Over the last few weeks I’ve wanted to write about mental imagery as the subject of my next blog. This was largely driven by the fact that during my recent training block in Kona, Matt Dixon, my coach, had me complete two significant runs in the Energy Lab and along the Queen K, which are sections of the Ironman World Championship run course that are notorious for soaring temperatures, few spectators, and the point where World Champions are made or broken (for context, the temperatures off the tarmac on the Queen K often hit 130F+; they say an egg can fry in less than a minute). To succeed in this section of the course, mental toughness and preparation is critical (For a closer glimpse into one of the sessions fellow Purplepatcher Meredith Kessler and I did, take a look at this vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hg_-LDuEaZ0).
These two sessions were HUGE positive mental boosters for me – but not JUST in terms of my race prep for Kona. They will act as key motivators for me in other training sessions throughout the year and in upcoming races, including the Ironman I will be racing this weekend in Melbourne. I will draw up them and other important workouts time and time again. They give me confidence to push past barriers, a belief in myself, and are a motivator for success.
Then, as I was preparing to leave for Australia, James (the boyf) and I spent a decent amount of time talking about the race, about my preparations, about how I was feeling, etc. As we spoke I mentioned to him that I was feeling great and ready to put up a great bike and run, but with the inconsistency in my swimming the last few weeks – I just “hoped my swim would show up”.
For some background – In February I went to Hawaii for a pro camp with my fellow Purplepatch pros. As I have mentioned before, I was nervous heading into the camp. My swim progression in Santa Monica had been going very well and my overall swim confidence was up. But I was worried that being the worst swimmer at the camp would actually set me back mentally. However, the camp went great and seeing my progress relative to the rest of the team was a huge motivator for me.
One thing I have learned, however, is that high run volume and high run intensity too frequently has a strong negative impact on my swim training. In Hawaii I had done three significant (and needed) runs to help prep me for Melbourne, but the result of that was a longer than normal recovery process in the pool once I got back to California. And then, just as I was feeling better, a nasty bug side-lined me. The result: some inconsistency in my swimming.
With my lack of confidence so glaring (despite knowing why my swim had been up and down), James looked at me square in the face, and told me to stop – right there. He reminded me that even on my bad days in the pool, I’m still swimming faster than last year. And that whatever happens out there, whether I feel good or not – worrying about it was only creating negative emotional stress and wasted energy. I needed to work on positive mental imagery. I needed to think only about feeling great in the water, and I needed to believe in myself and what I am capable of doing. Talk about being put in my place! But the truth is…he’s right. And even though what he said is nothing I don’t already know, executing it on one’s weaknesses takes work.
With my biking and running – I have confidence in myself, and a belief in what is possible. But with my swimming, I wake up every morning and head to the pool with an anxiety and nervousness – and lack of confidence – wondering – “will my swim show up today???”
My point? Mental imagery is important and it MUST be incorporated into our training across sports, and with different purposes.
In running or on the bike I use mental imagery more as a facilitator to push through the pain of hard workouts or at difficult points in a race – to breakdown barriers. Certainly those run sessions in Kona and many others will be instrumental to me this year. They fuel me in training and races to know what is possible when you are hurting so badly you’re not sure you will make it.
But in the swim, the imagery is about building confidence in myself – learning to believe what I can do in the water – that takes more work.
This week I have been focusing on only the positives in my swim and providing myself with a lot of positive self talk when in the water, not allowing myself to doubt my swim progression and believing in what I CAN do – not what I can’t.
Ironically, when I took my passport out to fill out my customs form on the plane, I came across a fortune I had saved when I first moved out to LA – it is a quote by Walt Disney – “If You Can Dream It. You Can Do It”.
Mental imagery is SO important and should be incorporated into our training in the same manner as nutrition and recovery. And sometimes a swift kick in the butt can be all that it takes to re-focus our lens!
Big thanks to Verdict Digital and Purplepatch/ Matt Dixon for the great footage and vid of an epic training day!
Until next time, DREAM IT…and BE IT!
For anyone who read my blog back in September (Motion Sickness..and how I am going to fix it) or the Triathlete.com article written by Jene Shaw in October (http://triathlon.competitor.com/2012/10/athletes/sarah-piampiano-finds-her-bearings-in-kona_63910) – I think it was obvious I was in a fairly desperate state to get this little puking issue of mine under control. Clearly desperate. I mean – I had sinus surgery weeks before Kona, spoke with a healer and was walking around my apartment doing neck exercises to mimic breathing while swimming – can you get more desperate than that?
I received a lot of responses from people with helpful advice and suggestions (thank you!!) and it was actually because of all of you that I was able to get to the root of the problem – or what seems to be the root cause. Many have asked where it all stands, and so I thought it was worth a blog to update you on my mysterious case of the throw-ups.
So…people’s responses to my blog in September got me thinking that maybe my issue wasn’t motion sickness at all, but perhaps was more vestibular or even muscular/nervous system related (Ellen Bowden, and all you super smart peeps that suggested I see an ENT and a vestibular specialist – thank you!). First I went the ENT route, and after several consultations I had sinus surgery in September to open up my nasal cavity. The purpose for this procedure was that my ENT believed that my severely swollen sinuses were actually pressing on my eardrum and causing motion sickness. Unfortunately, while the theory sounded great and the surgery did wonders for my ability to breathe, it didn’t do much to solve my problem. Bummer.
So…I went and saw a vestibular specialist. For 4 weeks I went to vestibular PT and through these appointments we pin pointed that my nausea was caused by turning my head to the left and right – the exact same motion done to take a breath while swimming. Boom! Big progress there! My problem wasn’t solved, but we knew what caused it. That was pretty exciting and a big step!
Somewhere in the mix of all of this a close friend, Ellen Bowden, told me that the Vagus nerve runs from the neck to the stomach and that a possible impingement of that could cause nausea. While I wasn’t sure that was necessarily the case for me, it did beg the question whether my problem was a cervical spine issue rather than a vestibular one. Between what we determined with my vestibular PT and Ellen’s idea, I was sent for a CT Scan where a slight bulge in my C6 vertebrae was found. While not significant, the doc speculated the bulge could be causing muscular tightness and a potential impingement in my neck – possible cause for my vomiting.
We decided collectively to try out a Chiropractor and so from September onwards I began seeing Dr. Eric Nepomnaschy at Bay Chiropractic 2-3 times per week. In each session he gave me an adjustment, and then over time we began layering in stretching, massage of my neck and shoulders, and ultra sound or laser treatment. We’ve worked closely and monitored how I’ve felt after every swim/bike session and even scheduled appointments directly ahead of swim-bike days. We have developed a stretching routine to help open up my neck and spine before I get in the water. And…well…it has worked! Since Kona I have had zero issues with nausea in my training, and when I raced in Pucon in January, for the first time not only did I not throw up on the bike, but my legs felt great and alive out of the swim.
It is hard for me to be fully convinced – I’ve gone so long with this problem that I just keep waiting for it to come back, but everything we are doing seems to be working and it seems clear that keeping my neck open is critical to keeping me puke-free!
So – fingers crossed this continues, but all signs are pointing up!
Thank you again to everyone who took the time to write or call me and offer help and advice. I read and listened to everything you had to offer and applied it. It was because of all of you I have been able to get to this point!
Also big thanks to Dr. Eric Nepomnaschy who has been so dedicated to helping me get over this hurdle.
While I know it just won’t be the same without the token puker out there on the race course, I’m hoping 2013 will be filled with a lot less throwing up and much cleaner bikes post race!
Until next time – Don’t dream it, Be it.
Where in the World Has Little Red Been? A LONG overdue update
Well well well…ok ok ok….it’s time. I can’t avoid it any longer! This blog must get written!
So – I have sort of gone back and forth with what to write, and honestly, since it has been so long, I feel like picking some random topic probably isn’t really the right thing to do. I think I’ve got to fill you all in on the last 3 months that I have been MIA from blog-ville and update you on my life. Then maybe I can start being picky about what I write! So here we go….Wish me luck!
After Kona this year – well actually before Kona…well….actually before Ironman NYC really– I was completely fried. To say I was burned out was an understatement. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. I was done. I look back at my performance in NY and I am even MORE proud of that result now knowing how I was feeling.
My plan had called for me to race Ironman Arizona in November, but as soon as Kona was through I knew I needed a break. Last year was such an invigorating, momentous and special time for me, and I was so proud and excited by my accomplishments and gains. But….I went full force from Jan 1 on at an unsustainable pace. By the time Kona rolled around I had already fallen flat on my face and was firmly rubbing it in the dirt. I don’t think Matt or I fully realized where I was until the race was done, but we quickly came to the same conclusion that Kona was to be my last race of the season.
So…the break came. And I released in every way. I drank beer and wine. I stayed up late. I went out with friends. I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted giving no concern for carbohydrate, protein or fat intake (and believe me…it showed). I just completely shut down the triathlon side of my life and enjoyed the time off. It took me 3 weeks before I was ready to even begin contemplating training again…but then 4 weeks into my break…suddenly….I was ready. The vim, vigor and excitement for the sport I love returned, almost out of thin air, and there I was – ready to go and wanting to get back to work.
Starting in early November I began training again. The focus – as it has been for the last year – was my swim. I did some riding and running, but generally pretty limited and all VERY VERY easy. We put the attention where it belonged. In the pool. And….I am so proud to say I have made some great progress. I made another big step in my swim and am feeling, probably for the first time ever – truly confident that I may actually be able to do this – I might actually be able to get to a point in the swim where I am not the last person, or near last person out of the water in a race. Wahoo for that!
I also started to grasp concepts that my swim coach, Gerry Rodrigues, speaks so adamantly about. Concepts like tautness and body alignment in the water. When Gerry talked about it before I was mystified. I’d tense my whole body and make it what I thought was “taut”. What would then ensue was me holding my breath, quickly go into an hypoxic state and promptly return to my wiggly, writhing self, gasping for air as I swerved my way down the pool. I was a real sight! But…as I’ve progressed over the last few months it’s suddenly clicked and I’ve been able to start doing it – making myself taut, while remaining relaxed. Granted, I can’t do it all the time, but I get it now, and its been exciting mentally to be able to start making these connections.
So nowww….here I am in Hawaii for a two week training camp with Matt and the other pros he coaches. Coming into this camp I was feeling a little bit nervous because the pro group that was showing up are all front pack, amazing-ass, 4th place in the Olympic trials swimmers….like really good. Over the last few months its been a confidence booster for me to move up and consistently be swimming in Lane 1 back in Cali, but as I prepared for my trip here I knew I would be by far the slowest swimmer in the group, and most likely would be lapped every 100 yards. Talk about instant ego deflation. It’s hard to be that bad and consider yourself a pro athlete! Anyway – the improvements I’ve made have shown through in a big way and its actually been a huge motivator for me to see how much closer I am to everyone versus a year ago – or even 6 months ago at our last camp in California. Yay for progress!!
I am sure so many of you wonder what we, as full time pro triathletes, do either when we are not training or are in the post-season when we are off all together. One word: SPONSORS! Managing sponsor relationships is actually a job in and of itself. I would say that in any given week I allocate 10-15 hours towards sponsor communication, relationship building, fulfilling existing sponsor commitments, and working to further progress my brand. It takes a lot of work. At the end of the year this time requirement goes up as the focus turns to re-negotiating existing contracts (if they are due), negotiating new contracts, and also going through an annual review to make sure both you and each sponsor are getting what they expect and want from the relationship. This is such a critical piece of the puzzle and takes a lot of time. For me – This last bit was a 2-month process post-kona, and I dedicated typically full 8-hour days, 5 days a week to this until my contracts in place and finalized.
When I initially sought out sponsors my goal was to work with companies whose brands I already used and believed in and whom I felt I could truly build a long-term relationships with. The longevity of my relationships was important to me, and I was excited to work with brands with the same sentiment. So…with that in mind, I am REALLY so happy to announce that I have partnered again this year with all of my sponsors from 2012 – Saucony, Cervelo, Shimano, Clif Bar, Kask, CycleOps, ISM, GameReady, WIDSIX and Verdict Digital.
PLUS have added two new sponsors – Helen’s Cycles and Aqua Sphere. Helen’s is THE largest bike shop in southern California and a big supporter of road teams and many of the cycling events that take place in the area. I’m excited about working with them as one of our main goals is to encourage and empower beginner cyclists and triathletes looking to enter into the sport but wanting more guidance and support than they might otherwise get. My partnership with Aqua Sphere is equally exciting! This company has made its name by putting an incredible amount of R&D into product development and listening to what consumers need and want. And I can attest – their products ROCK! I used their Phantom wetsuit for the first time in Pucon in January as was blown away by the flexibility around the shoulders, the support and structure in the stomach area – it was amazing.
So yay for existing sponsors and new relationships!
This year, I have a few goals – win my first Ironman, podium in 70.3 races, and not just qualify but compete well in Kona.
We learned last year that I need more time to recover between races. I’d love to be someone who bounces back quickly and can hop right back into training, but I’m not. I need more rest. This year we listened and planned accordingly.
We built a season that allows me to complete a full schedule – 4 Ironman races (including Kona) and seven 70.3s. The key though is allowing adequate time for recovery between races. That means 2 months between Ironman races and in some cases up to a month between 70.3s. I started my season early this year at Pucon 70.3 in January (where I placed 2nd!!). It was a great way to kick off the year and was a perfect prep for my next race – Ironman Melbourne in March. It will be a hugely competitive race, but I am REALLY excited to go and get in the mix and see where I stand next to some pretty awesome women!
After that look out for me to do some domestic 70.3’s and then get ready for Ironman Austria in June! It’s going to be a fun year!
Personally, I’ve had a few changes in my life. Big changes actually. To be candid and very upfront, in 2007 I went through a break up that shook me to my core and left me emotionally closed off and completely convinced that not only did I never want to be in another serious relationship, but also that I never wanted to marry. As a relatively pragmatic person I understood that people go through challenging breakups all the time, but for whatever reason I could not and would not let myself go down that road again. This sentiment was further compounded by my transition into triathlon and my move out to LA in January 2012. I had one goal – be successful in triathlon. I wanted no distraction, least of all, a man in my life. And then I met James. He has completely enhanced my life in the most positive ways, opened my eyes (and my heart) to how wonderful being in a relationship can be, and has helped me learn how to have the focus I so desire to be successful at my job, while also maintaining balance in my personal life and letting someone in. It has been an extremely special time for me, and I believe it is because of him that I have been able to make some very positive changes in my training and overall life balance that will benefit my career going forward. So….stayed tuned!
So that is the update! Check back soon! I need to get on a blog roll!
Until next time. Don’t dream it. Be it.
I promised myself that this year in Kona, I would not get too wrapped up in performance and I would enjoy the experience and the opportunity. It was very important to me to keep perspective, to remember everything I had achieved this year, and that the opportunity to race in Kona was from the culmination of a lot of hard work and a little luck. Sure I had some goals going into the race, but I knew I wasn’t going to win, I was pretty certain I wouldn’t be in the top 5, and I would have had to have the race of my season to crack the top 10. And so – I took the pressure off and enjoyed my experience. I didn’t get stressed. I tried to soak in what it meant to race as a pro in Kona – from the sponsor events, to the pro meeting, to the press – it was so unique and so vastly different than what I went through as an Amateur in 2011. It gave me an even greater appreciation for the performances put up by the top pros after factoring in so many media and sponsor obligations that are fit in to already hectic race preparations.
My race – well it wasn’t great. But I have never committed myself emotionally more than I did in Kona this year. I have never cried at the end of a race, but when I crossed the finish line 10 hours after I started, I was spent – physically and mentally…and I completely broke down into hysterics. Later James (the boyf..also dubbed by a few people as Mr. Sarah P) asked me why I was crying – was I disappointed? It was a completely logical question, but I didn’t know how to explain it. I didn’t cry out of disappointment or happiness or frustration – I think I probably cried out of relief – it was such a hard day and those last few miles of the run took so much out of me. When I crossed the line, I had nothing left and the emotional release was overwhelming. It was actually an incredibly moving and beautiful moment – perhaps the most poignant moment I can remember since I started this sport. I will never forget it.
So…yeh my race wasn’t awesome, but my Kona experience was pretty freaking amazing. It was fresh and unique. And I was proud of myself for keeping the perspective I so hoped I would all the way through my time in Hawaii.
I thought I would share my top 10 moments of my Kona week (and truly in no particular order!!):
1. Crossing the finish line with Reilly
Reilly Smith has become one of my best friends and top training partners in Los Angeles. He is my “person” – the person I can confide in about my insecurities, my fears, my confidence, my frustrations – both inside the sport and out. We are competitive, but we support one another and push each other at every practice and every time we step on the starting line. He has been such an incredible supporter of mine this season and someone who’s friendship I value immensely. So it was only fitting that Reilly and I crossed the finish line within 10 seconds of one another on race day (and yes…that means he did beat me by 25 minutes….dammit!!). When I crossed I had nothing left, and there stood Reilly, waiting for me, with arms open. He took me in and gave me this massive hug, and together we stood there and cried. It was such an awesome moment. I could not have planned a more perfect way to end my season and end my Kona experience. Reilly – THANK YOU for being the incredible person that you are. You are the bomb!
2. Going back to cheer on the midnight finishers with James
Despite being in incredible pain after every Ironman I have ever done, the finish-line party in the hours leading up to midnight are moments that I relish at every Ironman event – whether it be at Kona or elsewhere. To feel the satisfaction of your own achievement from the day, and then to channel that energy into celebrating the accomplishments of all the other finishers is an experience unlike any other.
My boyfriend, James, had come to Hawaii to watch my race. I was unsure if he would be up for returning to the finish line later in the evening, but he was a trooper and trudged down to Ali’i Drive with me. We stood in the bleachers, dancing and cheering loudly as the final finishers came in. I was SO HAPPY.
James said he had never seen me so happy before and that it was his favorite moment from Kona. And he was right – being there and feeling the pride of the season and what I had achieved, the relief of the day being done, being in the presence of someone for whom I care so much, and the excitement in cheering on the final finishers had me bubbling over with happiness. It was so great.
3. Attending the pro meeting
Yeh – ok. That sounds a little weird. But as a little first year pro, attending your first Kona pro meeting is a pretty damn cool experience. Everyone is kitted out, representing all their sponsors. There is media and cameras everywhere. The nervous energy in the air is tangible. Everyone looks ridiculously fit, slightly jittery and ready to go. It’s insane. And it’s awesome. Definitely the coolest pro meeting I have ever been to.
4. Seeing a floor-to-ceiling-sized poster of me in the Clif Bar Lounge
Again – Yeh. OK. That might sound a little lame, but honestly, the first time you see a giant poster of yourself, well – it’s also a pretty damn cool experience. And I get that I should probably be playing it cool, and obviously I’ve got a long way to go to be anywhere in this sport, but I still had to pinch myself and appreciate the moment and how far I have come. And sometimes jumping up and down inside just isn’t enough!
5. The pride I felt all week to be part of my incredible team of sponsors
This may SEEM like a bit of a sponsor plug, but it’s honestly not intended to be. I just can’t say enough about the team of people that supported not just me, but all of their athletes all week. These guys worked their butts off! Everything from bike support from Cervelo and Shimano and swapping out wheels last minute, to Saucony making sure I had the right shoes on race day, to getting me my “mini” Clif bars for the race, to the custom kits Helen’s Cycles had made with all of my sponsor logos – These guys were awesome awesome awesome. I felt (and feel) so honored and proud to be part of such amazing brands. I feel lucky and thankful every day.
To Cervelo, Shimano, CycleOps, ISM and KASK – You guys have gone above and beyond this year in terms of making sure my bike (and my head) are always safe and race ready. THANK YOU for your continued support
To Saucony – I can say, without a doubt that you make the best product out there. The brand has continued to surprise me throughout the year with how amazing everything you make it – from shoes to apparel. I love this brand and I could not be more proud to be part of the Saucony team.
To Clif Bar – Awesome product. It has kept me going through SO MANY hours and hours and hours and miles and miles and mile of swimming, biking and running this year. You make absolutely awesome tasting products and I am so stoked to be part of your team.
To Helen’s Cycles – What a great surprise to start this relationship! Your support is amazing, and the Helen’s team is the best around.
The Game Ready – You saved my legs after the race! No joke! I was literally crawled up in the fetal position on the ground, and 40 minutes and 1 Game Ready compression & icing cycle later I was like a whole new woman, dancing up a storm in the bleachers on Ali’i Drive. Seriously – you make fantastic stuff that has been a huge part of my training and recovery this year – thank you!
To WIDSIX and Verdict Digital – What can I say. Everything you guys do is Magic. The dedication and professionalism you have shown this year in helping me with my website and the videos has been second to none. You both have great companies and are great people. Thanks for being part of the journey
6. Surfing with the Cervelo crew post race
On Monday after the race, the entire Cervelo team went surfing. It was so chilled out and relaxed, but after what was an incredibly long, tiring and hectic week for everyone, it was great to see the weight of the race lifted off everyone’s shoulders. It was awesome to see everyone out there laughing and catching some waves and enjoying our last moments together in Kona. THANK YOU Cervelo for an amazing experience!
7. Enjoying the first 10 miles of Ali’I Drive
I know this may SOUND a little odd, but it is true. Last year when I came here, everyone told me how awesome I would feel along Ali’i Drive during the run – there was a breeze from the ocean and the crowd support was unmatched. Well – last year I overheated on the bike and spent my entire Ali’i experience sticking my head in ice buckets, puking on the side of the road, and wondering how the heck people thought Ali’i was “the great part of the run”. This year, I got it. With my body temperature under control, the first 10 miles were awesome, and I was smiling both inside and out……and then I hit the energy lab and it all changed….
8. Seeing my mother out on the course, standing all day in the beating sun with her “Don’t Dream It. Be It” signs
It’s no secret that my family was not exactly in favor of my decision to turn pro. With a great job and many years of blood sweat and tears put in to reach the point in my career that I was (in Finance), my parents had a hard time justifying my decision – and rightly so. But despite their concerns, once my decision was made they have stood by me and supported me with all of their heart and soul. And this was epitomized in Kona when my mom stood out on the Queen K all day, with her “Don’t Dream It. Be It.” signs, cheering me on with everything she had. My grandmother is quite sick right now, and I know it’s been a hard few months for my mom. So it meant so much to me that she was there supporting my every step on race day. It gets me all teary eyed, actually. Mom I love you SO much. Thank you for being my #1 fan and being there at the race. I needed you there.
9. Ice Cream and Cheeseburgers
All year we focus focus focus on everything that will give us that extra edge in racing – our diets, our recovery, our equipment – everything. And sometimes things we love have to be given up. For me…that is ice cream and cheeseburgers. In the days (read weeks) after the race my diet consisted almost entirely of ice cream and cheeseburgers….and they were HEAVENLY. It was awesome! They were so well deserved, which made the eating experience that much better!
10. Purplepatch and Tower 26
My coaches, Matt Dixon and Gerry Rodrigues, have been such important parts of my life this last year. And so it meant a tremendous amount to me that they were there on race day. Good or race or bad, they have been my everything in terms of my progression as an athlete, and I was proud to race in front of them. THANK YOU to you both for everything you have done.
So! That was it – my Kona experience in a nutshell! A big thank you to The Ogin family for their amazing hospitality; to my mother, James and Bryan for your amazing support on race day; and to my coaches and my sponsors – I would not be here without you!
I am now into my off season, and enjoying every minute of it!
Until next time.
Don’t Dream It. Be It.
Vegas. 70.3 World Championships. Holy cow. That sucked. I’d like to use some other, significantly more offensive words to describe how I feel about Sunday’s race, but to spare you all, I’ll leave it at that.
Sunday was a very tough day for so many people I care about. It was like we all had been sucker-punched in the gut, then kicked in the head and had rocks thrown in our faces. Some people’s races blew up more than others, but at the end of the day, we all blew up. I was bummed for my race, but in the aftermath, not being able to celebrate the success of many – well, that brought me down a bit further. We all went in with our game faces on and ready to shine, and at the post-race bbq held by one of our Purplepatch teammates, we all had smiles, but the pain and disappointment that lingered in the air was tangible.
We are all tough. We are all warriors. That is why we were standing there in the first place. And so we’ll all bounce back, learn from the experience and use it to become stronger, better and faster athletes. But man. That sucked.
I am disappointed and I had hoped for more, but when I take a step back and remove myself from the moment, I do remember the simple fact that I got to race on Sunday, and as a first year pro, that is pretty damn great. Not everyone has that chance – in fact few of us do, and good race or bad, being able to take that experience, learn from it, and put it in the bank for next year – I am incredibly thankful for that.
Looking at my race, I know what the issue was: My stomach. Same as it always is. Motion sickness. I did everything I had practiced. I wore the pressure point bracelets. I ate ginger before the swim. I wore ear plugs. I didn’t eat or drink for the first 45 minutes of the ride. I did everything to settle myself, and let the blood start flowing to my legs and not to my queasy mid-section. But this time, nothing worked. And as I have learned in the race simulations we have done over the last month, until my stomach settles, I can’t get my power up. In fact, when I am sick, I ride 75 to 100 watts lower than what my typical 70.3 race pace would be. 100 watts! That is a big number for a little person like me. That is a big number for anybody.
Placid was a blessing in that we finally were able to identify an issue and started tackling it. At Ironman New York everything worked perfectly. I had some sickness out of the swim, but my stomach settled within 30 minutes and I was fine. In Vegas, not so much. I kid you not when I say I threw up over 40 times in the ensuing 69.1 miles after I exited the water.
So as I sit here thinking about the race, my thoughts are less about feeling sorry for myself and more completely focused on figuring out how the hell I solve this problem. So I thought I’d throw out the issues to the world and see if anyone has any ideas:
How it begins: Whenever I swim – whether in the pool or in the open water I get some form of motion sickness. Sometimes I don’t feel it at all in the water, and other times, like in Las Vegas, my stomach starts doing flips and turns before I get out. The roughness of the water seems to have no bearing.
When I exit the water I always get one of those massive head-rushes like when you stand up to fast and your blood pressure drops. I feel like my legs are like lead and my heart rate spikes when I run through transition. The degree of this also varies based on how I feel in the water. At IMNYC my stomach was more settled than normal and I felt the best I have ever felt running into T1. Other times, such as at Eagleman, I felt so nauseous in transition I was dizzy and couldn’t see straight.
Out on the bike, I have no power. My legs are dead weights, and I throw up a constantly. And when I say throw up – I’m not exaggerating. Imagine wretching your entire night’s dinner out – that is what happens to me. It is only once my stomach settles that my power returns and I can ride properly. Sometimes in training I wait up to an hour after a swim to ride, and even then my stomach still won’t have settled down.
I now wear pressure point bracelets on both wrists, wear ear plugs and take ginger – all homeopathic remedies. None of this has solved my issues, but I have found, generally, it has reduced the time from when I exit the water to when my stomach begins to feel better. I wear the pressure point bracelets on the bike too.
I’ve gone and done the balance testing and everything has come back normal. And I have visited an ENT specialist. She says I have ridiculously inflamed sinuses and believes the degree to which my sinuses are swollen impacts my balance, and thus the degree of my nausea issues. This is entirely plausible. As I sat back and thought about both Placid and Vegas – I had colds and sinus infections for both. In fact the days before Vegas my sinuses were so blocked I had a terrible headache as the infection set in and went to bed at 6 pm the night before the race because my head hurt so much.
So that is it. Kona is 4.5 weeks away. And I’m on a mission. Not just for Kona, but for next year. My performance in races cannot be at the whim of this issue, or, if it is going to be, I need to figure out how to fix it quickly when it happens. Any thoughts? Ideas? Comments? Are my ear crystals out of wack? Anyone? Anyone? I need help! There has to be someone out there that has had the same issues…..right?
So – that is the deal. Now it is back to work – focusing on getting this issue further sorted, putting up a solid training block before Kona and putting up my best performance of the year.
Thank you so much everyone – fans, family, friends, sponsors, coaches, and my fellow competitors for all of your awesome support out there on the race course and in the days leading up to and after the race. I couldn’t do it without you all!
Until next time.
Don’t dream it. Be it.
Just over a week ago I raced at Ironman New York City and had, what I felt, was the best race I have ever executed. That doesn’t mean I had my greatest swim, bike or run – in fact I made plenty of mistakes in each, but the way in which I handled every situation and strategically maneuvered through my day was as good as I could have hoped for. I was rewarded with a race with which I am completely happy, and one that I would consider to be my “purplepatch” race of the year.
For those of us that have completed an Ironman distance event before, you know that half the battle is a mental one. Those that can stay mentally tough and problem solve the best are the ones that will come out on top. People frequently ask me for advice as they prepare for their first Ironman race, and my response is always the same: set an alarm on your watch for every 15 minutes. When that alarm sounds, eat something, drink something, and do a full body check to figure out how you are feeling. If something is wrong – you are tired, thirsty, hungry, etc – figure out how you are going to fix it and go to work. This was the same advice my teammate, Linsey Corbin, gave to me before my first Ironman in 2011, and is something I have carried with me since. In practice, it is much easier said than done. In times when we feel great it can be easy to forget to eat and drink, and in the times we feel terrible, the idea of shoving another gel down our throats is nearly unbearable. But if you can stay mentally strong, be rational, and follow that simple plan, these are the biggest facilitators (in my mind) of having a successful day.
For me, I am superstitious with just about everything. I’m not kidding. The last two competitions before Ironman NYC I braided my hair, and I had the worst race of my career, followed by a DNF. Needless to say, I did NOT braid my hair for NYC. I also had brought a dress to wear in my last two races in the hopes I might make it onto the awards podium. For Ironman NYC my dresses were left hanging in my closet. It’s funny, not to mention mildly psychotic, that things so insignificant as braiding one’s hair can have an impact on your psyche on race day. But ultimately, whatever is going to put us in the best possible mental place when the canon fires, no matter how trivial, becomes important.
In addition to my dozens of strange idiosyncrasies, my pre-race conversations with my coach, Matt Dixon, are extremely impactful. When I speak with Matt I am always searching for that little something that sticks – that triggers a bump in mental strength and confidence in my ability to succeed. And there are times, such as at NYC where Matt’s words are like gold.
I won’t go into the nitty gritty of my pre-race call with Matt, but there were a few things that he said to me that stuck and were, quite frankly, what I drew upon when times got tough:
- You won’t feel great when you get on the bike, but you will be riding stronger than you think. Stick with it, find your legs, and build.
- Do not be afraid to take risks.
- The run will be a game of attrition. You MUST stay mentally strong. Be a warrior and under no circumstances do you give up.
None of these pieces of advice were rocket science, overly complex, or even, for that matter, things I didn’t already know or even suspect. But hearing it from him was PERFECT. Perhaps it was the delivery, the tone in his voice, certain key words – I couldn’t be quite sure. But whatever it was, as the day progressed it was his voice in the back of my head and advice that kept me calm and able to tackle whatever I faced.
When I got onto the bike I was immediately passed by 3 girls. I thought to myself – “be patient Sarah, let your legs come to you. Matt said you would feel like poo at the beginning. Wait until you get on the Palisades Parkway and then begin to build”. Which is what I did…..but I still didn’t feel great for a while. When you feel like you are riding at a snail’s pace, and you know how much of the day is ahead, it can be easy to feel frustrated and become hard on yourself. But I used Matt’s words as guidance and slugged on – never actually feeling that deterred. Any time I felt down, I remembered “you might not feel great, but you will be riding stronger than you think”.
Lo and behold as I went back and looked at my bike splits, Matt was right – I was riding stronger than I thought. It was satisfying to see, but also further convinced me of the fact that you simply cannot think about anyone else’s day other than your own. No matter how you feel over the course of an Ironman you never know what is going on around you or how other people are feeling. The only thing you can control is YOU and your mind. It would have been so easy to fall apart mentally from the very start of the bike, but I didn’t, and I came into transition having moved up from 17th out of the swim, to 5th at the start of the run.
Out on the run I felt a twinge in my calf during one of the many long uphill climbs that all but dominated the first 16 miles of the run course. I started freaking a bit. It was the same twinge I felt almost a year earlier when I pulled my calf muscle at Timberman 70.3 and was forced to pull out of the race. This was bad news. I was unwilling to accept ANOTHER DNF in consecutive Ironman races, but here I was, hanging on the edge of a full on strain that, if my calf had released, would have reduced me to a limp for the next 20 miles. “Just keep going, be a warrior”, I repeated to myself. I pushed on, thinking about every stride. I was favoring my left step a bit, but by mile 9 I had moved up into 4th position and was going to be dammed if I was going to give up. I knew there were some super-fast girls behind me, but I kept saying “you can do this Sarah, you can get 4th, you can do this”; “Matt said to be tough, Matt said to be tough, you can do this”. I gave everything I could, praying my calf would hold together til the end. It did. I got my 4th place. And I was pumped.
After the race, all I could think about was how perfect and helpful Matt’s words were to me. They were the magic potion that helped me hold it together mentally in the face of a ridiculously hard day. And it reminded me of the importance of having mantras and sayings to draw upon in races. Not every race is going to be the same, but having them there – something we can use to propel us forward and to stay strong, IS what helps us all keep going when the pain and hurt of the Ironman day begins to catch up to us.
I want to extend a massive congrats to Mary Beth Ellis, Bec Keat and Amy Marsh who posted fabulous days, and continue to keep me inspired and reaching for that next step up. Also to Jordan Rapp, the men’s winner, for an incredibly dominating performance.
As a caveat to my race report, I know there has been a lot of hype and talk about Ironman NYC, and for what it is worth, I wanted to offer my two cents. I LOVED this course – I felt as though it was incredibly challenging and truly worthy of a championship race. Having lived in New York for the last 7 years I was highly skeptical coming in of how Ironman was going to successfully pull this race off. What transpired far exceeded my expectations. I felt as though they took an extremely complex venue and created an iconic event.
Were the logistics challenging? Yes, they were. But New York City is one of the largest cities in the world, and I felt Ironman did a fantastic job of having a centrally located expo and terminal base, and coordinating ferries that made it fairly simple to get to and from transition. Yes we had to take cabs everywhere and the stress and energy of the city added to the chaos, but that is NYC for you.
Was the course hard? You’re damn right it was hard. But it was AWESOME. We got to ride car-free on a highway that had never been closed before. We got to run over the George Washington Bridge. We got to dive (or jump) off a barge constructed in the middle of the Hudson River as the sun rose over the GW Bridge and the skyscrapers that line the city. I know the bike was tough and the run amazingly hard, but that is what made it so special. This is the US Championships – it is supposed to be tough! And anyone who knows NYC knows that in the middle of August, 90 degrees with 100% humidity is pretty much an average day. Ironman is not supposed to be cake walk.
Was it difficult for spectators? It sure was. But again, as someone who has lived in NYC, I honestly expected NO spectators to be out on the course. I was positively surprised by how many there were, and I was blown away by how great the volunteers and aid stations were. I also felt that Ironman did what they could to help with spectator support, providing ferries on the swim, as well as to and from transition. I do see the potential for improvement in future years – maybe a bus to a designated viewing spot on the bike course, for example, but then again, I have done enough Ironmans now to know that on many bike courses there is no spectator support and you are out there all on your own.
Did the awards ceremony suck? Yeh, it did kind of – sorry Ironman. But, that is something I see as an easy fix – not something that is fundamentally wrong with the race as a whole.
Is the race expensive? – It is. But that is the price for the opportunity to race an Ironman in New York City. New York is expensive. Period. When I lived there I paid $2,500 per month to live in a 300 sq. foot studio apartment. 300 square feet! Ridiculous, right? And I didn’t even live in one of the more desirable areas of town! I can only imagine the cost of not just putting on this race, but doing so in a manner that met the strict regulations of the City all while striving to give competitors a unique experience.
Net net – Like most races after their first year, there are things that can be improved upon, but I also feel the negative backlash was unwarranted. I loved this race and I felt for the first year running Ironman did a fantastic job. I truly hope to see it return next year. Putting on as well as competing in an Ironman in a big city like New York is not going to be the same as putting on and competing in an Ironman in random rural town USA.
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!
It’s been a while, but I owe many thank you’s
To my sponsors – It continues to amaze me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to represent such amazing companies and brands. To Cervelo (Les and Jak, in particular) – THANK YOU for everything you did at this race. Getting my P5 set up in time, making sure our bikes were ready to race and standing out there in the crazy heat all day cheering every one of us on. It was so special having you there. To Shimano – thank you for the help and support on race week. And to my amazing other sponsors – Saucony, Helen’s Cycles, CycleOps, Clif Bar, Kask, ISM and Game Ready – thank you for your faith in me as an athlete and person.
To my BFF – Avery. Avery got up at 3 AM with me on race morning, came on the ferry and raced around all day cheering me on everywhere; taking pictures; calling, e-mailing and texting my family and friends with updates; and helping me in a way only family would in the hours after the race when I was struggling so very much. Avery I love you so so so very much. Thank you!
To Heather, James, Amy, Brandon and William – for your unwavering support, hospitality and smiles during race week. I am so lucky to have all of you in my life.
And to Matt Dixon – My coach extraordinaire. It’s hard to believe how far we have come from that coffee in San Francisco 2 years ago. I can’t thank you enough for your faith in me and willingness to take me on.
Up next: 70.3 World Championships in Vegas….and then….KONA! That is right! I qualified!
Until next time.
Don’t dream it. Be it.
In 2012 I started working with CycleOps as one of their sponsored athletes. CycleOps is a brand I love and believe in for so many reasons. For me, I strive to partner with brands that not only have amazing and reliable products, but also companies with unyieldingly high standards and values that are in line with my own. Saris/ CycleOps has incredible character and in working with them and through their support, I have made tremendous strides in my cycling in a very short period of time. I’m so proud to represent the CycleOps brand. Here is a look into what it is like to be a CycleOps Powered Athlete! Thank you so much to Verdict Digital for their amazing work on producing this vid. They are the bomb diggity!
Hello everyone! After a significant and honestly unwarranted hiatus on the blogging front, I think an update is long overdue! As I write, I am on a plane headed to California, where my coach and his other pro athletes have already started our summer training camp in Agoura Hills, which is in the Santa Monica Mountains just north of Los Angeles. For the next 9 days we will be hard at work as we all prepare for what is gearing up to be an exciting end of an already thrilling season.
The last six weeks have been interesting for me. Training-wise I have put up some phenomenal blocks and have headed into my races feeling fit and ready to FIGHT. At Eagleman 70.3 in mid-June, despite what was truly an abysmal run and an average bike, I felt pleased with my race on the whole. I say this because a year ago, my recovery from an Ironman event was a 5 week affair. My first couple of Ironman races took a huge toll on my body and hormonally I was in the weeds with exhaustion for weeks. Eagleman, however, came just 3 weeks after Ironman Texas, and while my body was not 100% recovered for the race, I was recovered enough to go out there and put out a solid effort – to push my body and have it respond. I walked away feeling that from a developmental standpoint, I have made big gains and am becoming a stronger and more resilient athlete. I was pleased.
Muncie 70.3, which was my lead-up race to Ironman Lake Placid was a big wake up call. It was a slap in the face. Not that I wasn’t already well aware, but this race only further solidified in my mind just how far I still need to go to be able to consistently compete against the best. I believe that the best triathletes – whether Ironman or Olympic Distance racers – are capable to performing and contending at ANY distance. They are versatile athletes who have an arsenal of weapons that they can pull out and use at a moment’s notice. The race is shortened? No problem – they have the speed and the high intensity required to get through the race. Oh it’s an Ironman – no issue. They have the endurance and aptitude to transition and push the limits on long distance events. I, however, do not have this versatility…just yet. And that was on clear display in Muncie. Forgetting about my swim, which, as you all know, continues to be a work in progress for me, I believe that on a given day I can ride with many of the top women. But my bike is also inconsistent. When I am on, I am ON. And when I am off, I am way way off. My power fluctuations can swing widely, and it is something that we need to work on – bridging the gap between my off days and my great days. I knew that I was going to come out far back on the swim, and my only chance of salvaging a race would have been to throw down a phenomenal bike split and hold on for a strong run. I didn’t and I came in dead last in the professional women’s field. DFL. That sucked. So many people said to me after the race “oh, but you are training for an Ironman – you don’t have the speed in your legs for an Oly”….but to be honest, I HATE that excuse. In my mind, it doesn’t matter. Every single one of those women that were ahead of me are also 70.3 and Ironman distance racers and they were able to perform substantially better than I. That is why they are great, because they possess the versatility to race and compete no matter the distance or the conditions. I have so much to improve upon.
Moving on to Ironman Lake Placid. I went into Lake Placid more prepared than I have been for any race I have done to date. I was fit. I was mentally prepared. And I was entering a race where there was a true possibility of capturing my first Ironman win. I was prepared to fight and I was so excited for the race. I also knew there was a wide discrepancy in strengths amongst the women’s field. Some of the women were very strong swimmers, but weaker on the bike and run. Others were strong runners, but weak swimmers. I felt the dynamic of the race would be very interesting and I was excited to see how it would play out. I can’t actually remember a race I have looked forward to more than Lake Placid. Coupled with all of this, nearly my entire family and some of my friends were making the trip from Maine, Boston, and New York City to come and see me race. My support network was phenomenal and I was excited to perform in front of them.
Race day came. My swim was fine. Nothing terrible, but certainly nothing special. Having raced a 2 mile OWS event the weekend before, I felt confident that this would my race where I would break the 1 hour barrier, so when I came out in 1:02, I was a bit disappointed. That said, a 1:02 is still a significant improvement over anything I swam last year and I continue to show progress in almost every race I do, so I generally take a fairly pragmatic approach to my swim result. Good. Done. Onto the bike.
As is typical, I exited the water feeling nauseous, chilled, and extremely thirsty. I ran slower than normal through transition and took my time in the changing tent to down 5 cups of water. I was so thirsty I could hardly stand it, and I thought if I let my stomach calm down a bit in transition it would help me out on the bike. That, however, proved to not be the wisest decision as I began puking within the first 3 miles of the race. Nothing was staying down, and the more I threw up, the thirstier I became. It was a vicious cycle – extreme thirst led me to consume fluids at every aid station, only to immediately throw up whatever when into my stomach. It worried me, as I knew I needed to get calories and fluids in, but around mile 30 my legs started feeling half-way decent and although I was still puking I was hopeful maybe I was actually holding in more calories than I thought and that my stomach was settling. I went through the next 45 miles feeling good – not awesome, but good. Good enough to make up some time on the lead and to feel that I was getting stronger and stronger and had a good chance to bridge the gap on the second lap. When I started on my second loop I really was starting to find a great rhythm and I was going for it. Just before the big descent down to Keene, I took in some calories and as I descended everything came up. When I hit mile 75 the wheels began to come off. First I started feeling very weak and completely parched. Then I started feeling dizzy. Then I was having moments of losing my vision and not being able to ride in a straight line. At one point one of the Ironman officials pulled up next to me in the car and said there had been some reports over the radio of me being in a pretty bad state and wondered if I was ok. I couldn’t even talk and just nodded. I kept replaying the words “I am a warrior” in my head and telling myself if I could just get to the run I could walk and finish the race. That anything could happen in and Ironman. People were passing me like crazy. Another vehicle stopped a few miles up the road and asked if I had a flat tire because I was riding so slowly. At that point I was pulled over on the side of the road puking and then trying to hold down some calories. It was quite scary, to be honest. Nausea during the swim and puking on the bike is a regular thing for me in races – in fact I’ve only had one race – New Orleans – where I didn’t puke on the bike. But I’ve never been in such a state where I was so incoherent and dizzy and out of it – it was like I was completely drunk, but obviously hadn’t consumed a drop of alcohol. I also felt extremely fatigued. Incredibly incredibly tired. Somehow, amazingly, I made it back into town and when I was about a mile from the finish was pulled off course. I had toppled off my bike and just lay in the road. Volunteers rushed bags of ice to me and tried to feed me water, which I promptly threw up. The overwhelming feeling of exhaustion was too much and I passed out from exhaustion – completely spent. My day was over. In the med tent, another racer had apparently voluntarily walked himself in for some medical support and they let him go back out on the course to continue racing. When I woke up from my nap and heard this my hopes soared and I jumped up and asked if I could go back out – anxious to finish what I started. But, they said no. My chip had long been taken away and because I was carried into the medical tent, they couldn’t let me continue with my race. Bummer.
In the aftermath of it all, I have of course been intensely studying what went wrong and conferring with my coach, doctors, nutritionist and family members. Some feel it was dehydration. Others thought possible water intoxication. At the end of the day we’ve figured out I have some kind of sea/motion sickness issues in the swim, which I need to figure out how to deal with. That translates into the sickness on the bike. Consuming large amounts of water early on in the ride does absolutely nothing for my stomach. My electrolyte balance during my pre-load phase going into the race also seems to be off and is something that needs to be worked out.
I spent the better part of the last week doing a lot of “testing”. We did many open water swims in the lake and in the river trying out different anti-nausea treatments – ginger before the swim, pressure-point bracelets, the quantity and type of fluids consumed before a hard effort. And we are making good progress. We also did a few race simulations, where I’ve been focusing on NOT drinking or eating in the first 20 minutes of the bike to allow my stomach to settle. We are learning some very interesting things, and although LP was a big bummer for me, I think we are taking that experience and making lemonade out of lemons…really honing in on problems that have existed for a while. And hopefully – just hopefully, this will help to make me a better and more versatile athlete down the road.
California awaits. I can’t wait to spend time and train with my teammates from all around the world, and to have the opportunity to work for a few weeks with Matt and Gerry watching out every move.
And then….Ironman New York City is August 11th! And I will find my redemption.
I want to give a huge huge thanks to my family who have supported me tirelessly over this journey, but in particular over the last week. Their time and dedication to helping me get better and also find solutions to the issues at hand have been amazing and I am so grateful to have them in my life. Mom, Dad, JM, Vanessa, Jeff, Laura, Althea, Lilah and little Louisa and Meara – thank you! And I love you all so very very much.
Until next time.
Don’t Dream It. Be It.
My Dairy Free Month of June
All I have to say is THANK GOD it is July and I can eat dairy again! Yessss! Wahoo! Weeee! Wha wha! I’m clearly happy to be back on the dairy train (at least temporarily).
During the month of June I did a little experiment on myself and went dairy free. I’ve always been resistant to giving up dairy as I am a big believer in simply eating a balanced diet and generally avoiding processed foods. That being said, I do admittedly understand the logic behind WHY many nutritionists and fad diets are anti-dairy: we are the only species in the world that continues to consume milk-based products post the breast-feeding stage. When you think about it – it’s kind of weird. And with everyone touting how much better they feel going anti-dairy, and me being the competitive person that I am, I decided to give it a go.
Aside from the fact that I LOVE my cheese (and honestly, “love” may be an UNDERstatement…), dairy has been a really critical source of protein for me. I put Greek yogurt in my oatmeal in the mornings, I eat cottage cheese a lot of times for lunch, and I roll a slice of deli meat and cheese together for mid-day snacks. I do drink protein drinks, but I don’t really like relying on those as my KEY source of protein, and typically try to limit my shake-ness to 2-3 times per week.
So…how did it go?!?! – I am sure you are all wondering.
Actually giving up dairy was a lot easier than I expected it to be. I didn’t crave it like the way I crave red meat and vegetables. I found I felt better and did genuinely feel like my body was a bit less swollen.
However, I also found it really really super duper ridiculously crazy difficult to find a natural protein source that could replace my dairy-based, protein-filled snacks throughout the day. I’m a big grazer, so in place of dairy I was constantly munching on nuts, beans, vegetables, nut butters smeared on bananas and rice cakes as well as a boat load of hard boiled eggs.
But none of these snacks were able to curb my hunger or my cravings in the way my dairy delights do. Because I wasn’t getting enough protein, my cravings were through the roof. Under my normal diet, I felt like I really striking a wonderful balance – I rarely had cravings for carbs, and I just felt like I was providing my body with what it needed – most of the time. During DFJ (“Dairy Free June”), the only thing I wanted..all the time… was sweets and starches. My overall hunger went way up, and my feeling of being satiated – even after I had stuffed my face with food – went way down. I couldn’t find the balance I had been able to achieve in months prior, and it was very frustrating for me.
The net net is that for ME dairy is a significant and important component of my diet. That doesn’t mean I am not wary of trying to limit its consumption (for example I drink almond milk in place of regular milk), but my body clearly needs a lot of protein, and dairy provides the goods. Sure I saw some benefits in eliminating it, but I think the actually negative overall effect on my dietary balance was more significant that any positive benefits gained.
Today (Tuesday, July 3rd) I am going to begin working with a new nutritionist here in LA. I know he is anti-dairy, So, I am going to have to do my best to convince him that diet with dairy = happy Sarah, and hopefully he will let me stay on the dairy train.
I’ll let you know how everything goes, but rest assured – I am Pro Dairy all the way!
Until next time. Don’t Dream It. Be It.