Ready or Not

Guatemalan Bus

When I was 22, I bought a one-way ticket to Guatemala. For five months and through five countries, I collected conversations. I tucked away these conversations like dollars in a winter coat, sometimes forgetting them but always rediscovering them when I least expected it.

In one such conversation I came to know Maarten, a young but wise Dutch engineer on a year-long expedition.

Maarten_Andrea_Kgo

Maarten, Kgo, and Andrea – Las Isletas, Nicaragua

During his trip, Maarten fell in love and, long before he was ready, became a father. With equal parts fear and excitement, he remarked that though he certainly wasn’t ready for fatherhood, it’s not likely he ever would have been.

That’s the thing about life, he said. If you wait until you’re ready, you never will be.

Maarten_Kgo

Wise Maarten and Mentee Kgo

This past December, I was studying the Lonely Planet travel guides, cross-referencing epic volcano hikes and triathlons–two of my favorite pastimes.

IMG_3573

I stumbled upon a match in the Chilean town of Pucon.

IronmanPucon

There, I could swim-bike-run my way across the finish line one day and summit a volcano the very next.

IMG_3654

There was just one problem. The race for January 2015 was already sold out.

Sold out, that is, but for one small loophole. Registration for the pro field was still open.

Though I had secured a professional qualification in 2012, I wasn’t ready for the professional ranks. Each time I qualified since, I continued to kick the decision down the calendar, always hoping next year would be the year I’d feel ready. And now, just a few weeks after my long off-season ended, I was perhaps the least ready I had been since my first qualification.

And when I least expected it, I found that old conversation with Maarten, stuffed into the pocket of my past. Like Maarten and fatherhood, I realized, if I waited until I was ready, I never would be.

So I applied for my elite license, booked a flight, and packed my Ruster for my pro debut. 

IMG_3976

Epilogue: It’s worth noting here that I landed in Guatemala before I could speak Spanish and without experience traveling alone. In so many ways, I wasn’t ready for that trip. But it was during that trip that I learned to communicate in Spanish, climbed my first volcano, and watched my first triathlon. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Now it’s your turn. What have you been putting off because you aren’t ready? Isn’t it time?

Find a Way

Thank you:

To the MMRF for giving me the ultimate reason to race.

To RosePT for getting me to the starting line healthy.

To Ruster Sports for making tri travel a lot easier and much less expensive.

To Nalgene for keeping me hydrated for two weeks of Chilean adventure.

To Zoot for the best wetsuit, tri kit, and shoes.

To SmartWool for socks that I wore for training, racing, and then summitting volcanoes.

To Coach Tim of QT2 for telling me to race the races that excite me.

IMG_0009

No oversize bag fees. Go Ruster!

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. 

IMG_3975

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?

2014-11-07 at 11-22-01

2014-11-07 at 12-49-41

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….

IMG_3271

…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…

IMG_3348

…and bathed in the Blue Lagoon the next?

IMG_3412

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.

IMG_3388

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 Nalgene for making liter bottles I can open with mittens on.

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.

IMG_3201

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.

IMG_2596

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.

DownDogOrange

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.

alex_trebek

Sixteen Minutes on Service, Sport, and Success

IMG_1999.JPG (2)

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.

kawaiandbaby

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.

IMG_2879

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.

SaritaAndKgo

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.

IMG_2862

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

IMG_2966

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.

IMG_2589

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