Biting My Shirt – On the Decision to Go Pro

Life is Brutal

Eye on the Bird

Baseball. Football. Tennis. In games in which balls fly at dangerous speeds towards players’ faces, keeping one’s eye on the ball is a precondition for success.

I grew up on the softball fields of Kit Carson Park in Escondido, CA. I was always better suited for stealing bases than hitting home runs because in that moment when I was sliding into the base, I could finally take my eye off the ball. 

Softball Kit Carson

Running > Batting

But stealing second requires getting to first, and that requires a turn at bat. Yet, this confident base runner who held her team’s stolen bases record was a wholly different player than the one who stepped into the batter’s box.

Some of the those girls could pitch. A wind up and then HO-LEE-HELL a hard-ass ball (why do they call them softballs?) hurling straight for my face with nothing but a skinny aluminium stick to protect me.

Female Softball Player Pitching To A Batter

I had a habit–a fear-fueled habit–of pulling my head out of the box as I swung my bat around hoping to make contact.

STRIIIIIKE!

“Keep your eye on the ball,” I would repeat to myself. I had heard my father say it on the tennis court a million times before.

But it was hard to keep my eye on the ball when my fight or flight response said to get outta the path of a raging fireball.

Bite your shirt,” my coach directed.

“Bite my WHAT?” I asked.

“The neck of your shirt,” he explained. “Pull the neck of your shirt into your mouth and then bite down. Don’t let go until you’re headed for first base.”

Keep Calm and Bite Your Shirt

This biting of the shirt collar forced me to look the fastball–or fear as it may now be interpreted–square in the face. I couldn’t pull my head, because biting my shirt kept that head squarely in the batter’s box.

Bullseye

Since August of 2012, I’ve been staring at a fast ball hurling straight down the pipe for my head. It’s big. And it’s scary. Every fiber in my body wants to wants to smash that ball across the outfield fence, all the while knowing it could very well smash me instead.

And that fear makes me want to pull my head.

So this month in Pucon, Chile, grabbing the collar of my shirt and shoving it into my mouth, I keep my head in the batter’s box and my eye on the ball.  I might get a hit. I might get hit. But finally, after my fifth qualification, I’m not pulling my head before I find out.

I’m taking my pro card. 

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Huge thanks to Mike and Danetta Dooley, my softball coaches from childhood, who taught me a great many lessons on facing my fears.

Coach Mike Dooley

The Off-season: Taking Off or Taking Flight?

Mystical Vic Iceland

I call it the off-season because it’s when I take off.

I mean really take off. 

I mean taking off in the way that an airplane or a bird or an idea takes off.

I mean pulling up the superficial roots that ground me to a routine.

And bounding far above and wide outside the limits of my comfort zone–of language, of food, of 24-hour connectivity.

It’s then, in the off-season, when I truly fly.

Off-season, 2014: Iceland

Have you ever stood in the snow

Backcountry Einar Iceland

…with the ocean stretched out just below?

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Have you ever trekked miles across a glacier

Iceland Crevasse

…to be the first humans to find the ice cave beneath?

Ice Cave Duo  Ice Cave with Headlamps

Have you ever sat on a couch-sized glacier….

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…or watched perfect waves crash into more glaciers?

Ocean and Glacier

Or slept in to watch the sun rise at 9am?

Zoot in Iceland

Or splashed around in -2 degrees on one day…

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…and bathed in the Blue Lagoon the next?

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Cheers to an off-season that leaves us recovered, rejuvenated, and ready for the next few months of re-grounding.

–Kgo

Thank you:

To Alex for the idea.

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And to Mindy for being the best travel buddy!

Ice Cave or Dream Iceland

To SmartWool for keeping my feet happy and warm in ski boots and crampons and running shoes.

To Zoot for the bright running shoes in a dark winter.

To Rose PT for keeping me injury free from afar.

And to Einar of Local Guides for being the most patient and knowledgeable glacier guide, photographer, and skier in Iceland.

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Injury and Jeopardy

JeopardyKgo

I had a dream that I appeared on the Jeopardy stage.

Naturally, I chose “Endurance Sports” for $1o00.

Alex Trebek: This ability is beneficial to the athlete in training and racing yet detrimental in responding swiftly and effectively to nagging aches and pains.

Me: What is “the ability to block out pain”?

Responding in my dream was much easier than treating my plantar fasciitis in real life. Like a champ, I had been blocking out my heel pain for years. I came to believe that like salt tabs and spandex, plantar facsiitis was just another part of my chosen sport.

Luckily, I was wrong. Here’s my map down the road to plantar fascia fantastica:

1. Footwear. For any activity that doesn’t involve running or biking, I opt for footwear that simulates walking barefoot. This means no flip flops at the pool and no heels or hard shoes at work. This also means that I have four pairs in three colors of the Merrell Whirl Glove.  Nice enough to wear to the office, and superb for stretching and strengthening the muscles in my feet.

Whirl Glove

2. A Treatment Team of Two. My physical therapist at Rose PT put my injury in the larger context of my body’s mechanics, finding imbalances and inflexibility in my back, glutes, and calves, all of which contribute to the inflammation in my heel. Like other therapists, she gave me home care exercises to address those weaknesses, but unlike other therapists, she took an active interest in my progress, making me feel like we were treating my injury as a team, thus motivating me to uphold my end of the treatment partnership: executing home care exercises.

Rose PT

3. Dry Needling. Yikes. Sounds scary, probably even looks scary, but has almost entirely scared away years of heel pain. My Rose physical therapist inserts a thin needle into the muscle knots in my calves, which creates an involuntary twitch, which in turn relaxes the tight muscle bands that create such knots. As the picture shows, Claire dry needled my calf to treat my foot, recognizing my heel pain as a partial function of tight calves.

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4. Targeted stretching.  Though muscle relaxation follows the twitch response from dry needling, it is my job to maintain the health and flexibility of my calves between needling sessions. As such, I dedicate the first 10 minutes of every morning to down dogs and other deep stretches that prepare my calves and plantar fascia to take on the day. If I wake up late and skip my stretches, I receive a painful reminder of their importance when I step out of bed the next morning.

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And back to my jeopardy dream where I won the first $1000 of the game, I moved onto “Not-So-Common Sense” for $1000.

Alex Trebek: The optimal time to treat your nagging injury.

Me: What is “now”?

JeopardyKgo_CommonSense

We are athletes. Our personal records depend on our ability block out pain. But our long-term athletic success depends on acknowledging that some pain is worthy not only of of recognition but of intensive, dedicated, and committed treatment. And only you can make that determination.

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Sixteen Minutes on Service, Sport, and Success

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Earlier this year, George Washington University invited me to speak on the impact public service has had on my life. Naturally, I chose to speak at the intersection of service and sport.

This poster greeted me as I arrived.

Success in Service Kendra Goffredo

Hey, I thought, I know her!

Check out the full talk below:

Thank you for hosting me, GWU. May your grads go into the world and serve!

That Grip Was Once a Reflex

HoldTheWheel

At birth, a baby’s strength is seemingly concentrated in the muscles of her tiny hands. That newborn power grip is actually a reflex.

Baby Palmar Grasp

But at around 6 months, her reflex fades, and she learns to grasp with intention. By 12 months, she develops another fantastic ability: release.

BoyLeaves

My friend Kawai is a new father.

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Credit: Christina Strong Washburn

His daughter, like all of us before her, is discovering the power she has in the deliberate grasp of her hand. He writes:

…we sat in the imperviously clean high-chair on our counter and fisted handfuls of food from the spoon into our mouth, each time learning just a bit better how our fingers, like caterpillars, might wrap around the branch of the spoon…

Baby Spoon

And in just a few more months, those little fingers will make the full transition to learned release.

…and it was clear that this was life, and death: We learn how to pick things up and how to hold them and eventually, how to put them down.

Even in adulthood, a heartbreaking experience will send us back to those months of infancy where we learned that gripping is a primitive reflex, that holding on is a conscious choice, and that releasing is too.

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Smoke, not fog

IRONMAN Lake Tahoe was that experience for me. I held tight to dreams of titles and family finish lines, and they were pried from my grip by a forest fire and smoke and last minute race cancellation.

And just a week (and a cross country flight and a 10-hour solo drive) later, that experience was IRONMAN Chattanooga. I tightened my grip with each mile as lucidity loosened its grip on me. And 138 miles into the race, I let go.

And five days later, it was a broken heart. (Ouch.) But we all know you can’t squeeze love out of someone.  (Believe me, I tried.)

And a week after that, it was the bestie with a foreign passport and nonrenewable visa.

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This is life, my friend reminds me, we learn how to pick things up and how to hold them and eventually, how to put them down.

Yes, we master these lessons as infants, but life obliges us to learn them over and over again.

 –

Thank you:

Kawai, for the inspiration. Check out his work here.

SmartWool, for believing in me.

Rose PT, for the fascia love.

Zoot, for a quality kit.

Coachie Tim and QT2

Parents and Sarita and Kala and Stefan, for supporting me in Tahoe.

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And my Glover/Yon host family in Chattanooga. xoxo.

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A Third Quarter Kick

Female Runners Set

“Why is the third lap in a mile repeat the most important lap?” a reader asked Coach Roy Benson in a recent Runner’s World column.

“It is not just the third lap of mile repeats that is the most important lap,” Coach Benson explains. “It seems that the third quarter of any repeat is where we tend to back off the pace as the fatigue starts to build up.”

My dear old track coach would have agreed. And he trained us accordingly, teaching us to push the third quarter of any race like it’s the last. For in that third lap of the mile, the sixth and seventh lap of the 3200 and the third curve of the 800, the mind tells the body to conserve, to hold back, to save something for the end. Convincing your body that the third quarter is the last, my coach would say, is how you bust your body through old barriers.  

In the northern hemisphere, triathlon season runs roughly April to November (give or take a month, depending on how close you live to awesome). Today, that puts us squarely in the third quarter of the season.

They are all aiming for me

My plan was to push my third quarter of the season at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mont Tremblant, Canada. Even though I am more competitive at the 140.6 distance, there are reasons beyond podiums that I race.  I looked forward to meeting this beautiful region of Quebec, to competing in a race (albeit in a different location) for which I was injured last year and therefore never finished, and to sharing it with my dear amiguita who is likely returning to her Guatemalan homeland at the season’s end.

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But when amiguita’s Canadian tourist visa didn’t come through, I was facing a 26-hour solo drive, an $800 hotel bill, and (all of a sudden) a dwindling desire to race at 70.3 World Championships at all.

Lukewarm is not how my track coach taught me to race a third quarter.

In Trouble with the USAT Officials

To be sure, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to race. It was simply that I didn’t want to race this race.

Why? I wondered. Why do some races feel right and some races feel wrong, and how did this race evolve from feeling so right to so wrong so quickly?

Though I generally operate by feel, this quandary called for quantitative reasoning.

I drew up a list of the factors that I weigh in race selection.

Race Selection_Factors

I then assigned a weight (1 through 5) to each of these factors.

Race Selection Factors

Finally, I rated the 70.3 World Championship race based on each of the factors in my list, with the understanding that my amiguita would no longer be able to attend.

Race Selection_703Worlds_SinAmiguita

A score of 86 out of a possible 220 was less than impressive. This is how it would have looked if Canada had more favorable visa policies for Guatemalans, a much stronger 134 compared to the wimpy 86:

Race Selection_703World_ConAmiguita

The numbers confirmed how entirely the absence of my amiguita had altered the allure of this race. But these numbers also confirmed something I’ve said many times in the past–that racing is about so much more than a finish line.

I started looking for other places to push the most important quarter of the season. With my parents in California and a perfectly timed week-long break in my dad’s chemotherapy, Ironman Lake Tahoe demanded a closer look.  This race offers a distance more suited to my strengths and is set in one of my favorite regions of the country. Plus, I have a free place to stay. And while the altitude and severe cold (lows around freezing, literally) will present the hardest racing conditions I’ve ever faced, the rubric confirmed my gut feeling:

Race Selection_IMLT

A whopping 155!

And so it’s decided. Instead of racing the 70.3 World Championship, I’ll be pushing the third quarter with my third Ironman of the season. 

Lake Tahoe Swim

Credit: Susan Lacke

And how about the fourth quarter? What will October and November bring? A half in Maryland?  A half in Bahrain? A full in Mexico? A pro card perhaps?

I don’t know what the fourth quarter will bring and my dear old track coach would be proud. I’m focused on kicking the 3rd quarter of this season like he taught me to approach the 3rd quarter of anything. That is, like it’s the last.

Push Downhill_San Francisco

 

The Raw Race Report: Ironman Lake Placid 2014

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From behind the podium, I accepted a microphone and an opportunity to address a 200+ crowd of orange-clad triathletes and their families.

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I’d like to tell you a story about two girlfriends, I said, both of whom are racing Ironman Lake Placid this Sunday. A story about two girlfriends and their fathers. 

The first of these friends was in her mid-20s when she lost her father. While biking, her father was struck by a distracted driver. Her father died before she could make it to the hospital to say goodbye. 

The second of these friends is me. When I was in my early 20s, my father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare and (as of yet) incurable blood cancer. The prognosis read 3-5 years

But that was eleven years ago. 

I explained this as I addressed 110 triathletes and their families who, over the course of the past year and in preparation to represent the MMRF at Ironman Lake Placid, had raised over $865,000 for myeloma research. Some of them had been personally touched my myeloma. Most had not. Instead, they raised those funds in exchange for a highly coveted Ironman bib. It was my task to thank them on behalf of the myeloma community.

Since its inception in 1999, I explained, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation has brought six new myeloma drugs to market, one of which has kept my father golfing and cycling and far outliving the stark prognosis he faced eleven years ago. Thanks to you and the tireless work of the MMRF, I have had  the past eleven years to process and express to my father the full extent of his influence on my life. I have been able to demonstrate to him in every Ironman that I race that I was, in fact, listening to all of the lessons he taught me as a young girl about setting goals, believing in the impossible, and defying odds. 

I fought back tears and returned to the story of two girlfriends and their fathers.

None of us know how many final seconds, or days, or years we will have to express gratitude, communicate influence, heal deep wounds, and retire old grudges with our loved ones. But if we start now, we just may have enough time. 

IMAZ with Poppy Smiles Cropped

In May, with my parents cheering me on, I raced Ironman Texas, won my age group, declined my Kona slot, placed 3rd amateur, qualified for my pro card, and broke 10 hours. I was a happy triathlete.

But I didn’t get into triathlon for podiums or Kona qualifications.

So when the MMRF put together a team of 110 triathletes united by a cause greater than themselves, I seized the opportunity to join them, even though it meant two exhausting Ironman competitions in as many months.

IMLP Dmitry

This is why I race triathlon. To be a part of something greater than myself. 

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And that something took Lake Placid by storm.

Speaking of storms, it poured.

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SWIM.

1:05. Luckily, I was on the final stretch of the 2.4 mile swim when the lightning sent the first of many snapchat selfies. Though I was permitted to finish the swim, those further back were not.

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Safety crews directed the latter waves of swimmers to the closest shore, where they began the 1.5 mile barefoot walk back to transition. I was thankful to already be on my bike.

BIKE

5:52. Pelting rain, low visibility, lighting and thunder, tremor-like shivers, numb hands and feet. And a laughing heart.

IMLP Bike Rain

I still find the Ironman distance fairly ridiculous, so when you layer a thunderstorm and piercing rain on top of 140.6 miles, laughing is the healthiest response to the absurdity.

I executed a 112-mile build, holding back in the first quarter, and building throughout the final three. Experimenting with a slower build, I was able to consume more fluid, calories, and electrolytes. I even hit a 112-mile pee PR of 5x!

IMLP Run Happy

RUN

3:30. I started the run well hydrated and feeling strong. In a three hour and 30 minute blur, I slowly moved my way up through the field to capture the top spot in my age group.

Finish Line Hands

I know this race report appears slim on details, but racing an Ironman is about so much more than the miles and watts and the gels consumed. I accepted the invitation to explain this perspective on this year’s Ironman Athlete Panel. Unfortunately, WordPress won’t allow me to embed the Livestream video, but click here to watch my conversation with Mike Reilly at about 11:40-14:30, and again 16:00-17:00. That is the raw race report of every Ironman I race.

Thank you:

-My Sherpa, Sarita.

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-The MMRF organization and its Team For Cures. For giving me the ultimate reason to race.

-To Team Poppy Tony’s supporters. For helping us surpass $75,000 for myeloma research.

-To Alicia and Jane at MMRF. For an incredible five years together racing down a cure.

Kendra and Alicia

-Zoot Sports. For my snazzy and functional tri-kit, designed specifically so I can represent the MMRF.

-SmartWool. Remarkably, even after all of the driving rain and pools of pee collecting in my socks as I biked, and later after running through sprinklers and dumping cups of water to cool my temperature, I had no blisters. It’s not called SMARTwool for nothing!

-Nalgene. For my most well hydrated race yet!

-Coach Tim at QT2 Systems. For pushing back.

-Rose Physical Therapy. For putting my plantar fascia on the road to recovery.

-And most of all, to a girlfriend and her father.

IMLP Swim Morning