Injury and Jeopardy

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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”?

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

 

 

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

Janet

I was five when Janet Jackson broke through to global superstardom with the single “What have you done for me lately?”

Oooo oo oooo yeah

At five, I wasn’t doing much for others. In fact, I was just learning how to do a lot of things for myself – make my bed, clean the fish bowl, put away my bat and ball, stand up on my own two skis.

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So…I didn’t really understand the song.

But today, with many more years of life on earth, I get it.

And I hear it--or slight variations of this sentiment–all too often.

What’s in it for me?

What will I get out of it?

Will that look good on my resume?

The sport of triathlon does a lot for its participants.

In the three years I have been a triathlete, swim-bike-run has enriched my life with friends and goals and confidence and opportunity. When triathlon asks what I have done in return, I want to make sure my answer is as rich as the community and experiences my sport has given me.

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Credit: Mindy Ko

This post contains some of the small ways I have found to give back to the sport. It’s not an exhaustive list; it’s designed to jump start your own thinking about ways that you can do the same and to encourage you to share in the comments below ways that you already have.

Arlington Kids Triathlon - Dasha Rosato - Kids Swim

Credit: Dasha Rosato

1. Lending a hand at youth triathlons.

Or any triathlons. Or swim meets. Or bike events. Or running races. Kids (and newbies in general) are the future of triathlon. Even if you are just filling water cups or directing course traffic, you are doing a lot for them – and for our sport.

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2. Supporting your local non-profit triathlon club.

Many cities have triathlon clubs that operate on a not-for-profit basis (as a 501 c 7) with a volunteer board of directors.  As a result, they have very low annual fees. More importantly, they offer specialized programs to equip newbies with the knowledge/skills/support they need to finish their first tri. In the case of DC Tri Club, members pay just $50 a year (yes, per year!). With your dues, DC Tri Club creates a community of triathletes of all performance levels in which newbies can gain the practice, tools and knowledge they need to become first-time (and life-time) triathletes.

DC Tri Club

Credit: Lindy Smith

3. Mentoring a newbie triathlete.

It is easy to forget how much intimidation I faced in becoming a triathlete. Until I start thinking about it. And then I want to curl up into fetal position.

Fetal Position

I was afraid of my clipping into pedals – or actually, of not being able to clip out. I was terrified to put my face into the water and breathe. And buying a bike was perhaps the scariest part of all. But a handful of people along the way clued me in on everything from chamois cream to changing a flat…and even peeing while racing.

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Credit: Jimmy Lutz

You don’t have to know everything to mentor someone. If you have ever raced a triathlon, you know heaps more than a newbie. Just be open, exercise a bit of patience and share your love for the sport.

4. Gifting last year’s gear to newbie triathletes.

We all know the financial barriers to triathlon entry are high. In addition to race fees, triathlon and cycling gear are expensive. And if you are like most triathletes, you have upgraded something (or everything?) since you began in the sport. Instead of collecting dust in your closet or making you a few dollars on eBay, find a dedicated newbie who could really use that old bike computer, or last year’s tri kit, or your first heart rate monitor. My rule: If I haven’t used in in the past 6 months, then it deserves a better home. Avoid triathlete hoarding. Share the love with a newbie.

Pay It Forward

Producer: Sarita Larios

Surely, our 35th president would agree, “Ask not what your sport can do for you, but what you can do for your sport.”

Newbie Triathlete Trevor Albert

Credit: Lindy Smith; Producer: Trevor

 

 

Behind the Camera

Canon SureShot 35mm_small

Before selfies, before camera phones, even before digital cameras, there was the Canon Sure Shot 35mm camera.

And for the better part of my childhood, there was a mom standing behind this camera – my mom.

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In fourth grade, my teacher announced autobiographies as our spring writing assignment, each of our eight years to be captured with a chapter and a picture. My mind illustrated every one of those years with my mother right by my side – indeed, she had been – but as I searched through photo albums to select pictures of us to punctuate chapters, my mother’s printed image was no where to be found.

Devils Postpile Circa 80s

Lots of these…

Sister 5 K Run

And these…

 

Grandmas Couch

And these. But none of mother…

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Last year, a new friend asked if I had a mom. I spoke a lot about my father on my blog, she noted, but where was my mom? My heart sank, like it did when I was eight and searching for pictures and found none.

Album Shelf

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All my life, my mother has walked me through life’s most important moments. But no one takes pictures of those. They aren’t the fancy or the pretty or the sexy ones.

They are the toughest ones.

Disciplining. Drying tears. Delivering bad news.

Twenty-five years after searching for her image in a photo album now yellowed with age, she still carries the burden of moments we don’t write about in blogs. She calls with the oncology updates, she manages my dad’s chemo calendar, and in a scene only understood by those who have shared life with a partner, she guides him – and sometimes carries him – up his steepest climbs.

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So today we celebrate the birthday of this incredible woman by putting her in front of the camera and making her the star of this post.

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Her sacrifices have been innumerable, her patience unparalleled, and her charity limitless. Happy birthday to my moo-moo!

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Hopefully with greater selfie capabilities, we’ll get a few more family photos with mom!