Sunday, April 24, 2011

This Seemed Like a Good Idea Five Months Ago

The amount of Ironman training Dave and I put in on a daily basis has really started to get out of hand.  It consumes every free minute that we have.  When we are not working or fulfilling other responsibilities (graduate school in my case, coaching soccer in Dave's), we are either on the bike, in the water, or slogging down the paths around our home.  At the end of my workouts, I do my obligatory stretches, shower, eat an alarming amount of calories, and then fall asleep far too early on the couch, only to have Dave remind me that I would probably be more comfortable in bed.  Then, right in the middle of a dream where I am most likely either swimming, biking, or running, the alarm clock goes off and the routine starts again:  work, train, eat, sleep.

Our social life has come to a screeching halt.  Even when we do go out to the occasional dinner, our ability to maintain an interesting conversation is uncharacteristically low due to the constant exhaustion and soreness.  The mountains, which we once explored almost every weekend, are now enjoyed only from a distance on the running path.  Our home, which is usually neat and orderly, has become an absolute disaster area of training gear, dishes, and piles of mail.  I almost took a picture of our kitchen table to show you the state of things, but then decided against it out of absolute embarrassment.

This is an overview of next week's training, to give you some idea of the amount of time and energy we are putting into this race:

Monday: Rest Day
Tuesday: Swim 68 laps (2.1 miles), Run 7 miles
Wednesday: Bike 12 miles, Run 2 miles
Thursday: Swim 68 laps (2.1 miles), Bike 21 miles hills
Friday: Swim 68 laps (2.1 miles), Run 7 miles
Saturday: Bike 96 miles, Run 3 miles
Sunday: Run 17.5 miles

I guess the obvious question pertains to the reasons why someone might put themselves through this seven month ordeal.  Is this all for a t-shirt, a medal, and the ability to add Ironman on one's list of accomplishments?  I promise you, if that were where the benefits of doing an Ironman ended, I would have thrown in the towel months ago.

There is something empowering about gearing up your body to its absolute peak fitness level and pushing it to its limits.  You realize new things about yourself at mile 80 that are not revealed to you at mile 25.  It is invigorating and exciting to commit your whole physical and mental self towards accomplishing a task where failure is a possible outcome.  So often in our lives, we try to protect ourselves from failure by never asking too much of ourselves.  Training and racing an Ironman goes against these safer principals and calls for us to take risks and test our abilities.

Everyday we explore new parts of the world and ourselves.  Our lives are filled with curiosity and wonder.  We continue to evolve into new and, hopefully, better people.  Pushing ourselves, testing our limits, and taking risks is a part of that process.  Even if we fail externally, we have still succeeded in our own personal growth.  Our accomplishment lies not at the finish line, but privately within.

Try something new outside of your comfort zone.  It doesn't have to be an Ironman by any means, but I do hope that it involves taking risks and discovering new things about yourself.  Go forward with confidence and commitment.  Uncover all of the amazing things you are capable of!

To donate to the Burn Center, go online to  In the designation field choose "Other" and type "Burn Fund (Team Emilie)."

Or your could mail your check to "UCHF- Burn Fund (Team Emilie)" to UCHF 12401 East 17th Ave. Mail Stop F485 Aurora, CO 80045.

Monday, April 11, 2011

My Support Crew

While buying new tires for my bike this week, the sales clerk asked what race I am preparing for (a frequent question for me these days).  When I mentioned the Coeur d'Alene Ironman, he immediately became excited.  He shared that he also competes in Ironman races and would like to qualify for Kona some day.  As he was selling me tires, he suggested that I buy new ones for my bike and keep an extra set on hand the day of the race with my support crew.

My support crew?  I started to laugh.  Amateurs like me don't have support crews.  People make assumptions that just because I'm doing an Ironman I'm some sort of accomplished athlete that stresses over mile splits and cadence, with a coach and physical therapist on hand at all times.  Nope, not this triathlete.  My best marathon time is a 4:20 and I have only done two triathlons in my entire life.  I am more concerned with the cut-off times of the race than what the professionals will be doing.  A support crew is hardly necessary for slower "athletes" like me.

Yet this concept of a support crew resonated with me.  Maybe I did have a support crew after all...

I think about the half Ironman I completed last June.  My "support crew" was there beside me every step of the way.  My dad made bright orange t-shirts for himself, my mom, and my in-laws to wear so that they could be easily seen while Dave and I completed the race.  As I treaded water waiting for my swim wave to start that day, I looked toward the shore and saw a big group of orange cheering me on.

These are the same people that have attended most of our other marathons and races.  My dad has actually attended all of the marathons I have completed.  They have always been there, with water, words of encouragement, and a GU-shot on hand.  They have never questioned my motivation or judged me for making these huge commitments to races, but rather stand proud of the woman I have become.

And then I thought of Dave, who has helped me throughout all of my training.  He has offered advice, motivation, and helped me refocus when I've needed it most.  He has completed almost all of my workouts with me, pushing me forward and helping me finish training sessions and races, even when I felt like giving up.

And Karen, my best friend since the age of five.  She is always ready to run any race with me, giving me  encouragement mile after mile.  I remember setting the goal of completing a marathon after having Stevens Johnson Syndrome.  She asked me which race I wanted to do and made it a priority to be there, in Las Vegas, with me and Dave throughout the entire race.  The three of us crossed the finish line together, arms raised, having shared a special accomplishment between us.

I think about the role these people played when I had Stevens Johnson Syndrome.  They sat in my room in the Burn Center, along with my sister, supporting me every step of the way.  Even though I was in a coma, their loving voices would enter my dreams.  When I went home from the hospital, they were there at our townhome helping me recover one day at a time.  Karen and I watched Anne of Green Gables curled up on the sofa, my mom and I would go on short walks together every morning, my dad would bring me much needed ice cream to sooth my blistered lips, and Dave would hold me nightly as I cried.

I think about what that sales clerk asked, about my support crew.  I absolutely have one for the day of the Ironman and a lifetime beyond.  I am so fortunate to have a group of people that care so deeply about me.

We all have support crews in our lives.  Are we fully aware of them?  Do we share with them our appreciation and thanks?  In what ways can we support them in return?

These are the questions that have stayed with me this week.  To my support crew during the Ironman, Stevens Johnson, and an entire life of ups and downs, thank you so much for holding me up every step of the way.

Some of the proceeds of this fund-raiser are going to help to the support crews of Stevens Johnsons Syndrome patients in the University of Colorado Burn Center.  Many of these support crews are from out of town, staying for multiple weeks, and without any family or resources in the Denver area.  Your donations will help to make sure that they are given assistance during this difficult time.

To donate to the Burn Center, go online to  In the designation field choose "Other and type "Burn Fund (Team Emilie)."

Or you could mail your check to "UCHF- Burn Fund (Team Emilie)" to UCHF 12401 East 17th Ave. Mail Stop F485 Aurora, CO 80045.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rediscovering What's Important

Over the past few months, the stress in my life has been growing.  With Ironman training for multiple hours every day, graduate school work constantly building up, and budget cuts in my field of education, I have been drained and unsatisfied.  My workouts have been uninspired, my papers for grad school have been lackluster, and my enthusiasm at work has diminished.

This past week, my husband and I travelled to Ambergris Caye, a small island off the coast of Belize, with my parents.  This location is well known for its snorkeling adventures, Mayan ruins, and breathtaking tropical setting.  Every day we woke up to the sun shining over the sea with cool breezes blowing through swaying palm trees.  We were able to enjoy each other's company while exploring the islands: swimming with sharks and sting rays, reef fishing, manatee viewing, etc.

Dave and I tried to keep up with our training somewhat by going on island runs or completing some longer ocean swims, but I would say we pretty much took a week off of training.  This is very unorthodox to most serious athletes.  Training schedules are meant to be strictly followed to maximize one's fitness level; taking a week off is a huge setback.

Yet on the 75 mile bike ride the day after we got back from our trip, I felt the best I have in months.  My mind was clear and focused, my body energized and strong.  I find myself actually looking forward to the 14.5 mile run I am about to go on in a few hours.  I am refreshed and balanced.

While I know that taking a week off training is not advisable and that I will not be able to take such a hiatus again before the Ironman, this past week helped me to reflect on how my mental energy has been poorly spent.  In the last few months, I have allowed negative stress to overcome my productivity... and my well-being.

Right after a life threatening illness like Stevens Johnson Syndrome, there is a reevaluation of one's values.  The daily stress we experience is minimized and the bigger picture is fully understood.  Love, happiness, and appreciation become the center of our priorities.  What a gift!  Yet as we get further from that experience, the clarity is lost.  The "daily grind" seeps back into our existence and stress is created from meaningless things.

Belize helped me to recenter myself.  Over the course of the week, my stress dissolved and my core values were in focus once again.  While I can't always afford an international tropic vacation or have the ability to put all of my responsibilities on hold for a week, I do need to become better at finding time and methods for realigning myself with what is truly important on a more consistent basis.  I cannot allow myself to drift from the most meaningful and fulfilling parts of my life: family, friends, and the joy of living.

Some people do yoga, others get massages or go on hikes in the mountains.  We all need to find regular ways to let the meaningless stress drain from our bodies, leaving us with a crystal clear focus on the most significant aspects of our lives.  While I will not be going back to Belize any time soon, I will embrace my new resolution to refocus myself more regularly on what is truly important in my life.  This does not mean that I will give up on training or on school, but rather that I will move forward with a better sense of balance and perspective than before.

I encourage you to take some time for yourself.  Rediscover what is truly important in your life.  Let the daily stress you carry fall away and center yourself on the love and happiness that surrounds you.

To donate to the Burn Center, go online to  In the Designation field choose "Other" and type "Burn Fund (Team Emilie)".

Or you could mail your check to "UCHF- Burn Fund (Team Emilie)" to UCHF 12401 East 17th Ave. Mail Stop F485 Aurora, CO 80045.