With Ironman Chattanooga almost two weeks in my rear view, I hasten to document the experience of taking my body over 144.6 miles by water, by wheels, by feet.
I am starting with thank you:
God. For blessing me with a healthy, mobile body and a heart for endurance. For the beautiful planet we inhabit including the soil and mountains and water that reside in your gorgeous city of Chattanooga, TN.
Cameron. For asking your soldiers to change the world in a way that is changing us. For giving your SpeakUp race team purpose and push and hope. For your smile and hug that I miss so much.
My husband and children. For never complaining about the time Ironman training took away from you. For believing in me 100% of the time. For being proud of me when I couldn’t be.
My teammates. So much life lived together. So much more to go. For the symbiosis that became one body, one heart on that course. Same tears. Same smiles. Same pain. Same purpose.
My friends. You know who you are. You texted. You called. You posted. You sent your positive vibes. You donated. You stayed up late, very late waiting to see me finish. You told me you were proud of me. You made me feel special even when from the back of the pack, I couldn’t feel it so much.
Swim. With the aid of a downriver current. It was amazing. The usual slug fest from hundreds of arms slicing out a freestyle stroke to get to T1 had me sending light and love to the dude who slammed my head 4 times. GET IN YOUR LANE. Oh wait we were sharing one big lane. Best part was starting with my sister. Staying close until we knew we were each okay was a highlight. And guess what, once we told each other ‘I Love You, I’m okay.’ It was head down and GO. We still finished within a couple of seconds of each other. I’ll take her pace any day of the week. I’ll take her courage and heart and light. If only.
My baby sister… no words.
Bike. Beautiful hilly course with a ton of elevation change. I felt strong. I made some decisions that cost me some time but mostly I was prepared and confident. I still don’t know why Chattanooga requires 116 bikes miles instead of the usual IM 112. I need to work on nutrition but mostly I was glad it was done and felt lucid enough to smile as I started the gawd-awful run.
Run. After about 7/8 miles of relatively flat, there are 3 hills so steep they punch you in the chin. And you get to do it twice. At the half marathon mark, athletes have access to a ‘special needs’ bag which contains items to help you stay strong and motivated to keep (in my case) slogging it out. When I packed my special needs bag, I decided that Trident, bubble mint gum might be just the thing to motivate me to keep going. I love gum. In this case, gum doesn’t work. I was wrong.
About halfway, I experienced GI issues that NOTHING seemed to cure. After stopping 4 or 5 times to preserve the color of my shorts for the finish line pic (gross. Sorry for the non running readers. There is no dignity left.), I started to see that indeed I would make it.
Not before I enjoyed this script on auto pilot in my head:
Here I go again. I am so slow all my teammates have to wait a VERY long time for the likes of me to finish.
This is the stupidest thing I have ever done. Who do I think I am?
I did NOT want to go this mentally low since my Challenge Roth experience, and here I am, again.
My teammates and I went to ironman camp over the weekend. The pic below is proof we survived.
We are repping the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation through the SpeakUp Race Team, an organization dedicated to erasing negative stigmas associated with teenage anxiety and depression and to providing help and hope through education and positive activities at either Ironman Chattanooga or Ironman Louisville this fall.
Nestled in the hills near Charlottesville, Virginia is Wintergreen, a resort for Mid Atlantic skiers to whet their appetite for real western mountains and wintertime adventures. It is also Mt. Everest to me.
There are breweries, wineries, and spas galore. Do not be fooled by the fluffery and fun that can be had at this resort.
Last weekend was NO VACATION.
There are many details to share about how I worried an ulcer in my gut for the anticipation of the workouts (exaggeration) and how much I LOVE the people I am training with (not an exaggeration) and why I am on fire to complete this race (TRUTH). But I will spare you those.
This is a candid moment of the bike route description with Coach/Friend Parker Spencer (famous rising star in the triathlon world, good friend, good person, good-god-does-he-push-us guru of fitness)
Following are some highlights:
It’s the climb. I don’t know the grade or the elevation of the bike course but I will tell you I have never gasped for and choked on my breath AT THE SAME TIME. I have very generous thighs but my heart and lungs were being very stingy. This lasted a long while. Additionally, I have never considered pulling over on a downhill for sheer terror. Check. Considered but not done. White knuckle grip and positive self talk got me to flat land.
Profanity does help. I am not proud of it and it’s not pretty but I can tell you when Parker said we’d likely be cussing him during the second leg of the bike route he was right. I do not however, think he was prepared for the rotten filth that actually tumbled out. And I liked it. That is all. Suffice to say we had to explain to our English learning Spanish compatriot who joined us for the weekend what some of the phrases meant. He just turned 18. I said I wasn’t proud.
Sleep makes everything better. The bike experience was rough. We witnessed a cyclist, whom we did not know, being air lifted to help after he tumbled down a deep ravine at a sharp switchback. He survived but it was serious. After we settled down from that and had an appropriate fit, we relaxed, whined and wined a little and tried to get rest for day 2 of camp fun. And like the cussing, it worked. Parker prepared a perfect run course and provided feedback for all campers as he rode the loop on his mountain bike. We then received awesome swim feedback and performed drills to improve technique at the resort pool. We all then hopped in the hot tub to debrief with weekend and talk through our upcoming races.
Indoctrinated. You know you are cyclist if you belly laugh to this:
I have never been fast and I am okay with that. My best marathon time is 4:20.
In 2014 I added in swimming and biking and became an age-grouper triathlete with realistic expectations. I can hang on the slow side of the middle of the pack on a good day.
I do it for this:
And because she does:
And for her legacy:
I do this for fitness, to test myself, because I am fascinated by human endurance. Whatever the reason a person endeavors to travel 140.6 miles WITHOUT A MOTOR and IN ONE DAY, it’s a big F**king deal. I bet none of them expects to be last. DFL (dead f**king last)
I was. You can read about it here. The full truth. Full disclosure. 16:55:42. Barely BARELY Ironman cut off.
For the last 7 months (to the day TODAY!) I feel slight tug of embarrassment whenever anyone asks about my first full ironman distance tri.
I say things like:
‘It was something.’
‘I barely made it.’
I never say: ‘I was last.’ But I was. I came in just ahead of the sweeper who was tooling about on a basketed bike wearing a smile that seemed so out of reach for me.
But I found a smile:
I would come in last again for this. But I don’t want to. Not so much because I am embarrassed anymore but because I had to dig so deep for so many hours to make it.
I don’t want to have to go there for so long again.
So if you see me at Ironman Chattanooga in September, remind me I am one and done on being DFL.
2nd to DFL would be a PR.
I am working hard and plan to cut copious amounts of time from the race.
I will hug whomever is DFL. I know what it feels like.
On Sunday, my husband and I took my oldest to college. It hit me like a freight train.
I knew it was coming but didn’t anticipate the impact.
Deal with the ache of missing him daily around the house. (knew it)
Wish I could have stayed longer when we dropped him off. (normal, kinda)
Face the fact that much of my job with him is done. (endings, not doing well with this one)
I like beginnings much better. Until I went to Germanywith theSpeakUp Race Team, I had never been on a train. Because of the beer and comfy seats, I love this mode of travel.
Just yesterday I said good bye to Nick as he boarded the big yellow bus for the first time.
What feels like 2 seconds later, I did this:
Organized his dorm room and stood next to him for a big moment – The last hug before I was no longer his daily confidant, baseball sherpa, homework advisor, cook (sometimes) and nag (kinda, sometimes).
He is ready to fly and for that I couldn’t be more grateful for all his new beginnings. (And for the record, mine too)
He is prepared!
As we were loading the car I noticed one of his Thomas the Trains sitting in the box marked “desk”. I pointed it out to him as tears welled for a moment long gone:
Mom, you gotta bring Thomas. It’s good luck.
His childhood brings him strength and hope and luck for the hard work of new beginnings. That’s just what I needed to let him go and grow.
And to begin again in a life of change and adventure. How blessed am I for the chance.
I have a bevy of beautiful girlfriends; smart, adventurous, fun, accomplished, driven queens of their kingdom who inspire me everyday. Of particular note, is my friend Jen who could and probably has been mistaken for Kelly Lynch or Michelle Pfieffer.
Not Jen but could be.
I was super excited when KellyMichelleJen came to a few of my yoga classes earlier this summer.
Jen gave me a book she thought I would enjoy, she was super-sized right.
Here’s the obsession
I want to attain a level of fitness as I approach 50 that is currently stunted by the untrue mantra, ‘sucks getting old’.
No it doesn’t. It means you are here drawing new, never-been-done before inhales every single second. Makes me giddy to think of it and to read this book.
Webb argues that exercise can improve our bodies at any age, hailing it as the most powerful tool we have to forestall aging and prevent and even treat just about every chronic disease that exists today. “If we had a drug that did what exercise did, it would be the biggest revolution ever and would be promoted all over the world. And all you have to do is go out for a run.”
I am staring at 50 with rose-colored glasses and this affirms my passion for exercise. I am not going down as age creeps up, unless it’s opposite day.
This book is filled to the brim with research-backed expert, nutritional advice and preaches from the Bible of Yoga and Cross Training – my own personal fitness scripture. Among other, I-love-you athletes and experts in their field, Webb went to see the world’s oldest yogi to glean sage advice for living with vitality to old age.
Tao Porchon-Lynch who turns 98 tomorrow.
Like the author:
I want to enter the second half of my life in the best shape of my life.
And I will get older, faster and stronger – a nice side bonus will be more energy, better quality, good moods, and a leaner frame. Good Lord, now I can’t wait to be fifty.
I bet this book is pretty good too:
I never said I wouldn’t have fun along the way. Margarita’s, anyone?? (only with fresh organic lime and Patron, please)
With Challenge Roth 140.6 in my rearview mirror, I want the euphoric after-feeling to last forever. Alas, deadlines, family responsibilities and bills are taking up the vista on the view out the front.
But that’s may fault. It’s up to me to recall and imprint the lessons and successes and pure love of the day and to let the experience take root.
In the days following my return flight I did a 3-day juice cleanse, took 4 yoga classes in 5 days; 3 hot and 1 suspended, and found my way back to my strength trainer. I executed a days long festival; Jane-a-palooza, as a way to beg forgiveness for missing my daughter’s 13th birthday to chase my dream race Challenge Roth. I dug back in to personal and professional projects that I had placed on hold.
I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to have to climb up from a low so low during the run. Now the work begins to be the change that I felt after the race and to banish old beliefs about abilities, capabilities, and possibilities. While I am still recovering and discovering a new path since July 17 a couple of big things became apparent.
Revelation #1 – I do not need drugs to sleep
Dealing with chronic insomnia since my early 20’s, I was taking melatonin every night to help me sleep. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I don’t know if my body was jolted into making its own because of the physical demands of the race or if I have had spontaneous healing – either way I have been sleeping drug-free since July 13. Feels good.
Revelation #2 – I still like to run.
4 miles hot and humid. A herd of dragonflies levitated and danced about with synchronicity at mile 2. They are never far away. This is my favorite one.
Revelation #3 – Reconnecting is essential.
Training takes up so much time and energy, some areas of life don’t get the attention you want to give. Time with family and friends is sucked up in to bike wheels or pool lanes. Neglected people, projects, goals, and bucket lists items wait patiently for attention. I am here.
Warning: Long post, but 140.6 miles is a long way to go. Thanks for taking the time to read.
A long time coming with purpose that cannot be over played, Challenge Roth 2016 in Germany was an epic adventure. My first full-distance triathlon, my first trip to Europe, my first time turning 48. My first days after crossing the finish line are fresh with hope and intention and inspiration. I have almighty God, a mighty fight by my niece, and the magic blessing of love from my family and friends, teammates and strangers to thank for this life I now have after the race. This is one of those defining events that marks life before July 17, 2016 and after. I hope this happy hangover never goes away.
After a severe OWPA (Open Water Panic Attack) during the practice swim, I was filled with dread the nasty monster would again take up head space during the actual swim 2 days away. Because our teammate who triples as a nationally known coach, race director and endurance sports entrepreneur, got back in the water to talk us back from the OWPA ledge I started to believe I could keep my head clear of the water demons. So I did what most might. I had a beer for lunch.
My mantra that was engine for the swim was: All Good. No Doubt. Go. Go. Go. Compliments of my sister, Mary-Suzanne. It was the exorcism to the OWPA monster who rattled my front door during the race but never got in. Because I have poor sighting skills am an over-achiever I swam 2.8 miles instead of the required 2.4. Oh well. I was still (super) happy with my time.
The course was magical – through towns so picturesque and quaint, God owes me nothing for the dreams of Europe He planted in my head when I was a little girl. I had technical issues (lost chain at the bottom of a major hill which I cranked up with no momentum from a previous downhill, mistakes with water bottles, cages that didn’t hold and general nutrition probs. I have A LOT to learn here) that stole time but not enough to keep me from the cut-off.
The legendary Solar berg hill is as astonishing as Roth veterans testify. They say the energy from the crowd pulls you up that hill in Froome and Frodo fashion. I say I knew my quads had a ton to do with it but the push from the crowd who loves their country and their race kept the legs churning.
After 112 miles, and more hours than I expected, I happily turned my bike over to the volunteer to start the final leg of the race of my life so far.
During a pre race pep talk, my dear friend Beth Risdon shared that the key is to learn to ride the wave of the day. Don’t get to comfortable in the highs and know the lows will pass. You need to stay mentally strong and believing that things won’t necessarily get worse when you are struggling.
Because of a nagging foot injury I had a run/walk race strategy from the start. I felt pretty good and settled in to that for the first 4/5 miles. Slowly but surely I began to break down. My painful foot and GI issues plagued my run. As I passed the half marathon mark I knew I wouldn’t get pulled from the course but I also knew unless I picked up speed I may not make the Roth-specific 15 hr time requirement. Ironman time limit is 17 hours.
The Darkness and The Light
While on the last out and back at about mile 17/18 the sun began to set. As I entered a stretch of trail I took the head lamp and started to mentally and spiritually break down. I knew all of my team mates were finished or almost and realized there were absolutely no other runners near me. It occurred to me that the ones behind me were pulled perhaps at the half way mark and I started to believe they were the lucky ones. (I am not minimizing the terrible feeling of being pulled off a course that has your heart and soul all over it but whereas I was well into the run… 18/19 miles at this moment I still had a shit-ton to go)
I was alone in a foreign country with a very painful foot and stomach issues. Course support was just about nil. No water. No food. No cell phone. No light. No one.
I exited the woods about mile 20 still very much alone.
Keep moving forward. Keep moving forward.
I reached a stretch of soft pavement by a lovely during-the-day canal and saw blessed volunteers breaking down what would be the last opportunity for water or calories. I desperately needed both and knew my body would gobble them up faster than the finish line loomed.
Don’t stay in the lows. Don’t stay in the lows.
Grace is worried about me. What if my legs buckle and I can’t move? There is no food. There are no people. I have no cell phone. I still have 4/5 miles left. I am alone in a foreign country. No light. No food. No people. Depleted…. almost.
I toyed with shame an embarrassment. No one wants to be the sweeper or the last teammate. With the SpeakUp Race Team, I am in company with Kona kings, Could-be-pro’s, and born-to-swim-bike-run athletes with heart, moxie and staying power who eat pain to help others. I may not have speed but I refuse to be the weak link. I did not want to be pitied. Pride poked through my madness but quickly left when I needed to stay in the moment to make it. Pride took up precious space in my constitution until it left with this prayer. (remember I am still very much in the race. At this point it’s my race I am going for Ironman time.)
God, I know I am in your Grace. But I am afraid. Help me.
Within moments a gentlemen came behind me and asked in broken English if he could Finish This with me.
God, really? That was fast.
In true Cameron Gallagher fashion, I said to him: “Let’s Finish This.”
Jean-Marie is from France, a 3-time Challenge Roth Finisher with a number of impressive races under his belt. I am in very, very good company in every way. We have each given over to mostly walking with a few stretches of jogging. It is mile 22.
Two strangers, one an angel to another. We knew we’d Finish This and likely in Ironman time. Along the way he learned about our amazing SpeakUp Race Team, our purpose and our maker. I learned his family has been dealing with mental illness for quite some time.
I have a spot in Paris for my family to visit and a free tour guide.
He taught me to be proud of myself. I taught him about the changing face of depression and mental illness drawn by Cameron. We held each other up – he more than I, I feel sure. But together, nonetheless, we fought the good fight. We finished the race. And with a little help from a friend, we kept the faith.
My team. My husband. My BFF in Boulder. My friends. My children. My siblings. My parents. My collective extended team family. My Coaches. My niece, my Cameron. All.
You are my all in all.
They don’t give out Ironman medals at Challenge Roth. Our Moose gave me his. Our Jeff gave me his commemorative finisher’s beer stein. This belongs to Us. All of Us.
Here’s his medal
Thank you, Moose
Challenge Roth taught me what God’s been trying to show us all for all time.