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Author Archives: Elizabeth Waterstraat

K is for Kona

K is for Kona.

Bet you couldn’t see that one coming!

Kona.  The Ironman World Championship.  The big dance.

Since 2006, I’ve qualified for Kona 4 times and 4 times competed on the Big Island.  The first time I qualified was by winning my age group at Buffalo Springs 70.3.  I remember waiting in line for food at the awards banquet when a much older gentleman and I got to talking.  He had been to Kona a few times.  At some point, he simply said to me:

There’s something about it.  It gets under your skin and you have to go back.

At the time, I didn’t believe him.  I had been in the sport nearly 8 years and the thought of doing an Ironman had never once crossed my mind.  Mostly because I couldn’t understand the point of running a marathon.  My only marathon experience had been in 2001 when my then boyfriend/now husband convinced me to join him on his quest to break 4 hours.  We trained 6 weeks, doing a 2.5 hour run 2 times a week.  TAKING IN ONE GEL THE ENTIRE RUN. But you can get away with that kind of stuff when you’re in your twenties.  We got to mile 18 of the race when (surprise!), Chris succumbed to cramps forcing us to run/walk the rest of the way.  We still broke 4 hours (barely – it was 3:59) but I didn’t catch the bug.  If anything, I was convinced the marathon was dumber than ever.  All of these people shuffling, walkling cramping – who would want to do this again?

Needless to say, when I qualified for Kona, I wasn’t sold that it was something I “needed” to do.  In my mind, I questioned the man in the buffet line.  Under my skin – WHAT is he talking about?  That night I remember waking up with that feeling when you get a bad haircut.  You know something is different but you’re not sure what until you remember…

Dear lord, I signed up for an Ironman.

The first time I went to Kona, I did the absolute minimum.  I had set my sights on competing at the short course duathlon world championship in late July.  That would be a 10K run, 40K bike and 5K run.  The training was absolutely nothing like training for an Ironman.  But as I would learn many times with my own training and coaching others – the 8 week Ironman build is sometimes the most effective!  I did the bare minimum of long rides and runs.  I truly enjoyed every moment of race day, finishing in 10:45.

The second time I got to Kona via winning my age group at Eagleman 70.3.  For those who think/thought qualifying at a 70.3 was easier, I went 4:32 and was 2nd overall – there was NOTHING easy about that!  To this day it still stands as my half Ironman PR.  I punched my ticket to Kona determined to do better.  That old guy?  He was right.  SOMETHING got under my skin – whether it was hot lava or a little bit of insanity, I wanted to go back in 2007 and do better.

I made the classic training mistake thinking more would be more.  But as I’ve since learned, again through training and coaching, more is only more if you can recover from more and balance it all out!  Rather than arriving in Kona undercooked, I arrived slightly overcooked.  It wasn’t pretty.  But good enough to go 10:32 and crack the top 10 in my age group.

My next trip to Kona was in 2011.  In 2010, I sat on the sidelines pregnant with my first child.  Shooting for Kona was the perfect goal.  Again, I won my age group at Eagleman 70.3 and secured my Kona slot.  Having shed years of fatigue and burnout, I had the perfect build up and experience leading into the race.  Again, I did the bare minimum, with 3 x 100 mile rides and maybe 2 or 3 times where I hit 20+ miles on the run.  I arrived in 2011 feeling fit but more importantly – fresh and excited.  I ended up going 10:22 and another top 10 in my AG.  To this day, that still stands as my Kona PR.

Fast forward to 2015.  Another pregnancy, another what seemed untouchable dream of qualifying for Kona just 9 months later.  I did the absolute minimum in training and did all but two of my long rides indoors.  My long runs were mostly 2 hours – week after week – in the coldness of Chicago winter.  I was anything BUT prepared on paper but fresh enough to tackle the day in body and mind.  I qualified for my fourth trip to Kona by winning my AG and taking 2nd overall at Ironman Texas.  I finished in 10:06 which is my current Ironman PR.

You’d think one would learn from past mistakes.  But life and learning isn’t always so cut and dry.  In 2015, I arrived in Kona a little overdone.  In retrospect, I should have taken 7 to 14 days completely off after Texas, wiped my slate clean and started all over again.  I’m one of those athletes who gains fitness really quick and once there risk going over the edge of fatigue.  But hindsight is always clear.  Instead, I worked a little too hard in the draining heat of Chicago while trying to give the rest of myself to parenting, coaching, real life.  It wasn’t easy.  But I lived by the motto – it’s not supposed to be easy!  At the end of the day in Kona, I went 10:50, still cracking the top 10, but not at all what I worked for or wanted. Some of our most powerful lessons come in difficult packages.

In the same amount of time, I’ve watched my husband qualify 4 times.  Chris and I are two completely different training animals.  He can handle ridiculous amounts of intensity that would leave me in a crumpled ball in the basement.  What continues to amaze me as athlete and coach is how many different paths you can take to reach the same end goal.  In my own coaching, I’ve had many athletes qualify for Kona all in different ways.  There are commonalities in mindset, approach and personal qualities but HOW they get there training-wise is always different.

For Chris, he’s done it both ways – qualified by earning a slot in his AG three times at a 70.3 and once at an Ironman.  He’s one of those athletes who demonstrates the power of consistency year to year.  Chris wasn’t a standout athlete when we first started but consistency and what I think is a generous recovery/regeneration period each year has paid off.   Sure, he trains hard but more importantly he takes about 4 to 6 weeks of either no or very limited training at the end of each year.  And when I say no training I mean NO training – he eats, drinks beer and stays up late playing video games.  The man knows how to recover, trust me.  He does it all while balancing a full-time outside of the house job with a commute and making his training as invisible as possible – if it doesn’t happen before 7 am or during his lunch hour, it doesn’t happen.

What can we learn from all of this?

Everyone wants to chase the goal of qualifying for Kona but I’ll say this – it’s not easy.  People try to make it easy – boiling it down to a specific CTL (chronic training load number), power to weight ratio, etc but if it was that simple, we’d all do our training, plug our numbers into a calculator and collect our awards behind our laptops.  I’ve qualified with a CTL well under 100 and also with things like 135 mile rides under my belt!  Qualifying is much more dynamic (and complicated!) than a bunch of numbers.  The person who does the most doesn’t do always the best.  The person who has ran their 20 miler the fastest doesn’t necessarily win their AG.  It’s a complex process of smart preparation, strong health and execution on race day.

Dare I say, even luck.

Getting to Kona isn’t impossible but it’s getting harder.  There are fewer slots and the athletes have more talent, experience and know how.  Now, I don’t think you need to be a former Division I athlete (I wasn’t) or rare talent to qualify.  But you do need to have mastered these three things:

1 – Consistency in your training

2 – Proper nutrition

3 – Recovery

These are the things I call the “99%.” If you read closely, they are actually the EASIEST things.  They are all free and entirely within your control EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Yet most athletes chase the 1% of things that won’t really make a damn bit of difference – helmets, shoes, how to test your FTP the best way, etc.  All of those things are meaningless until you’ve mastered the 99% that actually matters.  If you are serious about qualifying for Kona, look to ways to improve your consistency (no zeroes), your nutrition (eat well, eat often, eat real food) and your recovery (sleep more, stress less).

Here are some other takeaways on qualifying for Kona that I’ve collected over the years from my own training and coaching.

  • Take the long range view
    • Outliers exist but for most of us it takes a really long time to get good
    • Think big picture in your season & career
    • Value longevity, health & life balance
  • The only training factor that really matters (not intensity, duration, volume) is consistency
    • Without consistency – nothing else matters (equipment, talent)
    • Protect your consistency above all; make good decisions on a daily basis
    • NO ZEROES, something is better than nothing
  • Never miss the window of opportunity
    • 30 minutes post workout – put something with carbs + protein in your mouth
    • Missing this window increases stress, risk of getting sick, lowers immunity, threatens consistency
  • Look for the low hanging fruit
    • Opportunities to get faster without training more
    • Optimize your form, position, equipment
    • Practice transitions
    • Train your brain
  • Train for performance not perfection
    • Athletes don’t exercise – they train, they are driven & goal-oriented
    • Lauren Fleshman said, “there is no such thing as perfect preparation, only excellent adaptation.”
  • Establish your support crew
    • Devise your support crew; social, emotional, physical
    • Family, spouse, babysitter, ART, massage, physical therapy, dietician, coach
  • Leave no stone unturned
    • Be brave enough to ask for feedback & humble enough to listen to the answers
    • Prepare for the race by reading reports, knowing the nitty gritty, heat acclimate, taper, carbo load – do all of the little things; together they will make a difference
  • Respect the recovery
    • Sleep an extra 30 minutes a night vs training an extra 30 minutes (Gordo Byrn)
    • Proper nutrition; find a way of eating that is simple, sustainable & successful
    • Compression boots, socks, ice baths – fluff, the 1% that most of you don’t need until you learn to master the other 99% (sleeping, eating, consistency, pacing)
  • Go towards the discomfort
    • Get more comfortable in your zone of discomfort to expand yourself; this is where learning takes place
    • Make adversity your advantage
    • Chase the gap between where you are & where you want to be
  • It won’t be easy but it will be worth it
    • Doing something great isn’t going to be easy.” (Tim O’Donnell)
    • Life, marriage, racing – all hard things; if you’re waiting for that magical moment when it all feels easy – stop waiting
    • Don’t let the process wear you down; see hardship as a challenge not threat
  • Obstacles as opportunities
    • Injuries & illness: Opportunity to work your weakness, see the sport from a different side, gain perspective
    • Being great is a process of preparing for & weathering the ups & downs
    • Stay the path
  • Be all in
    • Be a 24 hour athlete
    • Own the journey – the good and the bad

Some people chase Kona for years.  Others don’t even bother.  As one coach said to me, it’s just an Ironman on a hot island that happens to be a world championship.  This is true.  As race venues go, I can list a dozen others that are more scenic, more motivating and even more challenging!  But there’s something about putting yourself up against the best of the best in that particular place.  If your dream is to get to Kona or get back, hopefully you can take something away from the experiences and lessons I’ve shared above.  Take action on your dream – live it, breathe it, chase it every single day.  Because without that action, it’s only a dream.

Good luck in your journey to get there!

J is for Journey

J is for a lot of things but very few of them have anything to do with triathlon!

Alas, j is for the journey.

It sounds cliché but it is very, very true.  In our results-oriented world, we often get distracted by the drive towards the destination without taking the time to appreciate the lessons and experiences along the way.  Perhaps it’s a metaphor for life.  Get through each day as quickly as possible so we can get the work done and get on to the weekend.  Before you know it, the weekends have turned into years and your kid is going into kindergarten…

What?  How?  When?

My own triathlon journey began long, long ago – in a different millennium!  1998 to be exact.  The best part about it – I have no idea what possessed me.  I was a bonafide gym rat.  A nasty habit I carried over from college – 90 minutes of “working out” a day on assorted cardio machines.  Years of stair mastering my mornings away and it was time for a change.  Enter: the local women’s triathlon.

Having no clue where to begin, I decided to hire a personal trainer with experience in triathlon.  She wrote out a very basic schedule for me to follow.  With very little swim experience, a boyfriend’s mountain bike and a mediocre high school cross country career behind me, basic was what I needed to feel prepared.  One small problem:  I forgot to sign up for the race!  And so my triathlon journey began somewhat illegally.  That same personal trainer found someone who wasn’t using their entry and I competed as “Jennifer somethingorother.”

Hey, I never said I was perfect.

Months of swim training and here’s where it got me:  I was the swimmer who swam the entire thing breaststroke.  Wouldn’t put my face in the water.  I stopped in transition to brush my hair.  Put on running shorts over my swim suit.  Waved at the camera.  In other words, I was in no hurry to get to that finish line.  It took me well over 90 minutes.

I can’t recall much else of what happened out there or that pivotal moment where I thought to myself – I have to do this – so much of this that I will one day meet my husband, my best friends, travel the country, leave my awesome career to start my own business and dedicate my life to helping others do the same.  I even spent a few years competing as a professional athlete.  It wasn’t the destination I was aiming for – it happened, little by little, over the next 15+ years and every day continues to be a journey.

One thing I try to impart on my athletes is that this is their journey.  They can make it what they want.  Some will get there quicker and faster than others but I do believe that all can get somewhere special.  Where they start is no indication of where they will go.  I’ve coached countless athletes with who I never would have picked as future podium contenders, Kona qualifiers or professional triathletes.  But they had something – whether it was patience, talent or confidence, there was a spark that was ignited along the way into something unstoppable.

This is why it’s so important when starting your journey to have a long range view.  In the past year, I’ve had quite a few athletes come into great form.  This was after several years of working with them where they chipped away, day to day, failed, succeeded, lived, learned.  None were “impressive” athletes on paper to begin with but like I said – they were patient.  They didn’t get caught up in measuring themselves or the outcome day to day.  Instead they thought big picture – seasons, years.  Training, races and experiences were stepping stones to their bigger pictures.  They widened the lens and thought big picture.

Few athletes have this sort of athletic maturity and patience.  They want to be fast – now.  Give me a 10 hour Ironman on less than 10 hours a week.  Psst – the athlete doing that has likely trained well over 10 hours a week for 10+ years.  Consistency, folks.  It means something.  But everyone else – we have to toil and pay our dues.  Slowly.  Best to enjoy the journey and all that you learn along the way.

Each part of your experience is part of the journey – the wins, the losses, the injuries, the pregnancies – all of this feeds into who you are and what you can become.  One thing I’ve learned many times is that what you learn from the not so good times or races is more valuable than what you learn when you win.

Sometimes the low points of our journey occur for a reason.  Maybe it’s a way of telling us to slow down or switch our focus.  Seems like the more the universe tries to tell us that, the more we resist until something barks back in such a way that we can no longer ignore it.  This might come in the form of an injury, fatigue or a strained relationship.  We get all sorts of subtle cues and hints but trust me – all endurance athletes are good at one thing: ignoring signals!  The more stubborn we are, the louder that signal has to sound before we finally rest, stop or reflect.  It’s sometimes painful but I truly believe that everything happens for a reason.

The high points of the journey?  It’s those few weeks before a peak race where everything feels easy – you’re pushing watts and paces with such ease that you know you’re on the edge of something special.  You also know that feeling is so, so fleeting.  You want to bottle it up, put it on the shelf and open it up on the bad days.  You work months for a few weeks if not days of that feeling.  This is why the journey is so important.  The end point, the destination arrives and then it’s done.  Wait for that moment but don’t rest the value of your journey on it.

And once you reach what feels like your end point?  Set a new destination, start a new journey.  I suppose this is how people come to leave the sport or retire from a career.  Journey over – for now.  The other day, standing in the preschool pick up line, I was talking to the grandmother of Max’s BFF.  A very successful woman whose face I had seen on real estate signs for over 30 years around town.  I knew of her but didn’t know much about her.  Each time I see her in the line, I remind myself that it’s a chance to learn her story.

She was long since retired from real estate.  In her words, it was no longer her passion but added I was very passionate about it when I was doing it, you have to be.  Now, she spends her days as a pastor at a church.  Her sons have carried on her business and she has carried the same passion and interpersonal skills that helped her to sell real estate into helping others navigate life situations.

And so the point is to carry passion on your journey.  Purpose is the reason you journey, passion is the fire that lights the way.  When that passion runs out, journey over.  Time to embark upon a new one.  Myself, I found this back in 2009 after competing two years as a professional.  I was no longer learning or having fun.  Not that you need to have fun to be productive but for me – the passion was gone.  I stepped back, had my son and found myself recharged about the journey again.

What are some things you can do to make the most of your journey?

Keep it fun.  I remind athletes constantly: none of us get paid to do these.  Even the professionals, very, very few get paid to pursue this sport.  At the heart of it needs to be passion and desire to chase your goals.  Often finding fun is a matter of changing your perspective and learning to value the amazing opportunities that might seem ordinary.  Remind yourself, always, I get to do this.  With that attitude, even the tough days become a fun adventure of self and world exploration.

Stay in the moment.  The best athletes have the ability to stay in the moment whether in training or racing.  The moment you lose focus on THAT moment in time is the moment things start to unravel.  Keep your big picture in mind but focus on the here, now.  Sometimes this means keeping focused on the workout.  Other times when you’re struggling it might be this particular pedal stroke.

Don’t let the process wear you down.  The journey of life and sport is a series of challenges designed to make you stronger and wiser.  Throwing your hands up and resisting the discomfort of those challenges is a surefire way to stagnate and limit yourself.  The process will be hard – if it’s worth it.  One day, after enduring the process, you will look back and find yourself stronger, better and more knowing.  Stay the path.

Failure means ‘I’m just not finished yet’.  You may fail many times along your journey.  Sometimes this is a sign to stop and turn the other way.  More times, failure presents itself to teach you a lesson.  Stop viewing failure as an end point and start seeing it as the beginning to learning more, knowing better and finding yourself.

Own your journey.  When you set goals or end points, be sure that you’re choosing a journey you are 100% committed to.  Just because the cool kids are doing Ironman doesn’t mean it’s the right journey for you.  It might not be your time or in your best interests.  Look at where you are in life right now and choose something that isn’t just do-able but sustainable.  And once you choose your end point, own it and commit to being at your best.

Be open to opportunities.  You never know where the journey may take you.  Be open to opportunities as they present themselves which means being unafraid to take risks.  Fear traps us – whether it’s fear of change, fear or losing fitness; nothing good comes from fear.  Take risks and boldly walk through new doorways as they appear.

And perhaps it was Ernest Hemingway who said it best:

It is good to have an end to journey but it is the journey that matters most in the end.” 

I is for Inspired

Over the years, I’ve witnessed a lot of impressive performances.  Rare, though, is the performance that is both impressive and inspirational.  The performance which connects to you and urges you to be a better person or athlete.  The performance that resonates with you so deeply that you see the world from a different view.

Two  weekends, ago, I was inspired.  Impressed, yes, but more so inspired.  I had the opportunity to travel to Florida to support one of my athletes at a race.  The experienced changed me.  In a good way.

But first – let’s go back a few pages.

Back in the late autumn, I got an email from a well-known and well-accomplished paratriathlete.  Melissa.  A new mother who was hungry with Olympic dreams and ready for a change.  For years, Melissa competed at the world class level in her paratriathlon category.  Why paratriathlon?  Melissa is missing a leg aside from just a few inches of the femur.  In telling her story, I will hardly do it justice.   A forever patriot who bleeds red, white and blue, she was in the ROTC program in college.  A few years later, she was deployed.  Within 3 weeks of her deployment, her convoy was hit by a roadside bomb.  Melissa was hit – and she lost her leg.

When telling her story, she recounts swimming laps, sometimes twice a day, at the Walter Reid Medical Center during her recovery.  Swimming seemed to be her therapy.  She found the motivation to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.  The outcome wasn’t what she worked for. Not surprisingly, her Olympic dreams persisted.

She tried triathlon.  She did an Ironman.  She competed at multiple world championships.  She traveled all over the world competing at ITU events.  Together with two of her American teammates, they are not just the best in the country but have established themselves as the best in the world.  When you’re the best in the world, you dream big and work hard.  You let nothing stand in your way.

So last autumn, Melissa contacted both myself and Jennifer Harrison.  Jennifer is my long-time friend, mentor, former coach and one of my athletes.  We’ve got history but more importantly we share the same approach, style and passion in our coaching.  Realizing we were the final two candidates, I had a wild suggestion: we should team coach her.  We tossed the idea out to Melissa and she agreed to it.

The past few months have been an exciting challenge for both coaches and athlete.  From the coaching side, any time an athlete makes a change, it’s a delicate transition of getting to know each other quick.  We had to tackle some big questions – is coaching a paratriathlete different?  If so, how?  What works, what doesn’t work, how do we build her strengths while also improving her weaknesses?  From the athlete side, you are putting your trust and future into a new program.  It’s a big risk, understandably.

And together as a team or coaches and athlete, our biggest challenge arrived two weeks ago.  It was the qualification race – the race to qualify for one slot to the Paralympics in Rio.

After a long evening of travel, Jennifer and I woke up on Saturday morning ready to fully support Melissa in her pre-race preparation.  It started with a meeting with the National Team Manager.  These days, it takes a lot to “wow” me as a coach but Mark Sartino, the manager, did just that.  The level of detail and knowledge he had not just about the course but Melissa’s competition was beyond prepared – it was meticulous.  He talked us through everything; strategy, course and weather.

After that meeting, we headed to lunch with Melissa and a fellow teammate, Andrea.  It was a conversation that very well may have changed my life.  Those with a story to tell want to tell their story.  Andrea told us hers.  Andrea has short arms; her hands are at her elbows.  Nothing has slowed her down.  She played all sports through childhood and has now taken on triathlon.  The brain is designed for survival, no matter the challenge, it will adapt.  She talked about the challenges she faced socially growing up.  Everybody has their thing, the only difference is that you can see mine.

Next , we headed to the race site for course familiarization.  This was the only time the athletes were allowed to preview the course – at 1 pm in the afternoon the day before the race with the hot sun of Florida blazing!  A few hours later was the course meeting.  ITU staff explained all of the nuances of paratriathlon racing – each category with its unique rules and stipulations.  Afterwards, another meeting with Team USA.

An hour later, we were at dinner with Melissa’s family and support staff.  Melissa’s support team is composed of her husband, son, in-laws, parents, strength coaches and the man who makes her legs.   It was an incredible outpouring of support and excitement for one woman’s brave dream.

Race day, we were up at 4:30 am.  With all of the activity the day before, we felt like we had already raced!  We arrived at the race site at 6 am for an 8:30 am start.  Think about all that you have to carry to the race site – your bike, your wetsuit, your transition bag with your helmet, shoes, gear.  Now add to that a bag of legs!  Next, we waited in a very long to get checked in by ITU staff.  Each athlete needed to have their helmet, bike, prosthetics and uniform checked.  It was a very lengthy process and one that made me realize I will never again complain about the wait time in a pre-race porta-potty line.

After waiting for transition to be set up, we entered as Melissa’s support team.  We watched as she set up her gear and legs.  I’m familiar with the usual choices and thought processes to get ready for a triathlon.  But as a paratriathlete there’s a whole new level.  Melissa had to decide which leg to put on after the swim, a decision that depended on the distance, terrain and surface leading into transition.

And then – we waited at the beach.  The scene was nothing less than amazing.  At times, I was so choked up with awe and emotion that I had to walk down the beach to take a few moments for myself.  This is inspiration: watching someone with no legs crawl their way into the water, seeing someone who is blind fearlessly commit to swimming 750 meters tethered to someone else.  Wheelchair athletes, those missing arms, feet, legs – either from disease, accident or genetics.   Not only that but the team of volunteers practicing how to carry athletes from the water or the ITU staff working tirelessly to ensure safety and the schedule.   There are good people with good hearts in the sport of triathlon.  There it was – right in front of me.

Finally, Melissa’s category went off.  She led out the females on the swim and emerged first out of the water.  In transition, we urged her to control the race, to not give anything up on the bike.  The bike was 3 loops.  Jennifer ran out to the half way mark while I stationed myself with her family half a lap away.  We relayed splits back and forth between coaches, husband and family.  She not only maintained her lead on the bike but for the first time ever – she gained.

She came into transition and I simply told her to have the run of her life.  At this point, it was hot, windier and the competition was hungry, chasing fast.  She held strong to her lead until the halfway point at which point she was caught.  As I saw her hurtling her leg the final bridge towards the finish line, I could tell she had given it everything but would come up short by less than a minute today.

At dinner the night before, Melissa’s father looked at Jennifer and myself.  His eyes glistened with tears that only a parent could understand.  The heartfelt struggle of wanting the best for your child, of wanting to protect them so they never experience pain, heartache or loss.  But knowing that these messy emotions are part of life that we all must experience.

What do I say to her if she doesn’t reach her goal?

We told him that she had done everything in her power to prepare.  She could, honestly, cross the finish line with no regrets.  If the outcome isn’t what she worked for, she could not regret the journey or the effort.  In her preparation, she gave it everything.

Melissa crossed the finish line spent yet visibly disappointed.  It’s a tough place for a coach to be – on one hand you want to commend the effort but also respect the athlete’s space to be upset.  Having been a long time competitor, it’s a feeling I know intimately well – when you’ve given it 100 percent and come up short by a matter of seconds.  It makes you realize, painfully, how delicate and unpredictable success is.  You can control your controllables but the one thing always out of our control is the most important thing: the outcome.

You had a great race, I said.  Melissa acknowledged that and then paused.  But it wasn’t enough today.  This is the truth and pain of high performance.  When you prepare everything you can, you simply have to race the race.  Race it to the best of your ability.  You can’t ask anything more of yourself.  Her result was the fastest she’s ever gone at this distance race.  It was the first time she’s had such a big lead off of the bike.  It was a lot but not enough on this race day.

We walked away from the finish line when she saw the woman who beat her.  Immediately, Melissa said she needed to go up to her teammate to offer congratulations.  I read somewhere recently that people don’t remember your successes as much as they remember what you did when faced with failure.  Melissa was the ultimate example of sportsmanship and athletic maturity: commend your competitors, take a few moments for a personal pity party and then – get over it.

Melissa’s road to Rio isn’t over yet.  She is hopeful for an invitational slot in early July based on her results.  Her performance in Florida rightfully placed her second in the world in her category.  She will continue on her road with the same fight, dedication and intensity.  Jennifer and I are thrilled to be a part of the journey.

On Sunday night, I boarded the plane utterly exhausted but grateful for new perspective.  Sometimes you think you know what a challenge is.  Or you think you have it hard.  Or you think races are hard.  Or lines are long.  And then you experience something that completely changes your definition of everything.  When you carry your legs into an event, that might be hard.  When you have to crawl yourself into the water, you might find it challenging.  Yet there are people out there doing it – doing it with the same passion, strength and competitiveness as able-bodied athletes.  Maybe more.  Because life has given them very visible and large reasons to not even want to try for it.  Yet something drives them forward – up and over those obstacles.  Something compels them – I must do this. 

That, my friends, is inspiration.

H is for Here We Go Again…

It is with much excitement (and a respectable amount of fear) that I announce we are expecting our third child in mid August.

Here we go again …

Turns out after two Ironmans in under a year and at age 40, I still had a few good eggs left.

Actually, one.

Out of 7 retrieved, ONE was a good egg.

But hey, good news: one good egg is all it takes. And this one is a boy. He was transferred in early December and thus began my search for AM I PREGNANT clues. In which every symptom, twinge or feeling is late night researched on Google. Because, you know, after going through this so many times I still can’t tell if I’m pregnant? Five days after transfer, I tested positive. A flurry of emotions ran through my veins – joy, disbelief, excitement, OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE WE DONE, along with a heck of a lot of progesterone.

I am fast approaching 15 weeks. Luckily, the first trimester was fairly smooth sailing. With Max, I didn’t feel very pregnant, I just kept getting bigger. With Mackenzie, I was oppressively fatigued and nauseous for 18 weeks. The only cure: Cheez Its (I wish I was kidding). This time around it’s just like Max. Very few days of nausea but otherwise, I feel sort of like me – just getting bigger.

But I can’t stop eating chocolate.

And speaking of getting bigger. From the moment of transfer, I believe my uterus got the memo and easily stretched out like a pair of fat pants, looking up at me and saying we know where this crazy train is going, might as well get comfortable. I probably could have worn maternity pants at 8 weeks but had high hopes I could make it through 14 weeks shoe-horned into my usual jeans.

I can’t shake this feeling that though my body can do this, perhaps I should be thinking about retirement?  Like there should be a television show about me: 40 and pregnant. I remember a few years ago, waiting in the preschool line, one of the moms was carting around an infant carrier. She told her friend how #3 was an accident. They didn’t expect it or want it because she was so old – 36! Please. 40 is the new 30 until your body realizes you’re trying to do something that it is prepared for at age 12. Then 40 is like – we’ve heard of a midlife crisis but couldn’t you just buy a red sports car and leave your ovaries out of it? We’re tired already!

We’ve gotten mixed feedback from friends and family. When people do the math and realize you’re going to have 3 kids they look at you like they won’t see you for another 18 years. You might not. Keep in touch over Facebook, ok? Those with 3 kids already share war stories from the trenches. It’s complete chaos. Three puts you over the edge. You’ll be doing nothing but zone defense. Those with 2 kids look at us with fear for our safety as they remind us you will be outnumbered.

But it was also just the other day that another friend asked are you done after this? Funny thing is I didn’t even consider it until my 7 week ultrasound. The big one with the specialist where he releases you to your OB if everything looks ok. Everything looked ok. He extended his hand to me and said congratulations, so I’ll see you back here in a year for #4? I reminded him I will be 41 this year. It’s whatever you want, Elizabeth. And I got to thinking – is 3 enough? Is this going to be like Ragbrai where I couldn’t stop going until I hit my 5th year? Is this how my friend ended up with 6 kids – she just couldn’t stop until she hit a number that just felt right?

Walking into the doctor’s office pregnant with your third child also brings interesting reactions. The first time my OB saw me she said I never thought I would see you again. Didn’t you swear off more kids after Mackenzie? Even talk about using a surrogate? In my defense, I was 6 months post-partum and the experience of being large, pregnant and then sleep-deprived was still fresh. It fades over time and at some point you find yourself overwhelmed with this urge of I could totally do that again, 40 weeks is nothing.


I sat down with the nurse midwife for my initial consultation, which seemed a little unnecessary considering this was my third go around. Isn’t there an express lane? We go through the same series of questions from the last two pregnancies and then she extends a book towards me: Your Pregnancy.

I suppose I don’t need to give you the book, do I?

Please don’t.

I’ve been exercising. True confession: I like when things slow down.  I like reconnecting to the joy of just moving. Everyone should spend a year away from the sport – recharging, enjoying, gaining perspective. With Mackenzie I had to give up exercising for the first 9 weeks. This time around, I stayed active throughout. I recovered from Kona then jumped back into 4 weeks of a lot of swimming, some running and strength training. By late November, I was swimming some of the fastest splits of my life knowing that on December 9th it would all come to an end. You learn to really appreciate your fitness and speed when you know it will disappear on a specific date! I told myself to bottle up that feeling of ease and awesomeness because it might be over a year before I see it again.

Since the transfer, I’ve stayed very active. I moved my workouts to the morning to accommodate the surge of energy I have that lasts about 2 hours in the morning before I slowly shut down from kid fatigue, work fatigue and 40 year old fatigue.

By the way – giving up coffee? Not unless you think my 18 month old can do the driving. But as a compromise, I’ve gone half caf.

This not being my first rodeo, I have a pretty good idea of what I can do for exercising. I swim varied speeds, 3000 to 5000 yards at a time. I bike short/high power intervals and a lot of big gears (always less than 90 minutes). I run at a mostly easy pace. And my longest run since Kona? 7 miles – ONCE.  Seriously. Of course my paces and watts have slowly diminished and my heart rate has definitely changed. But that’s a typical part of the process. And I know that in one more trimester, the speeds I’m moving at now will be flying compared to then.

The third time around means I also get to look forward to my third c-section. And because of that and my geriatric age, sadly, I won’t get to experience the full 40 weeks of pregnancy. They will only let me go to 39 weeks.

Wait a minute…


I won’t bore the readers with too many details of this pregnancy. So here’s a quick synopsis of where this train is going: every week, I gain a pound. Some weeks, due to excessive chocolate consumption, divine intervention or wicked constipation, I might gain two. In early June, when we take a family vacation to Disney while I’m 30 weeks pregnant I will assure myself that I found the one thing hotter than last year’s run at Kona. By mid summer, I’ll be doing workouts that consist of 10x (:30 jog/:30 walk/:30 duck behind neighbor’s tree to take a pee). And by late August, I will be chomping at the bit to feel like myself again.

If you’re looking for more information on exercising through pregnancy, coming back after baby or fertility treatments – search back through archives. It’s all in there. And, as always, I’m happy to answer any questions you have over email.  I get them a lot so don’t be afraid to reach out.

I’ll return to the letter series of blogging with “I” next week. Until then, get out your stretchy pants and eat a few Cheez Its.  Time to celebrate!

G is for Goals

What is a goal?

By definition, the object of a person’s ambitions or efforts. An aim or desired result. By practice, we set them – big ones – and then do a bunch of stuff hoping, wishing it might help us get to our goal.

Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Hit or miss.

Here’s the problem with goals. They tell us where we want to go but don’t say anything about what we’re going to do to get there. Goals are simply outcomes. And, unfortunately outcomes are outside of your control. That’s why you’ll hear many coaches tell you to let go of the outcome, instead focus on the process. The process is the small series of steps and acts that you need to take to reach your outcome. These steps are 100% within your control.

There’s a great book out there about goal setting called Burn Your Goals by Josh Metcalf. In his words:

I was tired of seeing people get high off the thrill of setting big goals when they weren’t willing to commit to the controllables. Burn your wish list. I want to see your commitment list. I want to know what you are committed to doing with your 24 hours a day to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. What are you willing to sacrifice inside your 86,4000 seconds every day to become the person you want to be? We don’t have control over our outcomes, but we do have control over how we use our time. Time is the only resource that is the same for everyone. Rather than focusing on arbitrary goals, focus 100% of your energy on your commitments and controllables.

For many of you, you’ve probably set a big, far off goal: set a PR, finish an Ironman. How can you improve your chances of actually achieving your goal? Think about the commitments, the steps in the process to get there.

Let’s use an example. Perhaps your goal is to qualify for Kona. That’s a clear endpoint – the outcome. But that goal once set says nothing about how you’re actually going to get there. Focus on the commitments. First, you need to commit to killer consistency in your training. To do that, you’ll need to nail the details of nutrition, hydration and sleep on a daily basis. See where it’s going? Each step can be broken down into a series of smaller steps – each one requiring a commitment or action. Go through this process and you’ll see that setting a goal and actually achieving it requires an extraordinary amount of effort. Setting the goal isn’t enough. Hoping you get there isn’t enough. Neither is “working hard” or “giving it your best.” Instead, it requires committed, thoughtful action every single day.

A few weeks ago, I encouraged my athletes to write a goal for the next month. Then, write out the commitments they needed to make daily to reach that goal. At the end of this month, I want them to evaluate themselves. Self-reflection is a critical part of success – being honest with yourself about how you’re doing. Look back and see how you did. Then, create a plan either to make the commitments more attainable or how to move on to the next goal. This self-reflection process helps you to take ownership of your goal. Your coach’s responsibility is to teach you to grow; but your responsibility is taking ownership of your development by tracking and evaluating how you’re growing. Post your commitment somewhere you can see it every single day. Hold yourself accountable, keep it within your reach. Use it as a filter to make choices and guide behavior.

A few inspiring tidbits from Metcalf on commitments:

Don’t seek success – seek challenges. Dreams are on the other side of challenges. Anyone can dream a dream and set a goal, the real question is how much are you willing to suffer. How many times will you be willing to say NO to instant gratification in order to say YES to your dreams that are so far off they feel you will never reach them? How many times will you hear the feedback that is tough? Don’t yearn for validation, yearn for learning. How many times will you be willing to persevere in the face of adversity? True humility is believing you can do anything you set your mind to and being willing to confidently take steps towards your dreams knowing that you were created for a purpose. If you are waiting on your moment, know that when the moment arrives you won’t be prepared. Because while you were waiting, others were training. When the moment arrives, only those who have been training and expecting the day to arrive will be ready to seize the opportunity. And those people tend to create and attract many of those opportunities to them because they’ve been training rather than waiting. Ask yourself: “how would I use my 86,4000 seconds today if I knew I was going to get the opportunity of my dreams?” The opportunity will come. Will you be ready? And if you fail along the way? Remind yourself: whatever happens to me today is an opportunity to learn and be better for tomorrow. Failure is your First Attempt In Learning. It’s a path leading towards success.

Now, if all of this feels overwhelming, especially for those setting a big, far off, audacious goal, ask yourself: what is the smallest version of your dream you can start RIGHT NOW, doing the BEST you can, with what YOU have?

This is where we can tie in another great book, The ONE Thing by Gary Keller. Keller knows the most successful people are constantly asking what’s my ONE thing? It’s a thing that sits at the center of their success and is the starting point for big results.

Here are some tips from Keller on how to achieve your one thing:

Fully commit: Achieving your ONE Thing takes complete commitment. This means sacrificing a lot of other “could dos” for the “should dos”. Sports champions are very committed people. They give their all towards the goal of making it to the championship game.

Never give up: Stanford professor Carol Dweck (author of Mindset) uses professional baseball player Billy Beane as an example when discussing a champion’s mindset. He had amazing natural talent, but any setback would mentally derail him. Big goals require mental toughness. You have to be able to overcome obstacles and handle the curveballs. You can’t let problems along the way cause you to give up on the goal.

Know that you can grow: Those setbacks mentioned above are teachable moments. They reveal what has to be done to reach the goal. You have to see failures as a way to learn, adapt and improve, because failure is going to happen to everyone. You have to believe that you can grow and that you aren’t limited to your current situation. Talent and natural capabilities are potential, not a glass ceiling.

Own your shortcomings: Growth can only happen when you own your shortcomings. If not, you run the risk of missing opportunities to improve. You’ll waste valuable energy and time trying to conceal or downplay the shortcomings instead of improving them.

Surround yourself with a supportive team: There’s a lot of truth to the idea that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Champions know that they need a supportive team to stay at the top of their game. Since they own their shortcomings they seek out people who can help them overcome the deficiencies.

Find a coach or mentor: A mentor is the most valuable player on your team. They can help you plot your course based on their experience and knowledge. They can provide much needed support when things seem to be stalling or going off track. Your coach is the person you can rely on to shoot you straight and tell you what you need to hear not what you want to hear.

If goal setting was enough, there would be a lot more successful athletes out there. The ones who reach their goals have a strong understanding of the daily commitments required to achieve their goal. The hard work they put into their workouts is nothing compared to the hard work it takes to honor those commitments in the face of adversity, challenge or their own personal shortcomings day after day. Each day, they focus on ONE thing they need to do to make everything else easier en route to their goal. They don’t create ‘to do’ lists, they create success lists. Commit steps on your success list and find your way to extraordinary results.

usmasters - Chicago Area Triathlon Coaching

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