Monday, April 21, 2014

Oceanside to Galveston...What a Difference a Week Makes!



I'm sitting on a plane again so I figured it would be a good time to write my race report from Galveston or Ironman Texas 70.3. I wrote a report for Oceanside 70.3 but in typical Jessica fashion I never seemed to get around to publishing it! Rather than bore you I'll give you a brief synopsis: I sucked. Well, in my defense I did have mechanical. My wheel rubbed my brake the entire time. I got off the bike twice to fix it, the wheel would spin no problem, only to get back on and hear that dreaded sound of carbon rubbing (and you know exactly that cringe worthy sound). But beyond that, I was completely flat for the race. The swim was off, the bike my legs just felt like bricks, and the first loop of the run I was clipping off a great pace, but once the gravity of how far I was behind I just shut it down. My mind got the best of me, I felt sorry for myself, my ego was bruised...it definitely was not my finest nor proudest moment.

photo courtesy slowtwitch.com
 
Coach Kevin and I immediately went into "what went wrong" mode. We looked at the race itself, but the bigger picture. What was going on physically, mentally, and emotionally? We definitely took away some key points. But the problem was this was just yet another bad race after an entire year of either bad or lack luster results. I headed back to Tulsa and the seed of doubt was planted. I texted Kevin things like, "Maybe I'm just too old." "I guess I'm not as fit as I thought." "Maybe my life just really isn't conducive to putting up good results." "I think I have too much on my plate." I told Kevin I didn't want to race Galveston. I told him I was tired, emotionally drained, and just plain old sick of it. But the truth is I was just scared--scared of yet another crappy result. Kevin reminded me that 2 weeks before I ran a 17:24 5k, my fastest since college, which hardly supports the hypothesis that I'm unfit or too old. He reminded me that bad races just happen. He encouraged me to go race without any expectation--I still wasn't sold on it. I was disheartened and frustrated and basically throwing a pity party. Then the shootings at Fort Hood happen. This was my home for 5 years. Life is short. And I'm lucky to even be doing this. And if I come in dead last, who cares??? The people that matter still love me. And I still love me if I come in last, so why not get over my own ego and just get out there and try. I once read somewhere that you have to fail in order to practice being brave. It was time to put my money where my mouth is.

                                                       photo courtesy slowtwitch.com

The kids and I flew to Houston on Friday evening. I got to sleep in my own bed that I slept in for 18 years. My kids played with Grandma and Grandpa and their new dog. I still had some issues with my wheel and luckily my Team RWB friend Jeremy Brown was at the race supporting. He came to the house and he ended up shaving down the brake and I had no issues. Confidence in equipment is huge! Thank you Jeremy!

Finally race morning came. The wind was the strongest I've ever encountered in a race. By the time we got in the water I couldn't believe how rough the chop was. When the cannon went off I just felt like I was flailing and going absolutely no where. I would try to sight to the first turn buoy and the waves were so high I couldn't see a thing. Finally there were a few girls around me and I caught up and just sat on their feet. I pulled for a bit once we turned, and then settled back on their feet because my swim just wasn't there (which is pretty normal for me when I race back to back weekends). When I got to the bikes I thought "Oh no, there are a lot of bikes gone!" My crew yelled I was 4.5 minutes behind the leader. Yikes, my swim was waaayyyy off. Oh well, go enjoy the day. The bike was simply out and back. Immediately I knew my legs were ready to play. We had a straight tailwind going out. I was putting up good power numbers, yet I didn't pass a single person. Again, oh well, enjoy the day. Once turned around we had a straight headwind. Perfect, just any other day in Oklahoma. I upped the wattage and thought "Shoot, just go for it." Slowly one by one I started to pick girls off. And this fueled me further to keep pushing.



I got to transition and was a little worried since I rode closer to threshold for 28 miles. My garmin literally broke the day before, so I was running with just my trusty timed watch. Immediately I knew my run legs were ready to play as well. I held around 6:15s the entire race and while I hurt, I was never in death mode like my last few races. I was fired up the whole run thanks to a million cheers for Team RWB, my kids, my parents, and friends. Hometown support is amazing!! I ran myself into 4th (in the money, yeah!!) The winner crushed us all, and second and third had some cushion over me, but I didn't care. For all purposes I won that race. And what I mean is that I won the battle within myself. I was quite emotional. To think that a few days before I just wanted to quit, give up, roll over and play dead. Nonsense. Life is meant for living, not sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. Winston Churchill said it perfectly, "Never ever ever ever give up."
 
 
 
So let me thank some very important people and sponsors. First off, to my mom. I COULD NOT do this without her. Bottomline! She is my rock. And for my other rock, my dad. I am beyond lucky to have these amazing people as my parents. Next off to my coach, Kevin Purcell, for never giving up on me even when I've wanted to give up on myself. To Ryan Gabriel for helping me endlessly with my bike. I know I'm a huge pain in the ass Ryan, thank you for your patience with me! To my sponsors--PowerPlay, Powerbar, RaceQuest, BlueSeventy, Runners World, Elite Cycling, Rudy Project, John Cobb, John R. Jones PC. Thank you for all your help! To those who I carry with me always--my kiddos, family, friends, and Team RWB. Your support does not go unnoticed nor unappreciated. Thank you thank you thank you!! Next up, Ironman Texas!
 
 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Latest and Greatest

I wanted to give an update before race season kicks off shortly in Oceanside in a few weeks.  And with my writing habits, once I start racing who knows when I'll actually blog again?!  Indeed one of my goals this year is to not neglect my blog as I have in years past.  And I'm actually finding writing fun and cathartic and a better way to communicate with other athletes and people in general.  Thank you for all the feedback, I really enjoy it!

                                                                                    
Training with some lovely ladies in the rain in Cali...

So, what's been going on in my world?  A lot of the same, and a lot a whole lot different.  Let's start with the triathlon front.  A year ago I was ready to throw in the towel and retire.  I had an injury that I just couldn't shake and months went by without the training I needed to be doing to be competitive.  This took a lot out of me physically and probably more out of me emotionally.  But somehow I turned it around and got some decent training in the back half of the year, but still not enough to be competitive in 2013.  The good news is that work is still in the bank, and I'm enjoying the deposits now.  I'm happy to say I'm healthy, fit, and eager to race in 2014.  I just got back from San Diego last week.  I spent a week there with my coach to really get in some good bike mileage, as the weather here in Tulsa has not been conducive to Ironman base mileage.  In years past I would have never left the kids and gone to do something like this.  I think the biggest reason why is because I felt guilty doing it.  In 2014 I'm trying to change my attitude on how I approach being a pro triathlete.  #1.  Stop apologizing to everyone about it.  This is my job.  Some people go and sit at a desk.  I get to ride my bike.  Yes, it's not traditional.  Yes, I love it.  So why do I constantly feel the need to say sorry to everyone about it?  I have had a lot of soul searching the last year.  I'm 35 years old.  I'm not going to do this forever.  My coach and my mom brought something to light that I never even thought of.  They both (separately) told me that I'm not scared of failure--that is quite evident because I'm always willing to put myself out there and knowingly get a good ass kicking.  But the problem is I seem to be scared of success.  At first hearing this I rolled my eyes, "Whatever, don't get all philosophical on me!  Plus, I've had some success, so I'm obviously not scared of it."  No, no, no, no..... I began to really think about what they were saying.  What is it that holds me back?  I think the biggest is guilt--guilt of leaving my kids for a week to train.  Guilt that this sport is selfish.  Guilt of going to races and the kids are back home.  Guilt that sometimes I'm so tired I don't want to push them on the swing, I just want to sit there and watch at the playground.  Am I scared of success because I fear that means I'm not a good mother or a good partner?  Would I judge another pro triathlete mom or dad for going to race or train in order to put food on the table for their kids?  Absolutely not.  And then I take another step back and wonder why am I so hard on myself?  When did I adopt these attitudes and why?  I have some ideas and I'm just starting to scratch the surface.  It's required me to ask some tough questions and face some hard issues.  But in doing so I'm getting more clarity and connecting the dots in a lot of ways.  I'm learning to be kinder to myself.  I finally feel like I'm getting "it" and as that happens everything seems to be coming together as far as training and finding peace.  That's a good feeling to have.

                               Yes, we are a little weird...but a lot of fun!

This leads me to the next major change in my life.  Recently a classmate from West Point wrote me.  He's running for Congress and asked for a financial contribution for his campaign.  I told him as a single mother and an ex-husband in medical school I wasn't in a position to contribute financially, but I would certainly help in a different way if he needed it.  He responded with something like, "You're divorced???  I'm really surprised and sorry!!!" It kind of took my off guard.  I feel like I'm very open, or at least I am in person so I just assumed everyone knew.  Perhaps I'm not as open as I thought via my blog or Facebook or Twitter.  Yes, I am not married.  And despite all the recommendations of not jumping into a new relationship, I did and I jumped head first.  And now I understand why this is not recommended!  So, my major change is that for the first time in many many years I am completely single.  And you might be wondering how that is going.  Or you might not, but I'm going to tell you anyway :)  Okay, get ready for it because I'm going to do that thing where I tie it into triathlon...When I did Ironman Arizona last year, I told my crew that the hardest and scariest part was the unknown.  Standing in the starting area, in the dark, alone, hoping that you're prepared but also knowing things can go wrong or south quickly.  But on the other hand, you can have the race of your life and get it right and how amazing is that?!  But for me, this is the hardest part.  Just not knowing.  But pretty soon the cannon goes off and your race starts to unfold.  And you focus on controlling the controllables...and you let go of the things out of your control.  As triathletes we are so OCD, it's hard to let things be that are out of our control--both in races in life.  But doing so is necessary in order for things to unfold, because they are going unfold no matter what, so what does worrying or beating yourself up solve?  Absolutely nothing.  When I race, I'm very good at focusing on me, and me alone.  How do I set myself up to have the best race possible?  I don't care what x, y, and z are doing.  They don't effect my outcome.  And this is certainly true in life as well.  My focus is on me, making myself whole, making myself the best version of myself I can be.  I'm finding happiness outside of a person.  Because the fact is if you are looking at one another to make the other happy, you're already playing a loser's hand.  And so far, as my "race" unfolds I'm just really proud of myself.  I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and tell you life is just hunky dory all the time, or that I don't have sad and lonely moments.  But those moments seem to be with less frequency, and it does get easier.  And I have so much more time and energy to "control the controllables."  The biggest?  Being the best mom I can be.  Being present and happy with them.  Making sure they know they are loved and my inspiration for just about everything I do.  The next is focusing on the process of being a pro triathlete.  This isn't just training.  It's also sleeping, eating, recovery, and the biggest is changing the inner-dialogue in my head.  I don't have room for negativity of any kind, and I will not let it invade my head space.  Am I 100% perfect at this?  No.  But I'm sure a heck of a lot better than I was!  I control what goes on between my ears.  I control my attitude and my outlook.  Next, becoming more involved with Team Red, White and Blue (RWB) has given me so much joy and inspiration.  I am so incredibly proud to say that I (along with good friend Christi) got the Tulsa chapter started and I'm simply humbled by the response.  This is a cause I believe in with such passion and sincerity.  I can't begin to thank my community for continuing to get the word out and support by rocking the eagle.  "Its Our Turn!!"  Lastly, strengthening my relationships with family and friends has been some of the most gratifying experiences of all this.  It's amazing the support that comes out during tough times.  They remind me that I'm stronger than I think, more resilient than ever, and when I come out of the other side I'll be a better person for having experienced it. 

            From a photo shoot with my amazing sponsor PowerPlay.  I call this one "letting go."  :)

When you finish a race and it's not the outcome you were hoping for, it's easy to beat yourself up and be disappointed and even angry.  It's easy to take it personally and to label yourself a "failure."  But if you've ever read a race report of mine, you'll know that's just not my style.  I always look for the things I did right, I acknowledge what I can and will do better next time.  These are the lessons learned for a better race next time.  I always hold my chin up because at least I had the courage to get out there and try, no matter what the outcome is.  I choose to take away the good, learn from the not so good, and let the rest go and carry on.  And I have a deep faith life will turn out as it should.

                       One more from photo shoot.  Ready for 2014....



Monday, February 17, 2014

Making Enemy Contact with a Little Bedazzle

Lately I've had a lot of time to think. Yes, it's true I actually think. I generally like my eyes focused on the present, and the best way to set myself up for a successful future. And like any human, I can lose sight or falter or just kick myself in the butt and wonder, "What the heck was I thinking?" But such is life, learning and growing, and all that jazz. I sometimes do have to remind myself to take a look back, not only to see how far I've come, but also some of the incredible experiences I've been through. And some of those experiences are not ones that I would repeat, but definitely made me a better and stronger person for doing them. My mind of late drifts back to 10 years ago. I often feel like my life is ruled by 2 six year olds, who are naturally demanding just based on their age. I laugh to myself thinking about what I used to be in charge of; the responsibility that I was given. My kids will never know that girl, and I can't help but smile and think, "They have no idea who they are dealing with." But then I have to remind myself that when I feel down or defeated, I'm still that girl and don't believe for a second otherwise. And instantly my shoulders go back, I raise my chin a little higher. Looking to the past isn't always such a bad thing.


So ten years ago I was in Camp Victory Base South, Baghdad, Iraq. We were the first unit in for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. Initially we all thought OIF would be like Desert Storm...go in, bomb the place and get out. It wasn't until my unit got deployment orders did it hit us that we would be a sustaining force in Iraq. I remember going to sleep at night in denial that I would actually deploy. And in the morning I would wake and feel nothing but dread. This lasted for months until the day I woke up on New Years Day 2004 and met up with 3 other guys from my unit to be the first ones to take off. We were the advanced party and tasked to set up on the receiving end for the rest of the 300+ soldiers that would arrive in the next 2-3 weeks. I'm not going to lie to you. It sucked. We flew commercial without our unit through London and then to Kuwait. In the Army everything is structured and a lot of times you just feel like you show up and execute. Suddenly I realized when we showed up in this foreign country how truly chaotic it was. We were literally the first unit to reinforce after the initial invasion. We were starting from the ground up, something pretty incredible when you think about it. We immediately got to work in Kuwait to set up training for the road march into Baghdad. And let me tell you, it was a total cluster. We had vehicles that looked like they came straight out of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Just getting to Camp Udari, Kuwait our convoy got lost and we ended up at the Iraq/Kuwait border. We spent the next few weeks practicing convoys, firing out of our vehicles, drilling our soldiers how to react to contact, what to do when there is a casualty. We also spent a great deal of time recognizing Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs) or road side bombs. It is very surreal going to each chalk of the convoy and making sure they have a body bag. My initial job title was S2, but I worked closely with the S3 (operations). Since I had just come from Company Executive Officer (XO), I knew every vehicle and every soldier. As the S2, I had to gather intel each day and give reports. This included everything from most common time of enemy attacks, best avenues of approach into Baghdad, weather, when the moon rises and shines, etc. We were in the wet season in Kuwait (yes it does rain quite a bit in the desert) and it was so miserable we were all anxious to get to Baghdad. The actual road march is deserving of a post of itself, but it will go down as probably the most intense situation I've ever been in.


I've completely digressed from what I originally created this post for. I think the key to getting through these situations is a sense of humor. I can choose to remember the anxiety, dread, uncertainty...but I choose to remember the laughter we shared at the whole absurdity of it all. My roommate Liz and I had been one year apart at West Point. She and I had been in the same unit for several years. She had just returned from Afghanistan and went ahead and redeployed with our unit shortly after. We immediately clicked from the first time we started working together. She was witty, a great officer, smart. We both came from big families and had older siblings that went to West Point. After a long hard day, we would come back to our room and just laugh. I thank God Liz was my roommate for a short time. Her fiancĂ© Jim was Special Forces and in the Green Zone. Occasionally he would make it to our base camp and spend the night in our room. Jim and Liz were not little people, and I remember them snuggled on that tiny twin bed and thinking, "Wow that must be true love because it sure looks really uncomfortable." One night we took fire on our Life Support Area (LSA) which is where we slept at night. There is nothing like waking up to bullets being fired at you. We had no idea what was going on. We immediately hit the ground and waited for the fire to stop. Initially we thought some insurgents had breached our base camp and attacked us, but that also seemed to be nearly impossible. It was total confusion, we just knew we were taking fire. In any event, after we hit the ground and the bullets stopped, Jim asked us if we were okay. Then he whispered, "You guys stay here, I'm going to go check things out." Like I mentioned, Jim was a big Special Forces guy. He stood up, put on his gear, grabbed his rifle, and then said, "Liz, give me your slippers." Instead of putting his combat boots on, he decided to put on Liz' sparkly shower flip flops to go check out what we thought was enemy infiltration. He slipped out of the room into the dark of night without making a sound. Meanwhile Liz and I lay silently on the ground, reaching for our 9mm pistols and throwing our body armor on over our bodies. We both had adrenaline pumping and we were both thinking, "Are we really about to get in a fire fight?" And we were both ready. Several minutes go by and I break the silence.
 
Me "Liz?"
Liz "Yeah."
Me "What the fuck?"
Liz "I know."
Me "Did we really go to West Point for this?"
Liz "No kidding.

silence

Me "Liz?"
Liz "Yeah."
Me "Did Jim just really put on your sparkly shower flip flops to go make enemy contact?"
Liz "Yeah.".......laughter, more laughter all while trying to be completely silent.


Liz and Jim were to be married in May of 2004.  Instead they were deployed, but went ahead and got married in Baghdad....

We later found out a solider from another unit got a Dear John letter, stole a vehicle and decided to open fire on us. Nothing like almost being taken out by friendly fire...

If given the choice to cry or laugh, I choose to laugh.  And let me tell you, it's a choice.  I'm not saying it's not okay to be sad or mad or just plain angry.  Recognize it, don't wallow in it, look for the good parts, smile and laugh at those parts, and move forward.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Life Lessons From Little People

Days go by and I can’t seem to find the inspiration to write about anything remotely interesting. My days tend to blend together and while I personally thrive on routine, I realize that it can seem mundane, especially to the average reader. But then there are times that as soon as an idea pops in my head I literally have to race to a computer to make sure I document it before it’s lost. I am having one of those moments right this very second.
I just returned from my kid’s talent show audition. This was a last minute decision to try-out, and I was a tad skeptical that they would actually follow through. It all started yesterday while Gwyn was on a play date with one of her best pals Lucy. They decided to choreograph a dance routine to Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” They practiced on their own last night, but I just figured when it came time to actually try out, one or both would flake out. I met them for lunch beforehand and they were chomping at the bit to go. And I was even more surprised when Gwyn’s twin brother Rowan told me is now part of the act as a backup dancer (ummm hopefully not the next Kevin Federline) and part of the “big move” at the end. I smiled and thought this would be cute, and of course interesting. We got to the gym and I played the song on my phone while they rehearsed. It was a little rough around the edges, but what else can you expect from a bunch of 6 year olds? They finally were called on stage. All three were blushing, and incredibly embarrassed. I still thought one might decide to take off, which would probably give the others an excuse to bail. But they kept looking at me for reassurance and I gave them my signature “thumbs up” and wink, which they always respond with a wink back and I knew they were going to follow through.
The song started and they began their routine. And the next thing I realize is that I’m getting choked up. And let me tell you, it’s not because of their incredible moves! One word came to mind. Vulnerable. Right about then I realized I was learning a life lesson from these little ones. Vulnerability. It’s a scary thing, let’s get real. Kids are a clean slate. They probably haven't gone through heartache or extreme disappointment. And because of this they are so open to new experiences, and chances are they dive right in, without fear or trepidation. As adults, it seems like often we are willing to pass through life and not make ourselves completely vulnerable—to goals, jobs, relationships, friends, family, etc. We protect ourselves for various reasons, usually for fear of failure or fear of getting hurt, because we've been hurt or failed in the past. These kids put their fears to the side and did it anyways. And at the end, when they were accepted into the show, you could see them beaming with pride and excitement. Let’s be honest, it’s not always going to work out the way we want. Often we will fail and we will hurt. But there is something remarkable in knowing this and still making yourself completely vulnerable, to know you still put it all on the line and able to go there. That in itself is something to beam with pride. And when you finally do hit it right...it's nothing short of magical. If everything was a guarantee in life, where would be the fulfillment in that?
So in the end, thank you to Rowan, Gwynnie and Lucy for reminding me that there is never any shame in making yourself completely vulnerable, because in the end that’s how we get to the good stuff in life. And I can’t wait to see the final performance next week!

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Greatest Sports Moment Ever

I am admittedly a sports fanatic. True, I tend to lean towards the sports geared towards my world—swim, bike, and run. But I can’t help but love a good sporting event. Who can ever forget during the 1999 World Cup Final when Brandi Chastain ripped off her shirt after scoring the winning goal against China? And even more what impact that had on women’s soccer and women’s athletics in general after that moment? Or how about when the very amateur United States hockey team defeated the heavily favorite Soviet Union to claim the gold in the 1980 Olympics? Sports have the ability to move us, inspire us, to change us, to take hold and make us realize that anything is possible. They give us hope, not just in sports but to what we can apply to everyday life. I grew up idolizing Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph, and Babe Didrikson. I was convinced that my parents named me after Jesse Owens. I would run to and from Condit Elementary, hurdling over bushes pretending I was Babe as a child getting ready for the Olympics. I was drawn to them not because of what they did in sports, but of the obstacles they overcame to excel. Sometimes I wonder if I was just a really weird kid. While everyone seemed to be in love with Corey Haim, I was researching my latest sports hero.
When I swim my mind wonders. Well, when I’m not killing myself in my main set where all I’m focused on is making the interval, my mind wonders. The other day I was thinking about what was the greatest sports moment I ever witnessed. I thought about all the Olympic swimming events…seeing Michael Phelps win despite his goggles filling up with water. Or in middle school when our 4 x 400 ended up coming from behind and winning the big grand finale City Meet. Or watching Macca win his Ironman World Championship against Andres Raelert. There are so many I can’t even begin to list them. And then I thought about how I would define what the greatest moment was. Was it the biggest in impact on triathlon? Or was it in sports or better yet society in general? My mind kept wondering back to this one moment, this one moment back in 2003. You see, this sports moment was not witnessed by many. In fact, I don’t think many saw it at all. But yet in all of my years of fanatic sports watching this one moment just keeps coming back to me. And every time I think of it--it moves me. My goggles fill up with tears and I just can’t get it out of my head…and I swim harder and banish any negative thoughts in my mind. It was the greatest sports moment I ever witnessed, and I might be one of a few people that even witnessed it.
In 2003 I was a First Lieutenant stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. The war in Iraq had just kicked off, and I knew it was just a matter of time before my unit would be called to reinforce. I wanted to make my triathlon count, because I didn’t know the next time it would…if ever. Back then there were no 70.3s. You either did Olympic Distance or Ironman. Having a heavy work schedule I chose the Olympic route. Back then the big races were Age Group Nationals, Age Group Worlds, and a few long standing races that had been around for years. One in particular was St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg, Florida. This race was and still is held in April, and at the time it was also a stop For the Elite World Cup race. What I am getting at is that this race was kind of a big deal at the time. It was an early tester of who is fit and who to look out for throughout the year. I did the race every year since 2001, and with deployment just around the corner I knew I wanted to nail it in 2003 because I didn’t know when I would be back. The race included an “Elite Amateur” wave. This meant that no matter your age, you could race in the first wave so that it was a true race for the top amateur. I thought we were going to be the first wave but that morning I realized that they would send off the disabled athletes first. I remember thinking something along the lines of, “I hope I don’t run over them in the swim,” and really that’s about as much thought that went into it. As I was doing my pre-race warm-up and rituals, I began to head down to the start line, a beach start in which we would run into the water. I saw a girl, around my age (24 at the time), also heading to the start. She was preparing to start right before me in the disabled wave. As she walked, her body almost seemed to resemble a “Z” shape. Her shoulders pointed one way, her hips another, and her legs buckled underneath her. She used no crutches or stabilizer and I remember thinking, “Oh, she must have cerebral palsy,” and again that was about it. Yes, I was pretty much focused on my race and my race alone.
My race took off and I had a great swim and came out of the water a few places back on the lead. Once on the bike I put the hammer down and took over the lead. This was quite exhilarating and equally scary. I was leading St. Anthony’s Triathlon, a race of over 3000 participants. I was winning, what was I doing, is this really happening…yaddy yaddy yaddy. I got to Transition 2 and my Dad yelled something and I think we were all in a mixture of shock and excitement. I took off running…and I was passed in the last few miles and ended up 2nd at this prestigious event. I was happy, but also disappointed because I realized the reason I didn’t win is because I didn’t believe that I could or should win. We went back to the hotel and I showered. I was able to retrieve my bike, break it down and pack it for the flight later that evening. I went back to the race site and visited with fellow competitors. I remember they had a good spread of food and we at lunch and just sat around waiting for the awards ceremony. I sat there, kind of feeling sorry for myself that the victory was just within my reach and I just gave it up. I went through “the pass” over and over in my head. Behind me volunteers began to strip down the race site and the bleachers for the thousands of spectators that come to watch. It was pretty much dead compared to the early hustle and bustle as awards were done and people were just sitting around.
Suddenly a movement caught my eye. At first I thought it was someone running across the course. Then I realized that it was actually someone still on the course, moving very slowly and what seemed to be a very disjointed running gait. And then it hit me—it was the girl I saw at the race start literally hours before, the girl from the first wave. Her knees buckled together and to the right side of her body, while her hips clearly pointed the other way. I remember thinking, “How can this girl even run?” it seemed so off center and painful. I don’t know why but she just drew me in. I stood up and rushed to the finish shoot, which was nearly all the way torn down at this point. I could see her coming towards the finish. Her body askew, but she was still moving, with a confidence on her face that looked like “yeah, I got this” even if it is slower than everyone else there. Something came over me and I just started cheering, and loudly, going crazy for this girl as she made her way to the finish. A few other people took notice, mainly because of my loud commotion, and stopped and clapped and cheered. Her face, there was something about her face…fierce determination, a spirit that I cannot capture in words. It was the face of someone unwilling to quit, of someone unwilling to take pity, of someone that believed in herself despite many people probably not believing in her. At that moment I witnessed the heart and courage of a lion. At that moment I witnessed the greatest sporting moment. Life has a way of throwing you curve balls. Sometimes I can be guilty of feeling sorry for myself. And then I think about Jesse Owens and Wilma Rudolph…or the girl at the St. Anthony’s triathlon in 2003. They didn’t make excuses for themselves and neither will I. I have an unrelenting will to make this life count. And while triathlon is such a big part of my life, it’s more than the actual competitions that mold me into who I want to be. Yes, it truly is the journey not the destination. Sports teach us to not make excuses, have faith and courage, and to never ever give up. And where that lands us who really cares, just as long as we believe in ourselves to make the first step.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ironman Arizona!!

A week has passed from Ironman Arizona and while I would like to say I've been very busy thus delaying my race report, the truth is I just haven't seemed to find the motivation to write about my experience. First off, I'm not disappointed in my race. I am so green to this distance and I learned so much, and I truly believe information is power. With that said, I am not remotely satisfied or content with my performance. I can do better and I will do better. I've been around this sport long enough to realize it takes time and patience and most of all consistency. Unfortunately I lacked all 3 of these disciplines this year. At the end of 2012 I developed severe knee pain, which ended up being a wicked case of IT Band syndrome. I began running very lightly at Team RWB camp in April, and rolled into Rev3 Knoxville concerned if I could complete a 10k. Once I was finally up and running healthy, it's been a race against the clock to get the training in necessary to be competitive at these races. By looking at my results this year, I fell a bit short sided in this regard. I guess this is why I'm not terribly disappointed with my result in Arizona, or Austin or Branson or Williamsburg for that matter. As my Dad says, "You pulled this season out of your ear." And I know better than anyone to be grateful just to be out there--even if it's a little longer than I'm used to or I would like :)
With that said I rolled into Arizona completely healthy and ready to race. In my mind I wanted to go faster than my Cedar Point time and hit the low 9s. I was quite naive in this regard. Let me explain...Cedar Point, dare I say, felt easy. I swam and rode by myself and proceeded to get off the bike and run my first marathon in a 3:08, and I felt amazing the whole day doing it. Wow, little did I know this is definitely not the norm! Also, it completely reinforces how important consistency is! While I didn't have any workouts that were just killer before Cedar Point, I had so much hay in the barn that even I didn't realize it...until that hay was gone and I spent the last 5 months trying to jam this hay back in!
Race morning went off without a hitch. I wasn't overly nervous, but more dreading the unknown. I hugged my pit crew goodbye and made my way to the start shoot, all before the sun was up. We jumped in the water and I ended up next to Amanda Stevens. I knew I'd have clean water next to me because she would drop me within 10 meters! And I thought since she is an Okie it would be good luck. The canon went off and we took off, I actually had an amazing start and could see three girls to my left swimming my speed. I merged with them and swam on their feet, and realized that the pace was actually a bit hard. I lost them for a bit but kept focused on my pace and a few minute later one came back to me. The problem was that we both had been popped off and completely spent. At the turn around I realized we were pulling a long train of girls. At this point I let off the gas and forced some others to come to the front. Of course this picked up the pace and a few more gals pushed to the front. In the end this can only help everyone--if we share the load. Sadly, I don't think the other 8+ girls share the same sentiments as me! Oh well, such is life.
I had a great transition and came out around 7th. Then something strange happen. You see, I consider myself a bike/run specialist. Usually once out of the water I don't "drop" down. Hmmm, not true here. While my Garmin somehow stopped working, I felt in control the first loop and tried to just go on perceived exertion. I passed a few girls and a few passed me. Then on the second loop on the "climb" to the turn around, I began to get passed by what felt like handfuls of pro women (including several I passed the first loop), and unfortunately stuck to the wheels of the faster age group men. I was so frustrated! I would back off and stay out of the zone, but then forced to pass them all back in a huge burst of power. Looking back, this was my pitfall. These spikes in my effort just weren't smart. They zapped my energy and zapped my legs. I finally just lost them all, probably because I wasn't glued to their wheel, and I just saw the distance grow each turn around.
I was absolutely thrilled to get off my bike. I knew I biked low 5hours. I also knew I was way down in place despite a solid ride. I started running and could see the damage from the bike was not good. I was looking at some insurmountable deficits. To top it off, while at Cedar Point I had to really hold back at 7min miles the first half of the marathon, in Arizona I struggled from mile 1 just to hold 8 minutes. I really thought there was absolutely no way I would finish. The last time I felt this terrible running was my very first half ironman when the twins were 18 months and my longest run was 75 min pushing a baby jogger!
So, this is where I was. Not competitive, dishearten, and feeling like my legs were glued to the sideway. I felt like I was disappointing my coach, my family, my friends...my kids. Then I thought what would be more disappointing...finishing in a mediocre place or not finishing at all because essentially my ego is bruised. At that point I had a little talk with myself and it went something like this, “Get over yourself. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and join with the other thousand participants in what is the spirit of Ironman.” It's not always about winning or a best time or finishing in the money. Sometimes it's the satisfaction of completing something you thought was impossible. That's how my marathon went. Get to the finish line and exalt in that. Each mile hurt. I got to the finish and some poor guy was leaning over sideways and falling over himself. The crowd was going crazy because for a few moments it looked like he would be in jeopardy of finishing. And I had the best seat in the house witnessing this feat of will. I passed him with about 10 meters to go, pausing for a second to see if he needed help. He was back on his feet, smiling realizing he was going to make it. I patted him on the back and went on through, and my immediate thoughts were not "Oh my goodness I did it!!" but rather "Oh no!! I hoped when I patted him I didn't knock him down!!" I looked back and he made it, and finally I allowed the emotions to settle that I had made-in what was the hardest physical event I ever endeavored in my 35 years. This has been a long and difficult year. While I think I have a pretty good amount of humility and humbleness, apparently I need some more! That’s fine with me because I truly believe in the end it makes you a better athlete and most of all a better person. I know my readers and friends probably get tired of me quoting this, but it is so fitting for this year. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. Winston Churchill And lastly it’s all about perspective… A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Winston Churchill
I have a long list of sponsors, family, and friends to thank. In the spirit of Thanksgiving I have to warn you, this will be long… I want to especially thank my parents and my coach, Kevin Purcell. They continue to mentor me through good and bad times, giving me far more than just sports. I am beyond lucky to have the support of the Tulsa community. This year would not be possible without Paula Marshall and Bama Companies. She is an amazing woman and has kept my dream of racing professionally alive. Also PowerPlay, also here in Tulsa, for support on and off the course. Kathy Hoover at Runner’s World Tulsa, I can’t thank you enough for getting and keeping me in the right shoes. Jim Richardson, my massage guru, for keeping my legs happy. Ryan Gabriel, my mechanic and friend, has spent countless hours on my bike, which is pretty disgusting most of the time! Robert Peace, Chuck Zoellner and Bill Clark spent their precious time giving me their medical wisdom to get me up and running again. Michelle Johnson, the trainer that kicks my butt weekly and has me cursing her in pain. First Endurance, Rudy Project, Race Quest Travel and Louis Garneau have the best products out there, thank you! Charlie and Rev3 for helping me get to Rev3 races this year. You guys are like family! Team RWB—I was proud to race in their kit. I can’t believe how this organization has grown! You’ve given me something bigger than myself to race for! Thank you! My training partners are more than that, I’m lucky to call them friends, especially Suzie and Kim. George V. at Jenks Aquatics continues to crack the whip on my swim. Denise, thank you for taking the trip to Arizona and helping with sherpa duties. My friends who have absolutely nothing to do with triathlon-thank you for giving me balance and continuing to help me out with the kids when I’m off to race! And despite no longer being married, I could not do this without Lucas. We both have difficult schedules and it wouldn’t be possible to train without his help and support. My family for always making me feel loved and supported. To the kiddos, Rowan, Gwyn and Jaxon, for always keeping me grounded and keeping it real. Lastly…to Ray for giving me a new outlook on life, dealing with me when I’m a complete pain stressing about training and racing and being my confidant about ALL things—you are amazing!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What A Pro Looks Like

When I first turned professional in triathlon in 2006, I had been accepted to the National Resident Team at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I was also still in the Army, but as a new member of a small unit called the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which was for soldiers who had Olympic potential. Prior to my admittance in these programs, I was a “full time” soldier stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. I held positions as Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, and Battalion Assistant S-3 (Operations). This included a 14 month deployment to Baghdad, Iraq from Jan 2004 to Feb 2005. From the time I graduated West Point in 2000, to when I actually turned pro; I had qualified for my pro card every year in-between. But I always held back from taking the leap because in my mind that wasn’t what a pro looked like—having a real job living in the middle of nowhere, Texas. My Army time didn’t afford a lot extra time to train, and most of my jobs required me to be on my feet long hours, often in the heat. But when you get right down to it, all of these reasons for not going pro are excuses. The truth is the real reason I never took the plunge was I was afraid to. Professional triathletes weren’t Army Officers working long hours at Fort Hood, Texas. They lived in Colorado Springs or Boulder or San Diego and had the best facilities at their fingertips and oodles of time at their disposal. How was I going to compete with that?
So it seemed like destiny when I was finally in Colorado Springs. This was the life as a pro triathlete I had always dreamed about. There were very little distractions there. Food was prepared every meal at the training center cafeteria. I was surrounded by Olympians, often in a zombie-like state from the intense training at 6000 feet, and the best facilities in the world. While I was still in the Army, my official job for the Army was to train. It was surreal. And also…mundane.
Towards the end of 2006 I discovered I was pregnant, with twins. Needless to say this was a shocker. With a lot of thought we decided to exit the Army and raise the twins as civilians. This also meant giving up our spots at the Training Center and WCAP. I wasn’t sure if I would race professionally again. My number one priority was raising the twins, but again in the back of my mind I thought pro triathletes weren’t moms, and certainly not to twins. Also, we found out we were moving to Tulsa, OK. What pro lives and trains in Tulsa? Again, it went against everything I thought a pro should look like. How would I ever make it? How could I compete since I know what the “real pros” do? Further, it didn’t help that I definitely had some naysayers when I learned about pregnancy. The hard truth is these programs let me go when I realized I was pregnant. And I took this to heart. I could never be any good because they didn’t believe in me enough to keep me around. It was a huge blow to my confidence and I struggled with it for years. Luckily I also had my supporters, my biggest being my family. And sometimes this came in the form of tough love. I remembered back when I was in Iraq and complaining about how terrible it was, and how if I made it back I’d be too out of shape to ever be a pro, my brother Jeremy wrote me something that slapped me in the face and I have carried ever since. He said, “Jessica, it’s too early to throw a pity party.” He was right. And he still is. Yes, I don’t have 6000 feet of altitude, or the world’s best facilities, or someone cooking me every meal, or the latest USA gear. But you know what I do have? Hard work, resilience, humility, tenacity and good old fashioned hard headedness. Yes, in 2007 I was 30lbs heavier, had little sleep and was pretty much in the worst shape I had ever been in in my life. But I had the biggest tool any athlete has in their arsenal of weapons, belief in myself. No pity party here!
This past week I just returned from Kona to watch the Ironman World Champs. I have come so far since 2007. I would have been intimidated by the other pro women, or more so by their situation versus mine. Perhaps with my age comes a little (oh so little) wisdom. It doesn’t matter where you are, it matters who you are. That’s what a pro looks like. The ability to take a good or bad situation and to grow. Today I believe I have the best training partners in the world…for me. And I believe I have the best roads to ride on…for me. I probably measure success completely differently than most pros. I have been injured this year, and I returned to a 4th place finish in a tough field last month in Rev3 (half iron distance) Branson. I’ve won on this course. And I believe I can again one day. But the best part of that trip was having my son, who is struggling with reading, make a huge breakthrough in his progression. My life as a pro does look completely different than what I thought it would. But what I have found is this is what works…for me! At whatever level you are in triathlon, or any sport for that matter, don’t put yourself in a box. Seek other opportunities when it feels like doors have been shut in your face. The fact is with the right attitude and a little faith, you’ll land right where you are supposed to be.