Tag Archives: cancer

But I raced anyway


I raced a triathlon this past weekend. In the PRO field. I came out of the water last. I never caught up to a single other PRO, short of the one who dropped out. Eight amateurs beat me. And I knew it would all shake out like this before I stepped to the starting line. But I raced anyway. Because after a year off, a year of having only enough energy to stay afloat in #grief, I missed that place in my mind that I can only reach on a race course. 

#lifeafterloss #teampoppy #imvictoria703 

Before Dessert

Last night fourteen strangers in our 20s and 30s gathered around a dinner table. Potluck style. We shared dishes and tears and hopes for #lifeafterloss. And before dessert, we had become a community.

(Check out TheDinnerParty.org to learn more and to join a table in your town.)

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!

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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

 

 

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.

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…

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

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 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 Mother’s Day to my moo-moo!

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

 

 

Ironman Texas 2014 – More than a Feeling

Beats per minute. Carbs per hour. Pace per mile.

Time trials, weigh-ins, sweat tests, fueling windows.

In October, I started working with QT2 Systems — the BEST of triathlon’s data dudes — with the purpose of learning how to use data to up my training and racing game.

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Here is an example of the type of data analysis that Coach performs for each leg of a race:

Half IM Data

Before working with QT2, I trained mainly by feel. In my first Ironman, during which I ran a 3:21 marathon and qualified for Kona, the only data I had were mile splits. No heart rate monitor. No power meter.

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Under QT2, every swim, bike, run is driven by data. Every gel, bar, bottle consumed by fueling plan. And then carefully recorded. And  then commented on by Coach.

By the time April rolled around, I had been staring so long and so intently at the numbers on my watch, that I had forgotten how pools and roads and trails looked. Even worse, I had forgotten how they feel.

I was drowning in my own data.

Drowning in Lake Anna

I’ve noticed that most triathletes love numbers.  Love what numbers tell them. Normalized power, power-to-weight ratio, average heart rate, yards per week, race weight.

But I love how those things feel.

Life is not a Rehearsal_Jenny Holzer_How does it feel2

And I can’t feel them when the metrics are monopolizing my other senses.

And without that feeling, I had forgotten why I love triathlon.

Luckily, as a former teacher, Coach respects that each of his students learn differently.

So we ditched the data in the final month of preparation for Ironman Texas and instead of sending in my weigh-ins, or beats per minutes, or mile splits, I only told Coach how it felt. And it started to feel good again.

IRONMAN TEXAS Race Report

SWIM – 1:04

Credit: Nick Morales

I heard a lot of complaints about dirty water, but at 71 degrees, Lake Woodlands felt so good. The water and air temp combo meant that I could get in early for a good warm-up swim without any Raynaud’s concerns.

The officials allowed us to line up across the entire lake and to swim the first leg inside the sighting buoys. This wide start (unlike, for example, Lake Placid’s start) and my position to the far left minimized kicks and punches to the face and panic to the heart. (Those don’t feel good.)

Cred: Nick Morales

After the cannon, I eased into a strong pace with Caroline and some burly men. I jumped on a few pairs of feet here and there during the 2.4 mile swim, but still find it a great challenge to stay in someone’s draft.

IMTX Swim

I was surprised by how much chop I encountered in the lake, and even more in the canal. Still, my favorite part of the swim was through that narrow waterway. Because it is so narrow, and with so many spectators standing above, cruising through the canal creates the illusion of swimming very fast. That’s a new feeling for me. And I liked it.

Aerial View of the Canal

Despite a winter of never reaching time trial goals in the pool, I emerged from the canal with a new Ironman swim PR of 1:04:30. Of course, I didn’t know that until nine hours later because I wasn’t wearing a watch.

BIKE – 5:18

IMTX T1

That’s me grabbing my bike. I usually don’t see this many other bikes still racked. Good sign!

Like the swim, the bike plan was to ease into a pace. I opted to wear a heart rate monitor for the bike leg as a data point to complement, but not override, how I felt. I knew the heart rate indicators could be particularly helpful in stabilizing effort through high winds.

IMTX Bike Side

Ironman Texas is a single loop course, which is my least favorite kind because I only see my parents at the start and finish, and no where in between. Luckily, the course was carved through the front yards of some fantastic Texans, many of whom made a day of cheering for us. Awesome.

IMTX Bike

Thanks to easing into it, I biked pretty even on the front half and back half, averaging 21.1 MPH over the 112 miles. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time because I had stopped monitoring the data. My beats per minute were uncharacteristically low for how hard my legs were pushing, so I switched back over to feel. And focused instead on throwing sports drink down the hatch and water on my head. It was starting to feel warm.

IMTX Bike 2

The last 15 miles were lonely, but the loneliness allowed me to feel the breath in my lungs and the muscles in my legs. And to be grateful that I know how biking 112 miles feels.

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RUN – 3:26

Though this was my seventh Ironman, I still can’t believe that I — that anyone — can run a full marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112, but in that moment, when the b/f yelled that I was in 3rd place and 5 minutes out of first place, I was thankful I had all those miles left. I knew I would need all of them to crawl out of that deficit and claim the top spot.

IMTX Run

Ironman Texas offers a three-loop run course, so I saw my parents, my coach, Aimee, and the b/f tons of lovely times. Though the out-and-backs were too short to get a quality reading on the rate at which I was closing the gap (compared to Ironman Lake Placid, for example) the b/f updated me as he ran from point to point along the loop.

The course was flat, but not as fast as it could have been. So many turns and paths and roads and curves to navigate. After the first loop, I had moved into 2nd, but only gained about 30 seconds on #1.

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Kgo and Brian

Thankfully, and for the first time in my Ironman history, I found a running mate going the exact same speed. We became fast friends, stride for stride, and stuck together for over half (!!!) of the run. It felt amazing to work together.

IMTX Brian and Kgo

My running buddy, Brian McKinney

I pulled into the age group lead with just three miles to go, marking a 3:26 marathon.

And a 9:56 total time for the day.

IMTX Finish

First place age group.

Third amateur.

But I didn’t need a watch or a place to tell me what I already knew: When the pain is as deep as the joy is pure, then it’s been a good day on the Ironman course.


IMTX Finish Line Kendra Goffredo

And like every other battle I’ve faced in my life, I felt my parents’ presence every step of the way.

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Congratulations to Meredith, Helle, Christy, and the boyz!

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Team Poppy Tony gives HUGE thanks to:

  • All of you in your corners of the world, for tracking us, supporting us, and sending us love! Together, we are 140.6 miles closer to a cure.
  • The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (the MMRF), for giving me the ultimate reason to race.
  • ZootSports, for a wetsuit, kit, and shoes that feel as good as they look.
  • SmartWool, for socks that feel good in 26.2 miles of water-logged shoes.
  • Nalgene, for keeping me hydrated enough to feel my best on a warm day.
  • Coach Tim of QT2 Systems, for his patience in letting me feel my way back.
  • My fantastic support crew of Aimee, Lonnie, my parents, and my most handsome sherpa.

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And just for fun:

 

 

Creating Social Value: Team Poppy Fest 2014

Social Value Creation

What does it mean to create social value?

I had to ask a University of Maryland professor this question when she invited me to guest lecture at the school’s Center for Social Value Creation. Professor Aelion said her students would be interested in learning how I use sport to create social value.

After a few more conversations with Professor Aelion, I developed a lecture on the components of social value creation, at the heart of which are three things present in all of our lives: adversity, hobby, and community.

AdversityHobbyCommunity

1. Adversity, I explained, are the tragedies we encounter in life. The injustices that we, as thinking people, have the choice to fight. These are the causes we choose to take up.

2. Hobby, I told her students, is synonymous with passion. What moves you? What do you love to do?

3. Community, I explained, is comprised of the people who support you through adversity and within your hobby.

And then I used Team Poppy Fest to illustrate this construct.

Team Poppy Fest 2014v5

1. Adversity. While there are countless injustices in this world, finding a cure for myeloma (a rare blood cancer) is my cause. Since my father’s diagnosis in 2003, I have poured my heart into raising awareness and funds in this fight.

2. Hobby. To target this adversity, I leverage my passion of triathlon and my involvement in the triathlon community, which leads us to the final leg of the tripod.

3. Community. I could not fight this injustice without the help of my family, my colleagues, my triathlon mates, my sponsors, and my blog followers. These people are my community.

CreatingSocialValue1

With an incredible array of auction prizes from the sponsors, together with the support of all those who attended Team Poppy Fest, we raised $15,500 in a single night, 100% of which goes directly to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (the MMRF).

Volunteers

What the MMRF does with these donations is incredible. In the 15 years since its inception, the foundation has been instrumental in bringing SIX new myeloma drugs to market. Such success is unprecedented in oncology, a feat made even more impressive by the fact that myeloma is a RARE cancer, and lacks much of the funding that more prevalent cancers receive.

Thanks to the tireless work of the MMRF, my father–like a growing number of myeloma patients–has maintained a high quality of life throughout his ongoing fight and outlived the stark prognosis he faced in 2003.

Team Poppy Tony in Green Cropped

But this post is more about the 3rd component of the social value creation triad: community.

My community has been instrumental in my quest to create social value.

A HUGE thanks to my community of sponsors for making Team Poppy Fest 2014 a reality:

Kate and Blaine of Tri360

Arlington Rooftop Bar and Grill

Dr. Paul Shin, MD

Jake of Zoot Sports

Chrissie and Tim of QT2 Systems

Ryan of Oakley

Brad of Velocio cycling apparel

Eric of Nalgene

Jeff of SmartWool

Adela of Lululemon

Tim of BikeArlington

Miles of Perfect Fuel Chocolate

Oiselle

Setup Events

Rev3 Triathlon

Yoga Heights

Tranquil Space

FitPro Massage

Potomac River Running (PRR)

GU Energy Labs

Affinia Manhattan Hotel

Captain Cookie of DC

Airrosti Rehab Centers of Northern Virginia

Professor Mark Mhley of United States Naval Academy

Ed Moser, Lafayette Square Tour of Scandal, Assassination, & Intrigue

Coach AJ Morrison

Coach Katie Tobin

Coach Nichole (“Nikki”) Allem

Coach and Registered Dietitian Marni Sumbal 

Michelle Egorin Photography

Gillian McNally, Mary Kay Consultant

Kate Morse, Arbonne consultant

Evan and The Feed Zone

Thomas of BonChon

Great American Restaurants

Cheesecake Factory

Enjoy these great pics of the event, and to see more, visit these pages:

Click to view Photographer Beth’s photos

Click to view Photographer Val’s photos

Kate Raffle Bags Tickets and Zoot   Zoot_Models

Winner

Team Poppy

Janet Wins

Whatcha Got TPF Crew TPF Crowd

TPF hanging out TPF Mega TPF Micaela TPF Vasectomy

TPF yoga

 

Fighter’s Stance: IRONMAN Arizona 2013 Race Report

Zoot shoes

I assume a wide stance, like a fighter. But like a fighter who was just punched in the stomach. 

Knees wide, capped by the palms of my hands, my fighter’s stance supports a violently heaving upper half.

I know how this story ends, I think to myself.

And then, somewhere in the 19th mile of IRONMAN Arizona run course, I throw up for the 5th time.

Yes, I know how this story ends.

Kathmandu Hospital

I recall the last time I threw up with such force and frequency. That story ended in a Nepalese hospital with IVs pumping life into a body succumbed to amoebic dysentery.  Then, halfway across the world, living in a dusty little village, contaminated water was likely to blame.

But now, hunched over in the land of plenty, I struggle to make sense of what is causing this to happen. The nausea, the dizziness, the disorientation.

Going to Cry

This was not at all how things were supposed to be. Not at all what I imagined each morning I beat the sun up to crush wattage on my trainer. Not at all what I dreamed those nights I trained in the dark, skipped the dessert, and put myself to bed early.

No, this was not a part of the plan.

I wonder if my father had a similar thought when the doctor diagnosed a cancer he had never heard of. I wonder if he questioned where myeloma, then with a 5-year-average survival rate, fit into his plan.  And I wonder after the myeloma forced him to trade his 40-year running ritual for a walk, how deeply painful those first walking steps must have been.

I take my first walking steps. Not just of IRONMAN. Not just of a triathlon. But the first walking steps I have ever taken in a race. I had never walked in the Turkey Trot at my elementary school.  Never in my high school cross country meets.  Never in a 5k or a 10k or a marathon.  No, in 27-years of running, I have never walked.

Don't Walk Sign

But today I take my first walking steps. Because I know this story would otherwise end before the finish line.

I take my first walking steps because today, more than in any other trot or meet or race in which walking was not an option,  I need to get myself to that finish line.

With each walking step, I understand that there is no PR or Kona slot or course record waiting for me there.

But I also understand that each walking step takes me closer to the man who taught me the fighter’s stance, the man who assumes that fighter’s stance even from the chair in which he sits each week as the chemotherapy pumps into his veins.

Boxer Triathlete

Right about now, as I am slumped over on the side of the road, tasting a horrifically acidic version of everything I have swallowed in the last hour, I know that my mom is sharing my surprise with my dad. Telling him that the MMRF and the IRONMAN foundation have arranged VIP passes into the finisher’s chute so that he can medal me.

IMAZ Finish Line with Dad

Walking hurts. Walking humbles.

But I need not explain that to my dad. Like so many other feelings I have never spoken, he knows.

So he squeezes me extra tight when I walk across the finish line and into his arms.

IMAZ Finish

The details needed to make this an actual race report:

Swim: 1:08

A bit violent, a little choppy, but pleased with my swimming improvement.

Bike: 5:12

Started to feel nauseous about a quarter into the bike. Did this bike by feel, as my heart rate monitor would not pick up the beat. Erred on the side of a conservative effort, backed off even more because of the nausea, but it never subsided until long after I crossed the finish line. As a result, my legs felt daisy fresh when I finished the bike

Run: 4:13

The best of that story is told above.  The worst has hopefully evaporated in the Arizona sun.

Total: 10:42

Second only to Hurricane St. George in time needed to complete. My sixth IRONMAN, but of course not my last.

IMAZ Run v2

Huge thanks to:

–Dave Deschenes of IRONMAN and Alicia of the MMRF for arranging our finish line father-daughter hugs.

–My parents, Uncle J, Aunt Stevie, Jeffrey, Maja, and Nate for being my support crew!

Zoot Sports: It’s hard to look good while throwing up on the side of the course, but that Zoot kit made it possible.

SmartWool: Though I faced many challenges during this race, blisters were not one of them.

Nalgene: Thankfully, proper pre-race hydration got me across the finish line when my body rejected all during-race hydration.

–Coach Tim of QT2, boy do we have a lot of work left to do.

IMAZ Plan