feeling. It had been two years since I first visited a GI specialist, but it wasn't until this moment that I believed I wasn't crazy and there might be real answers to my inability to properly digest foods.   She was a few steps ahead of me, and had been working with physicians at Stanford Health who discovered she had severe celiac disease.  I couldn't believe the similarities in our symptoms and immediately made an appointment to see the same physician.  By this point I'd already started the process of cutting gluten from my diet. This doctor studied at Harvard and is a leading researcher in gluten intolerance and celiac.  She had to have the answers!

Besides dealing with gut discomfort, extreme bloating and gas I also suffered from extreme malaise during training and racing. I remember racing Ironman South Africa and literally running past the turn towards the finish. I was in a complete daze and had to be directed towards the finish line. I had similar feelings on bike rides where I'd be only a few miles from my house and found myself turning to riders next to me asking where we were. It was as if I was training from high atop a cloud.  I also had leg and arm tingling during most of my swim workouts.

These symptoms started effecting my work day. Around 2pm every day I started feeling severe gut discomfort and wanted to run home and plant myself on the couch. The final straw was repeatedly being asked if I was pregnant (clearly it isn't universal knowledge that you never ask someone this unless it's very obvious. Wait, maybe the bloating was really that dramatic?!?!).  When I went into Stanford the physician was shocked to learn of my struggles with iron absorption and discomfort after eating. She asked me a long list of questions to determine what symptoms I was suffering from. It wasn't until that moment when I realized all of the above listed symptoms could be connected to my digestive track.  She convinced me to undergo an endoscopy to test for celiac, and assured me we'd get to the bottom of things through various biopsy screenings.

The test for celiac disease came back negative, but due to my symptoms I was instructed to keep gluten from my diet. I didn't need to be told twice. What people (who haven' dealt with severe gluten issues) don't realize is that the symptoms for celiac and gluten intolerance can be equal in severity. It is just that celiac disease is connected to the autoimmune system.  (I could go on and on about celiac and gluten sensitivity, but I'll stop there).
Prior to the endoscopy it's imperative that you consume a substantial amount of gluten.  For three weeks I ate yummy bread and gluten packed meals every night. Within five minutes of eating gluten gas bubbles started building in my stomach and soon after agony set in as they began exploding.  I couldn't wait to get these foods out of my diet. Even a drop of soy sauce would set my gut afire. My doctors at Stanford indicated that it was possible that if I continued to eat gluten I could later develop celiac. This is an area where much medicine research remains, but again I didn't care. I knew how I felt when I ate gluten and that was all I needed to cut it 100% from my diet.


All seemed to resolve itself and I went on with my training, racing, and daily grind. While I still had digestive issues with some fruits, vegetables and beans I chalked this up to normal dietary distress caused from these foods. Slowly symptoms worsened and I found myself cutting more and more from my diet.  Things came to a haunting point earlier this year when I realized that symptoms not only worsened, but were present after almost every meal.  I started keeping a food diary to determine what foods gave me issue. I spoke with my coach and dietitian who chalked things up to irritable bowel symptom (IBS) (clearly IBS is a serious issue affecting millions of people. I just knew this wasn't the answer and for me something more was going on).  While gas, bloating, diarrhea are all marquee symptoms of IBS I knew this wasn't my answer.  Our (QT2) core diet nutritionist suggested I follow the  FODMAP diet.

FODMAP stands for:  fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are poorly absorbed sugars that pass through the small intestine and enter the colon, where they are fermented by bacteria, releasing gas, which stretches the sensitive bowel causing bloating, gas and pain.  It was helpful to read about the ingredients within FODMAP that cause distress, however when I realized that 99% of the food items on the list gave me issues.  With that I threw my hands in the area and said "enough is enough."  IBS is a diagnosis made on symptoms, with no test to confirm this diagnosis. (The most common symptoms of IBS are: abdominal distention, constipation/diarrhea, abdominal discomfort). To me this was a catch all, scape goat diagnosis. Did people really think it was normal/acceptable to not be able to eat all of these healthy and natural foods!?! Honestly, I found it laughable.  To say I was frustrated would be a huge understatement.
*note: FODMAP is not a "diet" per se in that it is not meant to be followed for a long duration of time. Instead it's meant to be used short term (4-6 weeks) followed by reintroducing items one at a time to determine which items cause a reaction.

So...let's paint a picture of what I was eliminating from my diet at this point. Onset of symptoms came from: all dairy, honey, several fruits (grapes, all dried fruit, mango, apples, watermelon, cherry's, pears, dates (or any dried fruit)....), a ton of vegetables (various forms of lettuce, sugar snap peas, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cucumber, cabbage, broccoli, onion, peppers... to name a few), soy (tragic when my favorite Clif Bar product are the Luna Protein bars which use soy protein), and most beans (chic peas, black beans, white beans, lentils...).  Furthermore, I was no longer able to properly digest sports drinks and many sports nutrition products due to the glucose levels.  (Thankfully Clif Bar offers a whole host of options, and by rotating through gels, blocs, organic energy food, and bars I was able to properly feed the machine).
Eating any of these items caused severe stomach distention (yup, once again I was being asked if I was pregnant), gas, and fatigue. I was struggling to get back down to race weight, or even to drop a single pound. I sat at a 300 calorie deficit and couldn't drop an ounce. We took things down to a 500 calorie deficit and even still I sat firm at 10lbs over my normal/comfortable weight. I could get over the number if I had to, but I couldn't get over how I felt.  It was time to become my own advocate, to self educate. I started reading and listening to a lot of podcasts on gut health. Knowledge is power. Just call me Ms. WebMd.

My initial readings lead me to believe I was suffering from small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO).  SIBO is a condition in which colonic-type bacteria (resembling bacteria normally found in the colon) proliferate into the small intestine.  Common symptoms of SIBO are sensitivities to supplements, fatigue, brain fog, abdominal distention, abdominal discomfort, extreme gas and diarrhea or constipation. I had the first 6 symptoms, so this must be my issue, right? I reached out to my friends in the medical field to determine which the best tests for SIBO.  All recommended the at home SIBO breath test by Commonwealth Lab.  There's nothing fun about this test that includes 24hrs of a limited diet and fast, but I swore this would get me the answers.  The lab turned the test results around in just a few days, and responded to let me know there was a negative finding for SIBO. I was shocked.  (We're actually now rerunning the SIBO test to confirm there wasn't a false positive, however as you'll see I eventually found the culprit). 
-  Here is a great article by Chris Kresser on SIBO and why diet alone will not cure SIBO.  (It is important to do a lactulose test and not glucose, as lactulose is more accurate. A negative glucose test can not completely rule out SIBO as it doesn't test the full length of the intestine where overgrowth occurs). 
The search for answers continues...

Bacteria/H.Pylori Screening:

H. Pylori is a bacteria that affects over 50% of the human population. Shocking statistic considering it took years before I learned about H. pylori and got tested for it.  H. pylori is a bacteria that is picked up just like the flu or common cold. It can come from another human or from food/water.  Sadly not one physician ordered this very common test.  While the presence of h. pylori bacteria is not necessarily dangerous, it can lead to stomach ulcers and is thought to be the cause of some forms of stomach cancer if left untreated.  I am still in conversations with Stanford Health because this is something that is routinely checked for in endoscopy procedures. However my results make no mention of such test.

I worked closely with BioHealth Labs to make sure all the necessary tests were properly ordered (all require a physician's order).  They ran a complete GI pathogen screen, functional adrenal stress profile, salivary hormone test, and metabolic assessment profile.  All of these tests can be conducted at home and mailed directly into the lab.

The combined results from each of these tests allowed me to see the full picture of what was going on within my digestive track. The results came in, and it looked like I finally had my answer.  The GI pathogen screen showed a positive finding of h. pylori, as well as yeast overgrowth (candida). H pylori isn't something to mess around with and definitely requires treatment. By this point I didn't even care what was going on inside me, as long as I had an answer and a plan to dealing with it.  Tests also showed my hormone levels were effected.  I can now say with strong certainty that the presence of h. pyoli, as well as my affected hormone levels, were the root cause for my inability to lose weight. (I knew this wasn't a simple equation of calories in and calories out, and that starving myself wasn't the answer!)

I did my research and learned that the bacteria can be attacked either through herbal means or by antibiotics.  I am not a fan of antibiotics and haven't taken them (or any prescription drug for that matter) in 15+ years. I'll always go the natural route...but not this time. I weighted my options and opted for the antibiotic route for two reasons: 1) the success rate at killing the bacteria (for good) is 80% with antibiotics and homeopathic measures showed a much lower kill rate; 2) the antibiotic regimen takes 14 days while the homeopathic track takes 2+ months. Unfortunately the timing of trying to kill the bacteria and yeast overgrowth landed right at the beginning of my final push for IM Chattanooga.

I set off for our QT2 pro camp in Texas with drugs in hand (a PPI, and 2 different antibiotics taken in a very high does twice a day).  I'd love to say that it wasn't a big deal to be downing all of these drugs, but it was a rough few weeks. I literally felt like I was going to fall over and die during my workouts. Even an easy swim sent my heart rate sky rocketing. My body was working so hard to kill off the bad bacteria and here I was asking it to perform at crazy camp volume/intensity.  I remember rolling out for one of our first rides, praying it would be short and sweet.  (Now remember, I am one who lives for long training days! So to feel the way I did after 40miles was bothersome). I turned to Jesse to ask "is it time to turn around yet," only to hear "come on Caroline, this isn't your first rodeo."  From that moment on I buried my head and sat firmly in the hurt tank....workout after workout, day after day. Coach Tim was amazing at keeping me on track and pushing me through.   Things didn't improve until about three days after finishing the medications.  As bad as it was, there was no way I was delaying taking these drugs and killing the bacteria. I wanted to feel healthy and normal far more than I wanted to have a great race.

I noticed a pretty significant turn around after finishing the antibiotics regimen. I was able to tolerate (high doses of) sports nutrition once again and finally started to drop weight. In fact I dropped 7 lbs, in 2.5 weeks without even trying. Things turned around just in time for me to race Ironman Chattanooga. I felt confident and left for Tennessee with a renewed excitement.  We all know how that turned out- but to have figured things out and be on the mend felt like the biggest win of all.

I just sent in another round of testing to confirm the antibiotics did their job and completely killed the bad bacteria. Results confirmed what I had suspected: all bad bacteria was dead and gone! I did a happy dance. This was indeed a huge victory.

Rebuilding Healthy Gut Flora

Once the bacteria has successfully been killed off, and  hormone levels return to normal, it's time to rebuild a health gut flora.  There are many products out there that contend to help stimulate this process, but I've chosen to try to gain results through my diet.  I learned about homemade kefir milk while in Australia earlier this year. It is easy to make and contains more healthy strands of bacteria and vitamins than store bought options. Kombucha and sauerkraut/fermented vegetables are also great options for rebuilding healthy bacteria in the gut.  (making homemade fermented vegetables is next on my list).  I am also working with the founders of Sound Probiotics to learn how pre and probiotics can restore gut health and have added their probiotics into my daily routine. Their product includes a prebiotic which will help restore healthy bacteria in the gut.  (Chris Kresser Podcast on ways to build healthy gut flora if you're unable to process probiotics and fermented foods. Listening to this made me realize others have it way worse than I).

It's been quite the journey to get to the final stage of not only finding answers, but treating the root cause of my symptoms.  If you relate to any of this story my first bit of advice is to be your own advocate. I challenge you to get to the bottom of the root cause of your symptoms, and to remember you know your body better than any physician, dietitian, homeopathic guru, etc.   I can certainly relate to the day to day obsession of trying to overcome diet restrictions while pursing sport at the highest level. Eating was a stress in my life and simply a means to feeding the machine.  While it's important to slowly reintroduce food into my diet I have certainly tested the waters. My body tolerates small amounts of dairy again, every vegetable I've tried as well as fruit and dried fruit.  I'm also feeling a difference in my body's ability to digest red meat which is crucial due to my history with anemia. I tested a small quantity of (gluten filled) bread and to my amazement didn't experience any stomach pain as a result.  I'm still waiting for a huge training day to sit down and indulge on real pizza to give the system a real test. (Although after three years of being 100% gluten free I can't even imagine being able to add this back into my diet. This one is still TBD).

Rebuilding healthy gut flora takes considerable time.  I'm patiently optimistic things won't relapse and I can remain in the clear. For now I seriously feel like a new person. To those who I've consulted with along the way I thank you for openly sharing your knowledge with me. It's been a long road, but I am thankful and appreciative to have forged ahead instead of living complacent with cutting out so many foods from my diet.

I plan to follow up with a twitter chat/Q&A with Sound Probiotics. We'll announce a date/time on twitter once solidified.

Take Away's:
Here are my over arching pieces of advice to anyone dealing with gut health concerns.

  • Use IBS as the catch-all only after all other digestive diagnosis are ruled out. This isn't to say that IBS isn't an actual syndrome, but it's better to be safe and rule out any other issues which can become worse if left untreated. If your symptoms are as drastic as mine then I can only imagine your reaction to an IBS "diagnosis" will be to laugh it off. 
  • Use FODMAP foods as a marker to determine how many of these foods give you issue. If cutting all FODMAP foods makes you feel better then it's time to dig into what's going on in your gut. Please don't just assume you should permanently cut all these healthy foods from your diet. 
  • Always remember you know your body best. If you feel like something is not right then trust your gut ;-) don't stop until you find a practitioner who can access what testing you might need.
  • Most importantly- if frozen yogurt starts causing digestive discomfort you MUST seek medical attention immediately! 
There you have it. Sorry for the long post, but I do hope this can shed some light on issues others might be facing. Please feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me with any questions. Again, I'm no expert but I do know finding answers is well worth the investment. health and happiness! 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Ironman Luck

To race ironman at the highest level it takes more than just skill, talent and hard work.  My experience at Ironman Chattanooga confirmed that when it comes down to it, racing a successful Ironman takes a hefty dose of luck!  Or at the very least eliminating any bad luck!

The Wednesday leading up to the race I set out for an easy tempo run and swim. My run workout was simple, smooth, and focused with a few mile repeats on the treadmill to work turn over. I cruised through #1 and all felt easy-peasy, smooth 'n easy. I jumped to the side of the treadmill belt to take a quick 1minute rest. Suddenly my head felt dizzy, and then things went blank. While I don't remember doing so, I am thankful I had the wherewithal to stop the belt and get off the machine. I was walking to sit down when I passed out, dropping to the ground.  Thankfully others were right there to assist me immediately.  I insisted I was fine but those around me told me I was delusional and needed to be checked out.  Moments later, with sirens roaring, I was surrounded by 6 EMS personal. Looking back I appreciate their better to be safe than sorry mentality.  EMS spent time running every test they could perform on site. All tests completely cleared any risk that this was related to my heart. I consulted my doctor and he too felt it was simply the result of going from hero to zero on the treadmill. Jumping off the treadmill quick likely caused a quick pooling of blood to jump from my legs to my head, causing the dizziness.  I have to thank many medical personal who calmed my fears and confirmed that the fainting episode was nothing to worry about. Each and every one of them told me to race as planned.  
Far end of the awesome bike course!
I thought I was in the clear until I woke up Thursday morning and was unable to walk. Both my ankle and knee swelled considerably as a result of the fall. I tried to run and made it  4 second. I couldn't walk without a limp let alone run. 

My beautiful homestay family called every resource they knew to try to get me checked out and race ready.  Their generosity and kind spirit lifted my hopes and reminded me that I never give in without a fight. I spent the next 2 days working on recovering and getting back into the mental game. Thank you Dr. Mark and Chip Clifton for graciously spending time with me. Your expertise and generosity brought me to the starting line believing I'd be ready to put my training to good use.  It was time to believe in ME!
Keeping mood light with endless laughs the day before the race.
A random blow up Ronald with McD no where in sight?!?!? Ok
I woke up race morning with 100% belief that I'd have a great race. The thought of injury or pain never even crossed my mind. I sipped on my cup of java with a huge smile on my face. It was race day! 

I knew the swim would be fast and furious. Due to the assisted current I figured the lead group would hold closer to half ironman effort, and I was right. Thankfully I jumped on their feet and hung on for the ride.  Around the half way point someone moved to the front of the group and picked up the pace. I tried hard to hang on. My self talk: "20 strokes all out, just kidding 20 more, nope they're up'ing the pace again. Must holdddddd on. 40 stroke sprint. Don't give in. Kick harder. You got this, you're in an excellent position." Unfortunately despite the self talk and gritting my teeth the rubber band broke.  From there I swam to the swim exit alone, including a slight detour too far to the left that cost me valuable time.  
 I felt strong once on the bike and was able to hit my power numbers comfortably on the way out of town. I rode alone until around mile 35 and then was caught by a small group.  Our goal for this race was to do what it took to hold on to the girls that came up from behind.  I stayed at the front of the group through the first loop and felt great. I tried to break away on the long descent but was unsuccessful. I then moved to the back of the group just in time for the draft marshals to show up and ding the three of us in the back with draft penalties. Not sure why he didn't get everyone in the group, but that's life.
Around mile 80 my right knee was throbbing. I prayed that it was just aggravated from time on the bike and it would go away once I got out on the run.  I used the 5 minutes in the penalty tent to massage my knee, stretch and mentally get ready to throw down the marathon I knew I was capable of. 
Exiting T2- Let's do this!

The first mile of the run is up hill but I worked hard to try to find my rhythm. My Garmin lapped at mile two and I told myself it was time to react and get moving. My knee hurt pretty bad, but I didn't feel I was doing any damage, so on I went.  By mile 4 my pace didn't change. Frustrating to say the least!  Now, the pain was real, but my mind was convinced I could still pull something out once we got to the hills. Unfortunately once over the bridge my knee started to give out (similar to the feeling of i.t. band syndrome).  When I saw coach Tim and Jesse around mile 13 the tears started streaming.  I was very ready to pull off the best race yet. I nailed my nutrition. I got down to race weight just in the nick of time (and worked very hard to get there). Sitting on a grassy front yard crying to my coach was NOT the way I envisioned my day ending. 
My face says it all: Pain

Tim and I agreed that it wasn't worth hobbling to the finish line. My day was done. What I was doing out there was not running. I am not one to quit but I wasn't willing to risk an actual injury to finish out of the top 10.
The run course in Chattanooga is electric. The streets are lined with people cheering, partying and enjoying the race atmosphere. I wanted so bad to return their energy with a strong marathon. I eventually wiped my tears, put on a smile and walked back to the finish line thanking each and every volunteer I passed. 

Shockingly I wasn't completely depressed in the hours and days that followed. I know I did all I could with my lack of luck! That said, I am sick of these obstacles getting in the way of strong race performances.  My training this season is proof that I have a very strong ironman in me! I hope I can hold onto my fitness, clean up a few details, and absolutely smash an Ironman before calling it quits for the season. I will make the final decision in the coming weeks. I plan to listen to my body and let it be my guide.  If I have one more Ironman in me this season my body, mind, and heart will tell me so. 
Many thanks to Rick and Katie for showing me what Chattanooga hospitality is all about! You never stopped supporting me and believing in me. Once strangers, and now friends for life...this is what I love most about this journey! Rick, it's time for you to discard those flip flops and get your running shoes ready for the 70.3 world champs in 2017!
Many thanks to the 4,000+ volunteers that put their heart into this race!  The energy was non stop, and certainly helped me dig deep and really take myself as far as I possibly could on the day.
There were some great take aways from the day: 
1) Swim: I finally got out with the uber swimmers and held on well beyond the first 200-500m. Next time I need to stay there for 2.4 miles! 
2) Bike: I took risks on the bike and they paid off. Had the course been 112 miles this would of been a new bike PR (sub 5:15). 
3) Run: hmmmm, no positives to be had from this performance...other than the fact that I enjoyed the atmosphere and energy from all the spectators/volunteers. 
Luck surely wasn't on my side leading into this race, but it will only fuel my fire for that day when everything clicks and magic ensues! 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Pinch Me - Ironman Australia

This pretty much sums up my feelings as race day approaches!
-photo credit for ALL images on this post: Darrell Nash/Nashyspix
Yes, it was a very good day when I landed in Port Macquarie. The entire town embraces Ironman and truly pulls out all the stops to put on a tremendous race. There is simply a difference between racing an inaugural race and one that's been around for thirty years. The race crew and volunteers turned this little Australian town into an absolutely magical place. Leading this crew was my amazing homestay. Darrell picked me up from the airport and from then on I received nothing less than their red carpet treatment. So, before I get into the race report I must give a heart felt thank-you and bravo to them!

Darrell Nash/aka: Nashy has a killer photography and framing business. He was incredibly gracious with his time both leading up to the race and during. It is with great honor, to his work product, that I provide my race report mostly through his lens.
Despite the monsoon rains that started five days before race day, I really enjoyed training in Port Mac during the lead up to the race. I was feeling better than I had any other day since IM Taiwan, and believed I was capable of pulling off a dominating race. My head and heart was in it!
Photo by: Darrell Nash:
During our recon of the bike course we stopped for an impromptu photo shoot. I surely wasn't "model ready" in terms of hair, make-up, etc. but Nashy knows how to capture a great shot. 
Photo by: Darrell Nash:
The scenery certainly doesn't disappoint here! The photo backdrop below overlooks the southern tip of the bike course. I enjoyed looking out at the course with nothing short of complete anticipation! 
Photo Credit: Darrell Nash:
Before the race I had the opportunity to speak to kids at a local elementary school. It was the highlight of my trip! Let me tell you, the questions these kiddos asked had me laughing for days! I told them their job was to make me smile during the marathon. Despite my frustrations out on the run course these kids lit me up. I have already forgotten my spits and race time, but this experience will remain embedded in my heart forever. THIS is what it's all about! 

Race Day: 
The rain finally let up a few hours before the start and we absolutely lucked out with weather on race day.  (PS: I learned that in Australia they say "lucked in" to express being lucky, whereby "lucked out" means unlucky. Seems more logical than our reasoning). 
After a solid warm up (yes the fear of bull sharks entered my mind while out there solo), hugs with friends/competitors, a few adjustments and prayers full of thanks I was ready to rock.
2XU/ Pre-race:
Left: I swear I can never get my timing chip on right the first time. Quick adjustment before go time.
Top: good luck hug with Christy Sym. Great to have you back healthy and racing again my friend!
Bottom: Legend, former champion, and rockstar gal Lisa Bentley returned to celebrate the race's 30th anniversary.  
ROKA: The water was incredibly disgusting (and likely polluted) from all the rain, but no complaints here- I was thankful to be out there. I got out in front quick and then faded a bit before hitting the stairs that we had to go up and order (twice). 

From this point on I just sat in with the chase group and remained there through the rest of the swim. Nothing exceptional, but was in a fine place as we set out on the bike. 
Check out that clean water!?!?
Specialized: I tried to stick to my race plan for the first 30 miles. Unlike in Taiwan I was able to get my heart rate and power on track. I felt I was riding well and pushing hard. I reacted well to people as they came by and things seemed to be clicking by just fine.
The course is two loops with some good rollers and one steep short climb. I made the final turn around at the far end of the course and started to feel the effects of the poor road quality. I was warned about the rough road and trained on similarly surfaced roads in Noosa. The chip seal and rough ride certainly takes it's tole and with 1+ hour to go my legs and gluts were on fire! 
Thankfully the Cobb fifty-five saddle kept saddle comfort in order.
 With 20miles to go my stomach started to rumble. I was ahead of my fluid needs so slowed consumption through the duration of the bike. You can see in my face (and bloated stomach) that things were not all smiles over the closing miles.
Overall my feelings about the bike are abysmal. I was riding very well a month+ out from race day but since leaving for Taiwan my output was sub-par. I am determined to make things click on the bike when race day rolls around...sadly it just wasn't happening here. 

Brooks: The three loop run course is fairly flat with only one slight climb on each loop. The first loop proved most difficult for my stomach. Sadly I was in and out of the port-o-potties. "Shut up stomach, what is your deal?" Digestion problems are not typically an issue for me.
After the first 10k things started to improve a bit and I was able to put together a decent pace. Michele Wu caught me and I sat on her shoulder for almost a full loop. The pace honestly felt too slow, but I figured the top 3 had too much of a gap on me so I had to secure my position. With five miles to go I got ahead of Wu at an aid station and before I knew it had put in three minutes on her. I was feeling better over the last 10k than I had in hours. My typical run pace and cadence started to click...better late than never?? 
I remember telling myself that if I could hang on to 5th this would be a finish to be proud of.  I was humbled and reminded how grueling this race is and the roller coaster of emotions that comes with Ironman racing. I had big goals for this race, but in the end fifth it shall be. Indeed I am proud to have made it to this electric finish line!
It was sad that this Australian adventure had to come to an end. I am so thankful for the time I spent in this beautiful country. I met some absolutely amazing people during this journey and will forever hold them in my heart. I can't thank the Nash family enough for your hospitality and friendship. 
...and with that it was back to reality...

Friday, May 22, 2015

THE Land Down Under. Australia Part I

The sport of triathlon has brought countless amazing Aussie's into my life. They truly are some of the most warm and inviting soles of whom I'm fortunate enough to have as close friends...I mean mates.  I feel incredibly blessed that 2015 was the year I got to spend 3+ weeks touring the land down under.

Ironman Taiwan didn't go as planned, but I didn't blink twice...I had another great opportunity standing in front of me. I left Taiwan and headed straight to Noosa, a quaint beach community 1 hour north of Brisbane. Noosa is the home to many of triathlons legends, both past and present.
During the 10+ days I spent in Noosa I spent as much time resting as possible. Eat, train, sleep- that's the dream, right?!?!? Oh no wait, it's the life of most other pro triathletes - aka: my competition. Time to embrace the opportunity!
While I was riding high and completely content in the moment, the emotional and physical tole of recent life events started to get the best of me.  I found myself dragging through training sessions, and unable to hit training metrics that should have been easy.  Looking back I think I only had one good ride and one good run while I was there. Coach Tim was back home scratching his head and asking "why?" Meanwhile I just kept sleeping and trying to get everything aligned for the race ahead. 

I absolutely loved my time in Noosa. Every ride was a new adventure to spot Koalas and kangaroos.  After the first few rides I started to focus more on the power versus simply searching for Koalas and Kangaroos. My surroundings were breathtaking indeed.

Many sunsets spent doing TRX at the beach
Love Australia - where long course is the norm!

 The weather was spectacular the entire time I was there. The birds sang every morning to wake me up to get my training day started. I enjoyed the time spent with Mel and Jared and am so appreciative of their amazing hospitality! Thanks mate!
Afternoon coffee with Mel and Jared
1mi open water swim race on the beach
where 70.3 worlds will be in 2016

Training was pretty off, but I tried not to let it get to me. Instead I rested when my body craved rest and pushed when I was able to. On my last day there we drove down to Mooloolaba for a 1 mile ocean race. I knew the Aussies were amazing ocean swimmers and enjoyed seeing their ocean skills first hand. The kids race was beyond adorable! Their love for the ocean is contagious. I had a strong race and felt things might just be ticking in perfect time for the real race the following weekend. Time to head to Port Macquarie. Ironman #18 awaits...and this time I was surely going to find that finish line!

Up next: Port Macquarie and Ironman Australia race report. All part of my journey! Thanks for reading.  Cheers to you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Relish In The Moment...Despite The Odds

The past month has truly been a dream come true.  While it didn't start out that way I did my best to turn it into everything it could be. Here's the story...and the deep-down-honest back story.

When I first conceived the idea of racing Ironman Taiwan and Ironman Australia three weeks apart I am not sure I really thought it would happen.  It was more a figment of my imagination.  Time, money, logistics, work, training for back to back early season ironmans - it all needed to be accounted for and factored into the equation. After returning from our QT2 pro training camp in Florida I wasn't sure the fitness piece of the equation was accounted for. I needed a few solid signs to make me believe I was (2x) race ready.  During my final training block things really started to click. With the flick of a switch my heart began to sing and I knew it was time to commit to my first attempt at back to back Ironmans.

The original plan was to fly over to Taiwan, back to San Francisco, and then over to Australia 2 weeks later. However after considering the tole this would take on my body (time changes), and discussing things with my coworkers we decided I would head straight from Taiwan to Australia and work out of our offices there. The puzzle was coming together and with it my mental state turned from self doubt to complete confidence and excitement. Up until now the idea of training and racing over in Australia was only a dream. I was so excited that the packing and planning started two weeks out from my travel day.  My spare bedroom turned into piles of cloths, tri gear, and (an insane amount of) food.

After completing my final training block I just needed to get through the work week, by day, and find a way to fit all of those piles into my suitcase and bike bag, by night. The thing is, life has a way of always keeping us on our toes, keeping us guessing, and testing our character.  I walked into the office Monday morning knowing I had a mountain of work awaiting me. My body was exhausted, but I couldn't let that get in the way of what my mind had to accomplish before jet setting.
I hadn't settled into my work day too long before a strange buzz began around the office. One by one employees were given the "thank you for your service, let me show you the door" speech. You could hear a pin drop in the office. Those remaining stared blankly at each other. We were suppose to be celebrating the acquisition of two new companies. "What the H.E.L.L is going on?"  I wasn't first, so when the text message came through asking me to head up to the executive suites I knew what was coming...I was next.  I've never been part of a large lay off before. Accela was very different than the law firms I've worked for in the past.  Together we built this product and company from the ground up. My co-workers were true friends of mine. This is simply part of the process and casualties that come with acquisitions. It's all part of the game when working in hyper growth software industry. However this didn't make me feel any better. I was quite simply devastated.

I called my parents, but couldn't even get the words out of my mouth. My high and excitement for the races and travel ahead came crashing down. In the matter of five minutes I went from cloud nine to red lined. I didn't care one ounce about triathlon. I cared about my friends who were out of work. I cared about my career and my next steps. Yes, this career is the one that is first and foremost in my life. It only takes a second to remind me what is truly important in life. Sorry, triathlon I love you with all my hear, all my sole, and every single tiny muscle fiber....but you aren't the be-all-end-all for me. You aren't my whole life. As "Lunch Money Louis" sings "I've got [law school debt] bills, I've gotta pay"..."I got [triathlete hangry] mouths I gotta feed."

Pack, fly to Taipai,  2  days in Taipai
before heading south to the race site in Kenting
So those who follow my training and race journey know I obviously did make it to Taiwan, and from there Australia.  It wouldn't have happened without my adoring family and closest friends.  The days between the lay off and departing CA were anything but easy. I prayed every second of every day that God would tell me if I was intended to travel to Taiwan and/or Australia. I have to thank some very special training partners who sat and prayed with me after finishing our weekly 10x400m swim set.  This act of kindness and unselfishness truly made my heart start believing I could get on that plane in two days time.  To my friends who came over to pack my bags for me and drive me to the airport, you rock! I spent the next 3+ weeks thanking each of you for the experiences.  It made sure to embrace these experiences with a "clear eyes, full heart, can't lose" mentality.

Pack up. Ship out. One job... Ironman racing was it.  Once in Taiwan I was greeted by the a member of the Cobb Cycling family, Winston Tam and fam.  I am absolutely positive there couldn't of been a better welcoming after the week I just went through. I hadn't slept much and on the way to the airport threw my back out trying to load my (way) over weight bag into the car.  After a few days settling into the time and climate change in Taipai I packed up again and jumped on the train to Kenting (far south end of Taiwan).

The race organization pulled out all the stops to welcome the professional athletes. I greatly enjoyed some much needed days of relaxation at the Howard Beach Hotel (pictured on left). By race day I was ready to rumble. Let the past sit in the past. Time to live in the present.  The race itself was quite the experience. I have now learned you have to expect the unexpected when it comes to racing first year races especially when they're in a second/third world country.  I'd survived IM Fortaleza for heaven's sake. I would be just fine with whatever came my way here in Taiwan. The course was no joke! Wow, it is the craziest ironman bike course I've ever raced. Narrow roads, plenty of climbs followed by winding descents, and more three legged stray dogs than you an count. Hold on TIGHT! Let's do this...
The swim was a very sub par performance for me. I lost the feet of the front two, and found myself pulling four of the male pros for the rest of the swim.

Once on the bike I fought through the very hilly first half of the course. While the course spiked I did anything but. By all measures (heart race, power, perceived effort) I was flat.  Furthermore my aching back wasn't really enjoying all of the climbing.  Once into the final 60 miles my legs decided to join the party and I finally was hitting AND holding my target power numbers. The last 60 miles was a three loop section close to transition. I built each loop and entered T2 feeling confident for the run.

Sadly the run went backwards. It just never came around. I assessed things and realized that even if I threw down a great closing 10k I wouldn't of been happy with my finish. With that I decided to call it quits. 6 miles away from the finish my heart was already in Australia. I don't walk off an Ironman course - that isn't who I am! But I also didn't come to Taiwan to finish 5th or 6th. It was time to cut my looses and regroup for the next opportunity in 3 weeks time.

I don't always air my "dirty laundry" via blog posts. However this is what makes me real. This is why I can relate to the challenges so many of you face on your way to your Ironman starting line.  We all have obstacles in our lives and carry so much on our shoulders. Once the gun went off I know I gave it my all.  While it wasn't the race I was searching for, Taiwan truly allowed me to relish in THIS moment. THIS challenge. THIS opportunity!  The memories leave me without regret. I have a deep appreciation that God's love drove me to fly across the world with my eyes wide open.    I mean where else would you see signs like this:

Really? Good to know!
A huge thank you to Winston Tam, Margaret Wang and their adorable son Wesley! Your hospitality truly made my time in Taiwan so special. Thank you Judy and Greg for all the memories of our beyond crazy course preview via Taiwanese taxi.  That 3 hour car ride will keep me laughing for years to come. Thank you Shiang Tsao and your unbelievable Ironman staff for easing the stress of traveling solo half way across the world to a non-English speaking race destination. You were amazing! To my sponsors who acted more like family that ever, you own a piece of my heart.

It's all about the journey!  This was far from the end of this journey. Stay tuned for chapter 2: Ironman Australia.