Ray Charles & Santa Cruz 70.3

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“Learning to read music in braille and play by ear helped me develop a damn good memory.” -Ray Charles

I admire Ray Charles as a man who chose to make the most of the hand of cards he was dealt. Growing up in an impoverished family, Charles contracted glaucoma which (untreated) left him blind at age 7. He witnessed the drowning death of his younger brother (prior to losing his sight) and lost his mother when he was just 15. A student of music at a state school for deaf and blind children, he grew up to become a legendary singer, songwriter, and composer. He is considered one of the pioneers of soul music.

While most of us will never know the same roadblocks which Ray faced in his life, I think that we can all learn from the way in which he chose to interpret obstacles–whether our obstacles are seemingly insignificant (e.g. “first world problems”, inconveniences, etc) or insurmountable (e.g. grief, loss, addiction, illness, etc). Ray Charles did not see obstacles (pun intended); he saw opportunities.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on this concept with regards to racing. In close proximity to race day, athletes tend to be extra aware of things–obstacles– that may hinder performance. When in this “high alert” mode, it is easy to allow a less-than-ideal situation or “sign” trip you up and cause you to doubt or descend into a spiral of negativity. This might include thoughts like “I didn’t have time to go to the grocery store to buy a banana for before the race. I always eat a banana pre-race, so now I can’t possibly race well!” or “I have been feeling really stiff and tired this week. I think I’m out of shape. This is going to be a bad race!”…

Something that has been helpful for me is to only look at the positive “signs”. I either ignore the negative ones (i.e. obstacles) entirely, or else turn them into something positive/helpful (i.e. opportunities). When race day is in sight, I have a very selective tunnel of vision/hearing/thinking. I filter out any little bugs that may pollute my positivity. If it appears that it might help me, I keep it. If it appears that it might not, I reconfigure it or toss it out. For example, if I find a heads-up penny on my run, I pick it up for “good luck”. If I find a heads-down nickel on my run, I decide that nickels are the new penny and heads-down is the new heads-up! When things are going as planned, I think “this is just what I need to have a great race!” If everything is going wrong, I think “I train when things are not ideal, so I can race when things are not ideal. Imperfect conditions are to my advantage.”

This filter is extremely biased towards positivity. Regardless of the situation, it works in my favor. I’ve found that this is the best approach to fend off doubt and fear heading into a race. Recently, at Santa Cruz 70.3, the swim course was cut very short and our start was delayed by about an hour due to heavy fog. I had already eaten my pre-race snack and consumed my electrolytes. I had timed it “perfectly” so that I would be well topped-off and hydrated for the race. Then, we were delayed and my snack/drink plan was derailed. I also felt well-prepared for the full swim distance and knew that it would probably be my strength of the 3 disciplines. While the negative thoughts tried to pry their way in, I chose to think “I will be fine. I am used to performing in imperfect situations. Everyone is in the same boat. I will give my best and see what happens.” Additionally, when I was on the bike  course being passed by every single woman in my division, I was tempted to panic and go harder than planned, but I chose to stay within my power range, thinking “It’s okay. Let them go. I will race my own race.” Then, I was able to feel strong on the run and gain back some lost ground–I even ran my half marathon PR. Not that the race was perfectly executed, but I’m improving!

Thanks, Dean, for finding this pic of me at the Santa Cruz 70.3 finish!

Continuing with the Ray Charles theme, I recently dug up some wise words of his:

“The notes are right underneath your fingers. All you gotta do is take the time to find the right note. That’s what life is, we all got notes underneath our fingers and we gotta take the time to find the right notes, to come up with our own music.”

Triathlon/sport is one of the things in my life that music was in Ray’s. I want to keep learning and improving– searching for the right notes. I want to find the notes to the song that God has put inside me. I want to express it fully and beautifully.

Update and Reflections

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Hey there!

Here are some updates from the last couple of months– race reflections and general observations.

So, Brice and I took a trip to Ottawa, Canada in June. The people we met there made our trip one of our favorites yet (and we have taken quite a few in our 3 years as a married couple). We were picked up from the airport by Jamie (the best volunteer ever), stayed with the most kind and generous host family, and even got invited into our host’s in-laws home for snacks and coffees (and a post-race shower…fyew). Our new friend Jamie loaned Brice a bike a to use for our stay, so we were able to use cycling as our main mode of transportation for exploring the city. The roads and paths were very bike-friendly!

During our 4 days in Ottawa, I got to compete in two draft-legal triathlons. It is always a plus when I get multiple race experiences in one trip, because all this travelling and time off can be costly. The first race was a “super sprint” semifinal, which took about 20 minutes to complete–three sports and two transitions in 20 minutes! This meant that the intensity was about as high as it gets in triathlon. It was painful. I got off to a great start, finishing the swim just at the leader’s feet, hung on to the back of the front bike pack (dreadfully fast ladies in my heat), and then ran as fast as my legs would go to cross the line 7th and qualify for the A Final the following day. It was a great opportunity for me to be in the A Final so that I could test myself in a strong field

Day 1 Swim Start

Day 1 Swim Exit

Day 1 Bike Finish

 Exploring Ottawa Post-Race

Checking out the locks

 

When we arrived at the race site for the final the following afternoon, it was warm and very humid. My pre-race anxiety began to get the better of me and I suddenly thought something that I sometimes think–even though I don’t want to think it–before races: “I don’t want to do this.” I had no motivation. But, I chose to do what I do often in training: kick in the autopilot and just “get on with it”. There are so many people on my team to whom I owe my best effort.

When the race starts, many of the jitters float away and I am left with the sound of my own breath, of water through my swim cap, and the sight of arms flailing, feet kicking, bodies splashing all around. The swim started out great, and I was near the front for a while. Shortly before the first turn buoy, I had a familiar feeling of doubt. Instead of being proactive and confidently swimming ahead, I started worrying about people catching me. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I quickly found myself near the back of the large pack, where I stayed for the remainder of the swim. Once you are toward the back, it is so much harder (it feels impossible) to overtake other swimmers and gain position again. It’s much easier to find a place at the front and stay there (as I had the day before). Exiting the water at the back of my swim pack, I struggled to catch the group ahead of me on the bike. I eventually joined a group with some riders behind me and stayed with them for the rest of the 20km. I was glad to be in a group, especially because it was blustery in some areas. I felt like I actually contributed to our group on the bike, which was a victory for me. On the run, I was able to find my pace and stick with it. I passed a few girls who seemed to have outdone themselves in the heat, and finished “in the mix”–another big victory.

 Day 2 (Final) Swim Start. Thanks to swim coaches Coach Mary and Steve for making me an “aggressive starter”

Day 2 Bike Course Turnaround- U-Turn into a big uphill. Ouch.

 Day 2 Run- Photo Credit: Stephen Maunder


After the race,
Brice and I got to have Father’s Day dinner and gelato with our host family before heading home early the next morning. We made lots of good memories in Ottawa, and we hope to visit again sometime.

Next up was Des Moines, Iowa. The first and most important thing that happened was that we located a Trader Joe’s and R.E.I. very close to our hotel. Double Win! We ended up making several trips to the R.E.I. for some supplies and mechanical help with my bike :\

Once again, it was warm and humid out. The water was also warmer than it had been in Ottawa. One of my pet peeves is swimming in warm water. I am one of those people who ask the pool maintenance folks to please turn off the heaters! But, sometimes I have to suck it up. As the noon start time approached, I could feel the adrenaline building and calming myself down became my main objective. I got in the water for a “warm up” swim but found myself doing a lot of recovery stroke on my back because I needed to calm down and breathe. I trusted that my body would know what to do when the gun went off. I envisioned a happy dog running into the water and embraced the SwimRun rule of “dogging in”.

Thanks to USA Triathlon for the photo!

To my surprise, the heartbeat sound which is used in World Triathlon Series events was played prior to our start. Just in case I wasn’t anxious enough. At the sound of the gun, my body knew what to do. Thanks, body! I ran like an excited dog into the water and found myself at the front of the group going stroke to stroke with the eventual leader out of the water.

It was going great…until it wasn’t. Halfway through the swim, my fight or flight instinct ran out. I was now entering survival mode. I turned over onto my back a couple of times to catch my breath and as the majority of the field passed me I began to wonder whether I would be able to continue the race. I attempted to stand on the beach and wobbled my way up the sand, feeling like I had never stood on two feet before. I slowly regained composure as I made my way up the path to transition.

I was still a bit out-of-sorts in T-1, and threw my goggles on the ground. A  referee had to tell me twice to put my goggles in the bin (you get a penalty for leaving equipment outside your bin). I noticed that there were still a few others behind me and decided to take it easy until they caught me on the bike and then try to stay with them. I mounted my bike and pretty soon the girls behind me caught up. Around that time, I noticed that there were an awful lot of barriers and people wandering through the middle of the course, so I yelled at them to move! Then, I realized that we were no longer actually on the course. Thankfully, we found our way back after losing a couple of minutes to our detour. It wasn’t until later that night that I realized it was me who made the wrong turn and unfortunately for the ladies behind me, they followed me–so sorry!

The rest of the bike was okay. I began to feel strong again and was thankful to still be moving forward. Off the bike I locked into a comfortably hard pace and made it to the finish line in one piece, happy to be done but disappointed in my haphazard swim execution which had an unfortunate impact on the rest of my day.

That evening, Brice and I went out celebrate his birthday. He chose a zombie-themed burger and shake joint where we had a good time consuming large amounts of saturated fats and empty carbs.

The next few days were spent extracting some lessons from my less-than-ideal performance. I made a new friend on our flight who happened to be a psychotherapist. He helped me sort out my feelings about the race and even gave me some insight based on his own observations. He suggested that I might have placed a little too much weight on my performance, and on the triathlon part of my life in general. He mentioned a sort of “importance range” where our passions should be. A little too far to either side of that range, and we get off balance. We lose sight of who we really are and what our ultimate focus is. For me, that is being a child of God and following after Him wholeheartedly. My new friend and I shared this goal, and we talked at length about life– about how our passions, relationships, stuff, talents, etc can be such blessings* to ourselves and to others, but those same good things can become idols which distract and harm us. This conversation has stuck with me, and I have been asking myself more frequently what is really the greatest desire of my heart. Is it to be great at doing something (i.e. Triathlon)? To be liked by people? To be perceived as “good” or “nice” or “pretty” or “fit” or “strong” or “religious” or “successful” or “____”? If the answer is yes to one or more of these–which it often is–I need to redirect my gaze and put the “idol” in its rightful place: important, but not too important.

*About that word: blessing, I have been thinking about what it really means. It gets thrown around a lot lately, which is fine. But, I think we tend to look at a blessing as something like winning, or getting presents, or accomplishing a goal, or having things go our way, or not getting hurt, sick, etc…When I hear the word “blessing” it is a reminder to me that God can make everything work for our good, no matter how bad it seems (Rom. 8:28). He can make a blessing out of a curse (Deut. 23:5). So, whether I win or lose, it can be considered a “blessing” depending on how I look at it.

In other news: Brice and I gambled for the first time during our layover in Vegas. There goes $5 and all my race winnings (oh, wait…).

Up next for me: IRONMAN 70.3 Santa Cruz & Austin!

Food for thought: There will always be a reason why you can’t. There will probably be lots of them: You aren’t genetically gifted or talented. You don’t have money for fancy equipment. You have asthma. You have an abnormality that limits you. You started later in life. You aren’t strong enough. You have poor flexibility. You keep getting injured. You are busy. You are tired. Your friends don’t think you can…Instead of focusing on why you can’t, Find the reason(s) why you can. 

Meet the Athlete: Greg

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Remember when Rebecca graced your screen on the blog back in February? Well, today you get to read about her soon-to-be husband, Greg! Greg is a talented athlete and recent nursing school graduate who landed a job right out of school. Impressed yet? Read on…

Current place of residence: Ventura, CA
Hometown/place of birth: Oxnard, CA
Day job: Nurse
Dream job: Le Mans Prototype driver
Favorite sports or hobbies (besides triathlon): Outrigger paddling, surfing, and cooking.
Best triathlon race leg (swim, bike, run, T1, T2, beer garden): From best to worst… Swim, Bike, beer garden, T1, T2, then the run.
Dream race: Kona 70.3 or Molokai to Maui outrigger race.

Current triathlon goal: To survive and hopefully enjoy my first 70.3 in Tempe, Arizona later this year.
Why do you want to accomplish this? To challenge myself in a way that I never have.

When/how/why did you start triathlon/endurance sports? I’ve never been much of a runner. I’ve always preferred water sports over anything on land but when I moved to Riverside for college I tried to make the best of it. I met my now-fiancee Rebecca and followed her on the bike while she trained for multiple marathons and in doing so I grew to at least tolerate running. In 2014 one of my friends couldn’t attend her half marathon so she offered to transfer her entry to me. After barely finishing that race with 3 days notice, I signed up for my first triathlon in Ventura and got 2nd place! I was surprised to find that I loved the challenge of triathlon and stuck with it.
Favorite accomplishment in sport: Finishing my first Olympic distance triathlon in Malibu


Hardest race and/or workout you’ve ever completed: Paddling from Catalina to Newport Beach.
Most memorable training moment: Feeling like flying while in aero on a training ride along the Santa Ana River trail.

If you had to remove one leg of the triathlon and swap in a new sport, what would you subtract, and what would you add, and why? Probably outrigger paddling in place of running. Except the order would be swim, paddle, bike because I’ve always wanted to finish on the bike.

Best athletic encouragement you’ve ever been given? “I didn’t wake up this early for 2nd place” – My dad
Words of wisdom to someone considering training for their first triathlon: Don’t take it too seriously your first time out. I did, and contemplated selling my wetsuit and bike, until I realized I had gotten 2nd place in my first one.
Something you’ve learned about yourself through triathlon: I was raised with outrigger paddling, which is a very team-oriented sport, so through triathlon I’ve learned that I can rely on myself.
Who inspires you and why? Sebastian Kienle and Jan Frodeno because they’re absolute beasts on the bike and I hope to come close someday.

Race mantra: “I didn’t come this far to only come this far”
Pre-race ritual: Pretend like the race doesn’t bother me… then panic the morning of.
Pre-race pump up jams: I typically don’t listen to anything before a race, not even my gut telling me to go home.

What is the first thing and last thing you do each day? First: breakfast; Last: shower
Favorite type of running shoes:  I don’t think I’ve had anything other than Nike
Dream training camp location: Hawaii
Training tips: Bring extra tubes, because they may explode on you.
Racing pet peeve: Either punching/grabbing at the swim start or cutting me off on the bike.

What motivates you to keep training and competing? Getting fitter and faster. Plus the race atmosphere is really enjoyable.
What motivates you when it’s tough to start/complete a workout/race? Remembering that not everyone gets to do this.

What does “Fuel” mean to you? It’s what allows me to move forward. It powers my body, so I try to put in the best quality ‘Fuel’ that I can, with a couple of cheat days here and there.
Any favorite recipes to share? One of my favorite dips: Goat cheese, pesto, sundried tomato, and pecans. Goes great with pita bread.
What does being “Fit” mean to you? Not feeling winded after climbing three flights of stairs

Pick one:
Long swim, long ride or long run? Long ride
Open water or pool? Open water
Trail or track? Trail
Snot rocket, sleeve, or tissue? Depends on where. If on the bike, snot rocket. Just make sure no one is around you! That’s also one of my pet peeves…
Solo or group training? Everything is better in a group. I’m less likely to turn early.
Chocolate or cheese? Chocolate
Watch on your left wrist or right? Left
Morning or evening workout? Morning
Hat or visor? Hat
Swim cap or no cap? None
Cheerios or Wheaties? Wheaties
Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate? Tea
Crocs or Birkenstocks? Bare feet

Meet the Athlete: Emma

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About 3 years ago, I was introduced to Emma Huebner through her mother and sister. Little did I know that we would become such close friends and training partners. I enjoyed reviewing her interview responses (below), as there are always little tidbits that don’t come out in everyday conversation–even with the close friends that you seem to talk about everything with–like the little thoughts that go through our heads when things get tough, or the pet peeves we have on the race course. It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you this go-getter medical student-athlete-writer; yet another local “super woman”.

Current place of residence: Splitting time between Ventura, CA (home) and Omaha, NE (school)
Hometown/place of birth: I was born in Boulder, CO, but my family moved to Ventura when I was a baby.
Day job/occupation: Second year medical student at UNMC College of Medicine
Dream job: ER doc volunteering at Everest Base Camp Medical Clinic
Favorite sports or hobbies: Running, skiing, surfing, hiking, writing

Best event: Marathon
Favorite type of running shoes: Brooks Pure Cadence
Dream training camp location: Tahoe
Dream race: Any race with awesome views and some dirt

When/how/why did you start endurance sports? After being sidelined for multiple seasons of track and cross country due to stress fractures, I decided to try a different distance. Longer and slower turned out to be a much better fit for me.
Favorite accomplishment in sport: Beating my dad’s old “record” time running up Mount Sanitas in Boulder, CO [disclaimer: neither of us hold any actual records] Most memorable race moment: Finishing my first marathon and seeing my parents and sister waiting with open arms at the end. It takes a lot of love to hug someone who is that sweaty.
Hardest workout you’ve ever completed: A trail run I did in Aspen, CO last month. I inflicted the pain entirely on myself. The views were worth it though.

Current goals: Finish medical school in one piece and run some more marathons
Why do you want to accomplish these goals? As much as the nerd in me loves school, running is a much needed stress outlet. It is easier to squeeze miles into my daily schedule when I have a training goal, so my plan for next year is to sign up for a few races. Hopefully those goals will make my daily jaunts more motivating, especially during the cold winter months. As far as finishing medical school – I have wanted to be a doctor since age five, so it has been a long-time dream of mine, and I am finally making it happen! It isn’t easy, but blood and guts are fun. Patients are pretty fun too; it is humbling to learn how much each patient I encounter – whether they are 5 or 95 – can teach me about life in general. People are so smart.

Emma (far right) at the 2017 Clif Mountains 2 Beach Marathon, on her way to a 3:18 Marathon PR

Best athletic encouragement you’ve ever been given: 90% of your performance is psychological.
Words of wisdom to someone considering training for their first marathon: Long runs are the most important element of training for a marathon. No matter how “fit” you are, you have to train your body to withstand running for hours on end. Don’t run your long runs too fast! Save the speed for shorter runs and for race day itself.
Something you’ve learned about yourself through endurance sport: I can always go a little bit farther than I think I can.
Who inspires you and why? My friend Brittany. She is one of the most generous people I have ever met. She gives her all in racing, in training, and in day-to-day life with her friends and loved ones. She’s definitely a keeper.

Pre-race ritual or superstition: I haven’t nailed down the perfect routine yet. What I learned from my last race: don’t eat pesto the night before.
Pre-race pump up jams: I usually don’t like listening to music right before I race – I have enough adrenaline going as it is. I do remember Uptown Funk playing at the start of the San Francisco marathon last year though, and that was pretty fun.
Post-race treat: ICE CREAM

What is the first thing and last thing you do each day? First: drink a glass of water, then a cup of coffee. Last: get through a few pages of whatever book I am reading. Currently it is Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

Training/racing “secrets”/tips: Don’t rely on your watch too much. I try to do the majority of my runs watch-less. It is so much more enjoyable, and I find that it is easier to go the pace my body wants me to go that day.
Racing pet peeve: “Keep it up” is one of the worst things you can yell at a runner while they are racing. What, does it look like I’m just about to fall over and give up? I must say, though, I do appreciate the sentiment.
What motivates you to keep training and competing? That feeling when you are in peak shape and it feels like you are floating instead of running.
What motivates you when it’s tough to start/complete a workout/race? Usually I remind myself that no matter how painful it is, it is better than studying histology.
What does “Fuel” mean to you? Delicious food that powers my muscles to perform the way that I want them to. As a poor medical student, fuel also takes the form of any and all free food. I love free food.
Any favorite recipes to share? I just posted my favorite vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe on my blog – <https://emmahuebner.wixsite.com/emmaretigan/single-post/2017/06/20/Storied-Lives>
What does being “Fit” mean to you? Venturing outside and getting your blood pumping at least once a day, whether it is for 20 minutes or 2 hours.

Pick one:
Long swim or long run? Long run
Open water or pool? If the water is at least above 65°, open water. If not, pool. I am a wimp.
Trail or track? Trail
Snot rocket, sleeve, or tissue? Rocket
Solo or group training? Small group
Chocolate or cheese? Chocolate
Watch on your left wrist or right? Left
Morning or evening workout? Morning
Hat or visor? Hat
Swim cap or no cap? Cap
Cheerios or Wheaties? Cheerios
Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate? Coffee
Crocs or Birkenstocks? Birks for days

Any other fun facts about you? I have broken a total of 10 bones (not including toes). Klutz much?