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REV3 SERIES TITLE!!! and 2nd place at REV3 FL!

29 Oct

Before and Now.

Yesterday, I had the biggest race of my career. REV3 Florida was the season finale and the decisive race for the Pro REV3 Series Title. Before the race, people kept asking me how I was dealing with the pressure. There was the title and 30+K on the line- and the title race was all coming down to whether Lauren Goss or I had a better race on that single day.  Lauren has been having a really great year and I knew the day was going to be tough. However, I am not sure I felt that much pressure.  I have everything I really need in life right now.  Greg and I set the goal of winning the REV3 Series way back in January and it was something that I really wanted- but I knew I would be ok, more than ok, if it didn’t happen either. I have been overwhelmed this year with the support and love I have received from people in Charlottesville, people connected with the Ulman Cancer Fund and REV3 and other folks around the country. It has been humbling and deeply satisfying to connect with people over triathlon and to be given so much from these people all the time.   I have been given so much this year.   My sponsors have really stepped up to support me this year, and I am so thankful for that.  Thank you Profile Design and Rudy Project, thank you- I am so lucky to have these superior products (ie: Altair Wheels, Wingspan helmet, Wahoo wetsuit, best sunglasses EVER, profile drink systems, ect..) and so thankful to be associated with two companies so deeply dedicated to the sport of triathlon. Also deepest thanks to Quintana Roo for my super speedy CD 0.1, Hammer, Champion System and Computrainer.  I have an amazing local team in the Ragged Mountain Racing Team.  They are a rock in my life and have supported me in everything I have done this year. Dana Thiele and Mark Lorenzoni have created a great community of serious athletes that has been so important in so many lives, including mine.   I am so grateful to REV3 and their sponsors for making the sport of professional triathlon possible. I am so proud to be associated with REV3 this year.  REV3 treats the professional like real professionals; they are absolutely great to us, and to all of their athletes. They do things the right way for the right reasons and I am continuingly impressed by their commitment and conviction to do the right thing by all of their athletes.  Lastly and, most importantly, I am so thankful to Greg Mueller (and Lisa, his better half =) ). His passion and drive to be the best triathlon coach in the world and to make his athletes the best in the world is contagious.  He really has a gift- and it is mostly his passion for what he does and the love and dedication he gives to his athletes.  I trust him for advice in so many areas of my life and I know he is committed to helping me achieve my dreams, both in sport and in life. He is a different kind of elite triathlon coach, he makes you love the sport more- never any less.  Thank you, Greg, for getting me here!!

I didn’t feel pressure this weekend because I really have so much already, never did I think I would have so much in life.  I have lost a lot in thirty years of life so far with losing people I love and some other really tough challenges- but I seem to be getting it all back in different ways now. How could I have felt that much pressure on Sunday? I have what I need; more than I could ever want- to even think of it is crushing.   I have had nothing to lose this year and, for that, I have been given even more.

Sunday, The Race.

Photo by Eric Wynn/REV3

Due to Hurricane Sandy and a Riptide warning, the swim was cancelled. We started the race with a 1.5 mile run. Like most of the group, I went out conservatively and just tried to tuck in from the wind and relax. I knew the day was going to be long enough.  Coming into T1, Lauren had about a 10 second lead on the field but I had a quick transition and was with her pretty quickly on the bike. Alicia Kaye and Becky Lavelle rode by us hard and eventually Malaika Homo made her way by us as well.   I rode with Lauren until about mile 30, when we made a sharp left hand turn directly into the headwind (did I mention the winds were 25-28mph).  I had an instinct that this would be a good time to try to put a move on and I committed to riding hard for the next 10-15 miles. I put my head down, hammered on the pedals and tried not to look at my watt meter.  At mile 45 there was an out and back so I could see that my move had worked and I had  put something of a gap back to Lauren. At mile 50, I started to suffer really really badly. I have never suffered so badly on the bike and it took every ounce of my will to make it to mile 56, the pain was really really bad. Coming into T2 I was very concerned about having to run a half marathon. My legs were so shot that I had a hard time standing out of the saddle on the last rise over a drawbridge on the bike. I couldn’t imagine being able to run at that point, nevermind race. I grabbed my run gear and tried not to think about it. I started the run very conservatively (not that I had a choice) and started running at 620-630 pace, instead of the usual 555-605 that I have been starting out at.  I tried to keep my miles in the 620 range for as long as I could and I just hoped that it would be enough to hold Lauren off.  Then, interestingly, I found myself in second place all of a sudden. It seems as though maybe I wasn’t the only one suffering the consequences of such a hard bike in the wind.  I came within about 30 seconds of first place with 3 miles to go but I was suffering so bad at that point. I didn’t want to make any moves that might cause me to walk or cramp and risk the series title win. Becky (in first) pulled away from me pretty hard after she saw me at the last turnaround and put some time into me in the last 3 miles. I finished second, sealing the series title, and was thrilled. I was very happy for Becky, she is such a great athlete and a true professional through and through.  I was, and still am, overwhelmed by winning the series and still not sure it has sunk in yet.

Something I did well on Sunday was being able to focus on the race in front of me the whole time. Anytime a thought about the series or what winning would mean or the amount of money came into my head, I tried to block it immediately and just focus on exactly what I needed to do at that moment in the race.  This is something that Greg takes about a lot- being in the moment. The idea is to not think about what you still have left to do or in the next 7 miles or winning or anything like that.  Just think about the moment in front of you and what you are doing in that moment. If you can do that at all points in the race, you will have done all you could. I think the same probably applies to life- what can I do in this moment, right now, that will move me in the right direction? Do that and just that, without worry for the rest of it.

Happy.

After the race, I talked in the car with a friend who came down from Charlottesville to watch me (again, I am the luckiest.)  We talked about the fear of failure and I think that is a big piece of why I have been able to win 4 races and the series this year. This goes back to the beginning of this story but I think I am becoming less afraid to fail- which is an easy thing to say but is actually very difficult to move toward in my core (I imagine I am not alone here.)  Having so much unconditional love and support right now from people around me and having my health and a future I look forward to makes it hard for me to feel like I have anything to loose; I have it all already.  Certainly I can lose these things, but it is not going to be from failing to win a triathlon series title.  Somehow that frees me. For that, I am thankful.

Thank you everyone again, time to party!

Photo by REV3 Photography

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Grasping for Thoreau….

29 May

This blog has been one that I’ve wanted to write for a long time but have been too scared.  I was worried that making this information public would hurt my chances of getting sponsorships or with USA Triathlon and the ITU racing path.  I do mostly non-draft racing now, I have great sponsors who support me tremendously,  I have a triathlon coach who is also a dear friend and a great RMR coaching/teammate support; I feel free to write whatever I want now…

In 2007, I went into an operating room thinking that I had a simple meniscal tear in my right knee. This is a pretty standard operation, the recovery time is very short and it is a pretty shallow speed bump for any runner to overcome.  I woke up in post anesthesia psychosis with someone telling me not to put my leg down on the ground.  Although I was out of my mind, I knew something didn’t sound right. I had a simple arthroscopic surgery and I knew the post-operative course didn’t include avoiding weight on the leg. My confusion was more than just the drugs.  I managed to get in the car and into bed at home- all while obeying these strange instructions.  The next day I went to see my orthopedic surgeon.  She explained to me that I didn’t have a meniscus tear. I had a meniscal cyst- which required a lateral menisectomy (taking the lateral meniscus out).  Ok, I can deal with that.  Bummer, but I’ll be ok- I’ve got a medial meniscus and some good youthful articular cartilage on the other side of the joint. Then she explained that this was the good news…The bad news was that I had a full thickness articular cartilage lesion down to the bone on the other side of the joint.  The lesion was larger than they size of a quarter- about the entire size of the femoral condyle.  She explained that she had to perform a micro fracture surgery that wasn’t even indicated for this size of a lesion but she didn’t have any other option at the time because the lesion was an “intra-operative surprise” (never a good thing).  I really didn’t know what she was talking about at the time so she put it is simple terms: I had almost no native cartilage left on the femur side of my knee joint and no meniscus (a different type of cartilage-like material) left on the tibial side of the knee joint. These things never grow back.  They are like brain cells- once you lose them, they are gone permanently.  She explained that this injury ends the careers of many pro basketball and football players (including most recently Greg Oden of the trailblazers- his lesion was only the size of a pencil eraser though).  She clarified that what this meant for me was that I probably would never run again and if, for some reason, I could run- it would be a very bad idea to try.  In the short term, I would not be able to put my leg down on the ground for at least 3 months and I wouldn’t be able to walk long distances, ride a bike, elliptical or anything else of low impact for at least a year.

UMMM!?!!! This was a shock. I expected a 2 week recovery from a simple meniscal surgery and now I am looking at a recovery of years in duration.  Running for me was like air, I couldn’t live without it. To run pain free was the reason I elected for this surgery in the first place.  “Devastating” was an understatement.  Running was my life in college.  In fact, it is what got me into college and probably not insignificant to my acceptance into medical school.  Running had been one of the few things in life that I was both really good at and loved.

A few months later I moved to Charlottesville to start medical school (still on crutches) and I was resolved to being a student, trying not to get too fat and thinking about other passions I could pursue.  I got off my crutches and started to feel pretty sorry for myself. I was in a haze of self-pity most of the time. Then something happened that put me in my place pretty quickly: My mom was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer that she would pass away from 3 years later.  Suddenly my little knee didn’t seem like such a big thing anymore; my egocentric world suddenly seemed pretty small and insignificant.

In regards to how I handled my knee, my mom’s cancer helped me do two things that seem paradoxically opposed to each other.  The first was that I chilled out about the knee big time.   I didn’t try to come back too fast, in fact- I might have waited longer than a year to ride a bike.  I would swim occasionally with a pull buoy without touching the wall but, other than that, I did a whole lot of nothing.  It would have been nice to have the stress relief of going for a run during those times but the neurotic aspect of my running was gone. I was ok just to sit and heal.

During that year- I did go to two different well-renown orthopedic surgeons (one at UVA).   I asked for a second opinion about the running and they both told me not to do it even if I could. They told me I would have disabling pain within a year and a knee replacement would be imminent.    I also combed the internet trying to find runners who had recovered successfully from this surgery. Almost every blog or thread I read was not good news; Just pain, complications and failed attempts at running. I did find one guy who ran a marathon after micro fracture, but he described his lesion, again, as the size of a pencil eraser- not the size of a quarter like mine. After a while, I gave up hope on running and picked up cycling about a year and a half after my surgery.

I actually wasn’t too bad at cycling.  I ended up riding for the UVA team and got 2 first places and a second place (in a sprint) in the three races I went to. (for any cyclists- this was in B, I never did enough races to cat up to A). I did the womens cat 4 Virginia State Championship Road Race and won that on a hill top finish.  I think I was wearing a running singlet and got a few curious stares by all the seasoned cyclists there.  I also started swimming again. I swam as a kid but swimming had always taken a back seat to soccer growing up (how I wish I had done year round swimming as a kid now!!). Being in the pool with some friends was fun and I was actually starting to get into some type of unintended swimming shape.

So I mentioned that my mom’s cancer did two things for me in regards to my knee. It slowed me down, helped me be patient in healing and took away the neuroticism that running develops in you to do stupid things like return from injury too soon. I don’t have any pain in my knee today, haven’t had any pain and don’t expect to have any pain anytime soon. I think this is because I took so many years to heal- my mom gave me this patience and calm during this time.  The other thing my mom’s cancer did was encourage me to give a big “F YOU” to my doctors. (Not really, my doctors were all great and I am going to be a doctor but there is something empowering to the little helpless patient in me about saying it like that).  About 2 years after my surgery, my knee was feeling great and I knew now that life was pretty short and  I wanted to investigate the possibility of running again.  I went to see Dr. Wilder at UVA and that was a good decision.  After looking at my surgery pictures, reading the reports and listening to me when I told him I was a NCAA national qualifier, multiple Division I all-NCAA region/all conference…blah blah blah crap…he responded with a shocker.  He said, “ok, your knee is pretty messed up- but that is what it is. How about we try running and see what happens.”  WHAT THE??!!  You got to be kidding me! There was something that Dr. Wilder knew about me that I hadn’t told him.  I am not interested in having a perfect knee when I am 80 or 50 or even 40 maybe.  My mom was 52 at the time of her cancer diagnosis. I was interested in living a full life right now. There are doctors that save lives and then there are doctors that make life worth living. I needed the latter.

After some physical therapy and another slow year of gradually introducing my knee back to running I decided to try a triathlon. The year of cycling 200+ miles a week paid off.  I won almost every triathlon I entered (2nd in one).  I then won the 2010 Collegiate National Championship as probably my 4th triathlon after my return to running. I got my pro card and the rest in history. The past two years, I have travelled around the country (and around the world some) living this surreal dream of being a professional athlete that can actually make a living doing a sport I love. I cannot even describe how amazing this experience has been. Never in a million years would I have thought I would be doing what I am doing today. I am getting ready to return to med school next week so I’ll be juggling racing, traveling and school now. But I am leading a full life, and one I think is extraordinary enough for me. It is almost painful because I know I will pine for the drama and excitement of these days in the future.  I have a frame a reference now.  Whether, years from now, I have knee issues again or not- it doesn’t matter. I have lived today.

Maybe I have struck gold once here. Maybe, for once, I have managed to muster up both some patience and some urgency in life in just the right dosages; the correct proportion of Sidhartha to Thoreau…Like all things for me- mostly credited to luck and the influence of my mom.