Never Stop Learning - Athlete Insight with Colleen McGarry

I met Colleen was I was 22 and a brand new teacher. I had just completed my student teaching and was offered to fill a maternity leave - I am not exactly sure of the first time that we met, but I am keenly aware of a conversation that must have taken place early in the semester over the usual super rushed lunch that is the norm for a teacher -  it was the usual, do you have any plans for this weekend? I was new to the department and I am sure that this was a polite way of breaking the ice, so I just answered with, well kind of, I am flying to Dublin, Ireland to run a marathon. The look on her face was priceless, she still gives me that look - the you are bat shit crazy, but somehow this works! That was October and in November Colleen approached me to tell me that she had just started running and had run her first 5k - when she told me her time, I bit my tongue and thought, well fuck - this chick can run. But I pretended that I could keep up and we decided to meet for a 5 mile run after school - a loop that we just revisited this past December - she left me in the dust, but more importantly we started to forge what would become the strongest friendship that I have ever had. From that day on, we have spent countless hours swimming, biking, running, lifting, laughing and talking each day.  


There is something that makes Colleen a unique creature - she has some kind of special race mojo that she can call upon when she hits the starting line that most of us can only dream about. Colleen is the epitome of the line from Midsummer's Night Dream - "... though she be but little, she is fierce." But this fierce side of her is often shrouded initially in fear - however, zip up that wetsuit or lace up those sneakers and she goes next level into a full blown suffer mode.  Another amazing thing which I believe is linked to her ability to take racing to the next level is her desire to never stop learning and to take on new challenges at any age. Colleen inspires me as an athlete every day. She never stops learning, growing, and challenging herself.

Last year, after my father died and I turned 40, I decided I would try things that were outside of my comfort zone. Things that would make me feel alive and keep the world from moving too fast away from me. Learning new things brings freshness to life, but it is also scary as shit.  Especially as an adult. I’ve embarked on new athletic adventures before.  I became a runner at 25, ran my first marathon at 29, qualified and ran Boston at 31, and have been racing triathlon for a decade. But skiing felt different. Skiing felt unreasonable, untouchable, undoable; that is exactly why I decided it was the perfect thing to begin with.



Saturday was my second week back at ski lessons and my husband suggested that I go to the mountain with the family to show what I had learned the previous week.  Since I had already had one week of lessons and it wasn’t steller, I was hesitant to show anyone anything. In fact, I wasn’t sure I really knew anything. My twelve year old is hesitant to ski even after a previous year of lessons, so I decided I would swallow my fear and head up to bunny hill to set an example for my son.  


Keep in mind that this was the second time in my life I had ever had skis on. My 9 year old took off french frying like a maniac down the mountain and my husband stood by while my older son and I hesitated at the top. I pushed off and immediately lost control and fell.  Since I’ve never fallen before, I had no idea how to get up and I had no poles to get out of the skis.  I looked to my husband for help and he seemed frustrated that I had no idea how to get my body upright again.  As in, how could you not be able to get up? Just get up! He helped me and I tried again, only to fall.  Again.  Since the 9 year old was eager to be out there, my husband just couldn’t deal with me (and the four kids we had with us) and sent me off to wait for what would be my second ski lesson.  So, I stood alone waiting for the instructor and the other beginners to arrive.  For 30 minutes.  That’s a long time to stand feeling defeated, frustrated, and humiliated.  That’s a long time to choke back the tears of self doubt.  As the others arrived, I decided that the day’s new goal would be: just don’t cry.  Just don’t cry.  Just. Don’t. Cry.


We headed back to the mountain where my self doubt ruled supreme and we started the lesson.  The instructor didn’t remember me at first, but as soon as he saw my hesitation and anxiety, he remembered. I was so nervous for each new skill that every time we came to a rest for instruction, my legs were shaking.  I had clenched feet in my boots and my whole body was tight while I concentrated on being afraid.  I was digging deep to get through this.  I reached back to remember the day I showed up for swim lessons at 27 years old.  I didn’t fear swimming in the same way I am afraid to speed down the slopes, but I was afraid of failing. I safeguarded myself from failing in the pool by practicing and practicing and more practicing.  Now, it’s hard for me to remember a time when I couldn’t swim.  I often get asked for advice from novices at the YMCA and have frequently exited the water at the top of my age group in open water.  I called on that success to calm me on the mountain.  And then, I hit one of the skills right on.  The instructor celebrated me for a brief moment and my legs began to settle.  


Conquering the chair lift without the help of the instructor was the next hurdle for the day.  I paired up with a sweet 7th grader and he gave me some advice.  At one point he leaned over to me during the lesson and said, “the first step to success is a positive attitude.” There is nothing like the advice of an honest child to set you straight. Near the end of the hour he left me with this, “What you should do is, after the lesson, ski until you just can’t ski anymore.” He was my cheerleader everytime we rode the lift during the lesson and for hours after.  

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After the lesson, I was left with my 9 year old and his friends on the bunny hill.  I had no choice but to be on the hill with the kids. I could have chosen to stand around and take photos, but I stood at the top knowing exactly what I had to do. Practice.  And fail.  On my own terms. And then, do it again and again and again.  I just had to make it from the top of the hill to the bottom of the hill once. I pushed off and in few minutes I was at the bottom and it was glorious.  Not graceful, but glorious. And then I did it over and over again, each time with more confidence that skiing is a new skill that I am capable of learning. Although I had trouble executing the skills in the lessons on demand, I felt my intuition lead me around obstacles.  I felt my body sort of lean when it was supposed to. I felt my fear turn into drive. I am certain that nothing looked pretty and I am sure anyone watching knew I was green, but at the end of the day I wanted to keep skiing and I had crushed my goal of not crying.


Even when I spun out and found myself backward on the hill I wasn’t deterred. I turned my body and my skis so I could get up without sliding. I thought about my bike crash at The Big George 70.3 in Lake George, NY.  I was crushing the race, killing my previous 70.3 PR when I got careless and my wheel slipped on loose dirt while I was in aero with one hand in my jersey pocket reaching for nutrition. I crashed hard, body over handlebars, helmet smashed into pavement, with my bike landing on top of me.  I got up, collected myself, assessed my bike and without much more consideration continued the race.  Because really, the fastest, easiest, and maybe only way back to transition was to ride.  I had a great run fueled by adrenaline and finished the race strong despite the bike crash, but the most important lesson of the race was that I got right back on.  I didn’t let fear take that day. So, I turned those skis down the mountain and finished that run and went back for several more because I wasn’t going to let this day go either.


The day was mine, but it also belonged to my family.  My 9 year old smiled with friends on the lift and raced down the mountain until he was dead tired and frozen. My 12 year old conquered his hesitation and practiced skills on the bunny hill with friends for an hour. My husband had time to hit the real slopes and we had spent an entire afternoon and evening together. The reward is big for embarking on new adventures like this, but I am certain I would never have had the courage to be here in this moment if not for all of the challenges that I’ve encountered through years of training for and racing in endurance events. Before triathlon I wasn’t able to harness the fear that is inherent in new experiences, but triathlon has taught me that failure isn’t really failure. Failure is giving in to that weakness in your shaky legs that tells your brain you can’t do this.  Moving past that, even if it’s tiny baby steps on the bunny hill, that’s a victory.  



It's Flu Season - What's a Sick Athlete To Do? - Athlete Insight with Dr. Phil Moy

2018.  A new year of resolutions and goals.  This would be the year where I would take my triathlon goals to the next level and compete in a half ironman.  Heck, I was doing pretty well too!  I had been consistent in my off season training with Coach Sam and I could feel myself getting stronger.  Now, at the beginning of 2018, I was ready to tackle Coach Sam’s legendary brick workouts, 5 hour zone 15 runs, and eternal Trainer Road challenges.  DO YOUR WORST SAM!  JUST BRING IT!!!  Then it happened.  On January 3rd 2018 the dreaded H3N2, the virus that this year’s influenza vaccine didn’t target well, entered my life and laid waste to my tri training. As a triathlete I know we are terrified of getting sick. I also know that it’s not the “feeling crappy”  that scares you.  We all know that “feeling crappy” is part of tri training & competing and you take pride in your ability as an athlete to handle that very pain.  Feeling bad is not what you fear.  What really scares you is the eternal question that lingers on every athlete’s mind: Should I work out while sick?

As an Emergency Physician, I can impart some advice to you.  However, I do have one request from you.  My REQUEST is that when you do find yourself sick, I ask that you be ABSOLUTELY HONEST with yourself when employing the tactics I talk about below.  I see all types of people in the Emergency Department and not every patient is honest with me.  When that happens, my advice is misdirected and will…not…help.  So, please, be honest with yourself when evaluating yourself based on my thoughts below.  

A little background:

When physicians evaluate patients, we use a thought process reflected in a SOAP note.  SOAP is an abbreviation for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan.  When we first evaluate a patient, physicians obtain a Subjective history of present illness. This is the patient’s perspective as to how they are feeling and what’s been going on. You tell us your story which may have some numerical values to it (i.e. my temperature was 99 degrees Fahrenheit), but it is mainly your story and your subjective view as to how you are feeling.  Next is Objective.  This is what the physician sees from a non-judgmental sense in the physical exam and what objective, quantitative findings (i.e. blood pressure) are measured. Next is Assessment.  This is where physicians think of all possible causes of the patient’s condition and attempts to narrow down what is really going on based on the subjective and the objective data.  Finally the Plan.  Now that we’ve pinned down the likely cause of the patient’s symptoms, we have to plan what we are going to do about it.  In other words, we’ve created our Assessment (you diagnosis of a viral illness) based on our Subjective (you feel bad) and Objective (you have a 100.5 F fever) findings.  Now we attempt to answer your question of whether you should work out along with treatment options.



S:  So you’re sick. You wake up in the morning with a sore throat, congestion, and a bit of a headache.  Your coach has set up a tough brick workout for you with a 2 hour bike ride and a 30 min  run.  What do you do?  Let’s evaluate your subjective presentation.  How do you feel?  REMEMBER BE HONEST!!!

  • Do you feel wiped out?

  • Are you absolutely fatigued and does even the SLIGHTEST physical activity (walking up the stairs, walking to another room, getting up from a chair) exhaust you?

  • Do you have a fever?  

  • Do you feel like you’re going to pass out?   

If you answered yes to any of these’s okay to throw in the towel, let your coach know that you’re sick and you can’t work out today.  Recover, get better, and fight another day.

But what if you actually feel okay?  What if the sore throat and drippy nose is more of an annoyance than anything else?  What if you would feel fine if you just didn’t have an annoying, dry cough?  If that’s the case you can consider working out…but before you do let’s head to the next step.


O:  We are all triathletes, we like numbers, or at least our coaches do (I know Coach Sam does :P), and we have fancy gadgets we wear to test our physical activity.  Technically speaking, for our down and dirty objective evaluation, let’s take stock of our vital signs.  Now I don’t expect anyone to have a blood pressure machine, but I do expect everyone reading this post to have some sort of heart rate monitor.  As you know, heart rate (HR) in exercise physiology lets us know how hard your exerting yourself.  Equivalently, in healthcare,  your HR lets us know how hard your body is exerting itself when fighting an infection (if you have symptoms of an infection).  If you put on your heart rate monitor (while not doing any exertion prior to placement) and its above 100 or ANYWHERE near your aerobic heart rate...I would recommend you skip your workout, let your coach know, and consider seeing a doctor.  

But what if your heart rate is at resting levels at rest?  Test your HR with minimal exertion.  For example, walk up the stairs or around the house.  If your heart rate approaches your zone 1 heart rate or goes above a HR of 100, take the day off, rest, hydrate, recover.  If I walk into a patient's room and their heart rate is elevated, they have a fever, and I know that they were wheelchaired into the room (no prior exertion), I know their body is working pretty hard to fight the infection.  I would consider several more serious diagnoses like sepsis or dehydration.  I would have a low threshold of obtaining blood work and at least provide some intravenous fluids (IVF).  

Another objective measure is pulse oximetry (SpO2).  Some of you may have this and some of you don’t.  SpO2 let’s healthcare providers know how much oxygen is in your blood.  100% oxygen saturation is the best and in medicine we usually become concerned if the oxygen saturation drops below 90-92%.  If you have this doohicky on your phone or even with your fancy triathlon gadgets, check it out.  If your SpO2 is below 94-95% while at rest...take the day off.  It may be that your developing a lung infection, like pneumonia, and you should consider seeing your doctor.  If it is at or below 90-92% while at rest...DEFINITELY see your may be a bad pneumonia.  If your doohicky says you’re just fine, walk up the stairs or do minimal exertion that SHOULDN’T normally make you tired or even get your heart rate going.  If your SpO2 drops, take the day off, and make an appointment with your doctor.   

However, if you don’t have this wonderful gadget….here is the poor man’s method.  Obtain your respiratory rate (RR).  RR is essentially how many times you’re breathing in one minute.  One breath is equal to inspiration (breath in) and expiration (breath out).  That’s ONE breath.  You can count how many breaths you take in 15 seconds and multiply that by 4 and that’s your respiratory rate.  Try not to adjust your respiratory rate while doing this and BE HONEST when doing this.  Normal RR is 12-20 breaths per minute.  If you obtain your respiratory rate while at rest (NO CHEATING) and it is high...No working out.  Your body is working hard.  If you feel short of breath with this high respiratory rate, go see your doctor.  If your RR is normal...hey that’s a good thing, your illness may not be as bad as you think.  

Finally, your temperature.  Let’s make it simple.  If you have a fever, DO NOT WORKOUT.  If you don’t, hey that’s a good thing! ☺


Before we move onto to your assessment, let’s quickly recap your subjective and objective components.  

Subjectively: if you feel wiped out, if you get absolutely fatigued with minimal activity, if you pass out or are near passing out DO NOT WORKOUT.  If you’ve answered “no” to these questions or If you have above the neck symptoms (drippy nose, sore throat, etc.) and answered “no” to the questions in the subjective section, go onto the objective evaluation.  

Objective: If your resting HR is above 100 or anywhere near your zone 1 HR WHILE RESTING, DO NOT workout. If your HR reaches your aerobic zone or gets above 100 with minimal exertion, take the day off.  If your SpO2 is low at rest, DO NOT WORKOUT.  If your SpO2 drops with minimal exertion DO NOT workout.  If your RR is high at rest, DO NOT WORKOUT.  If you have a fever DO NOT WORKOUT.  


So you’ve gotten this far, Subjectively you’re feeling okay.  Objectively you seem to quantitatively pass the milestones and don’t have any concerning findings.  Now we are entering the “art of medicine” or in your case…”know thyself”


A:  As an emergency physician I am trained to think of worst case scenario.  The worst case scenario is something called sepsis or septic shock.  If you’ve gotten this far through your subjective & objective evaluation, you probably don’t have septic shock.  It is likely you have a viral or bacterial infection, either of which will eventually resolve with or without antibiotics (if bacterial).  Again, this is only if you are honest with yourself.   


P: At this point all of you are asking...WHAT’S THE PLAN?!?!?!   Here is my advice and here is where you have to be COMPLETELY HONEST with yourself.  If your symptoms are an annoyance, you have a cough that makes your voice sound terrible, your objective evaluation passes the mustard, and you actually feel okay, I would advise you to go workout with caution.  If, after 15 minutes, you’re not in it or it becomes incredibly difficult, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY AND STOP.  It is also okay to take your workout down a notch if you ABSOLUTELY WANT TO WORKOUT and your Subjective/Objective findings are normal.  Just explain it to your coach.   Personally, if I have anything above the neck or an annoying cough that doesn’t make me short of breath, I’ll hit the workout.  Sometimes the exercise adrenaline will slow that faucet in your nose or clear up your congestion temporarily.  Sometimes it may clear up your lungs and suppress your cough.  Working out may actually make you may feel a little better.  But know that your symptoms will return until you’re completely healed.  

Finally, I asked my sports medicine colleague about working out while sick.  Here is what she said, “Except mono, we always let anyone participate unless they were febrile. Fever changes your metabolic needs. There were some exceptions - if someone had some URI [upper respiratory tract infection] for weeks and just needed shut down to help them recover.”

All of you reading this blog are phenomenal athletes.  It is so impressive to watch each and every one of you compete and train day in and day out.  You are stronger than 95% of the patients I see in the ED.  You will heal with time and you will recover.  I know, I know, it’s the convalescence that sucks.  I am just now starting to feel back to my baseline after dealing with this flu for the past 3 weeks.  It sucked.  I felt like I took 3 steps back after moving 2 steps forward.  But here’s the kicker.  I have more passion now to attack Coach Sam’s cruel workouts (please be gentle Sam :P) than I did at the beginning of this year.  It’s the stresses and the struggle that give us the energy to be better than we were before.  You know there’s a word for that.  It’s called Evolve.  

Our Greatest Competition - with Nick Gregory

We have gotten to the time of the year where many of us are looking at the next season of competition. For some this means signing up for races, dialing in workouts, nailing that FTP test, or cleaning up our nutrition. However you want to put it - we are all turning our sights on what 2018 has in store for us. 

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Too often,  we can  get caught up in worrying about what others are doing, training, eating, riding, etc. They are our competition after all, we need to know what advantages they may have that we too can harness, but what if I told you there is more than just one form of competition - and perhaps the most important form is the more subtle of the two.

Some of you have guessed that I am talking about external and internal competition.

But what does all this mean? 

External Competition

This is competition that is on most everyone’s mind. It pushes us to beat that individual in our AG, or best them at the local group run. This type of behavior can focus you more on the splits from the last race your rival(s) posted that you can lose focus on your own training.

While there is undoubtedly a healthy aspect to having a competitive drive, and it can fuel the path for performance improvement, it can also be a debilitating driver. With the advent of social media, and the athletic related social media sites (i.e. Strava, Garmin Connect, Athlinks, etc) it is easier than ever to stalk (or ‘research’ as some like to call it) your local and non-local competitors- which can hinder as much as it might seem to help.

For me personally, I am not a fan of Strava and here is why - quite frankly, I don’t care what others are doing - what training protocols they follow, what KOMs they went after and posted, and other extraneous bullshit they decided to post on that particular day. What works for them may not work for me - individualized coaching is just that - it is about the individual and not a one size fits all plan. We are a part of Evolve because we are looking for guidance in our athletic endeavors, whatever they may be, and as such, we are being analyzed workout to workout so our respective coach can map out the rest of the course. One workout does not make or break our season - it is about the day in and day out, and posting how great one workout was to try to up your competition is just a distraction from the real goal.

Here is my confession - I used to post a lot of snapshots of my workouts that I absolutely crushed. I was THAT guy. But truth be told, I was in perhaps worse shape (physically and mentally) from those big training days (Note: no matter how smart you think you are, it is impossible to be objective and coach yourself). Why you ask? Because what wasn’t shown was the population of missed workouts that occurred 2-3x weekly. I was merely showing the highlight reel of my training, and when race day would come others would often make comments on how I train too much, or train better than I race. It was true to an extent.

There was a mindset that changed for me (which will come in a later blog post) and part of that was focusing on internal competition. Once I made that my focus, the gains started to come and ultimately I was happier than ever to train and race. 



Internal Competition

This is the competition that you have with your biggest competitor of all - yourself. Think of how many times you have gotten into a workout or a race and you are internally beating yourself up or essentially talking shit to yourself. I have been racing for about 6 years now and can honestly say I have never heard the type of shit talking that I do to myself come from a fellow competitor. This doesn’t necessarily need to happen in a race setting, this can also happen during a tough training session, or a session that you quite frankly would rather go eat a burger and have a beer then complete. The biggest driver that should push you day to day is yourself. It doesn’t matter if you are a front of the pack,  Elite AG athlete, middle of the pack or back of the pack athlete, or if you are just looking to finish - you can push yourself to new levels. For me personally, I wake up and tell myself to simply, “compete everyday”. This applies to my athletic life, as well as my professional and personal life. You have a choice to wake up everyday and be stagnant, or move forward and work to improve on yesterday. 

Of course you will have days where you are tired, stressed, or just plain over it. It is going to happen….not if, but when. Think of some internal drivers that will give you that extra boost. This can be a picture of you from your first race, a picture of the finish line for the first Ironman you are training for, or hell a picture of a piece of pizza for all that matters. If you know how to talk shit to yourself, then you also know how to motivate yourself!

So what does all of this mean - simply put, go out and grab life by the f’ing horns and get after it - but do it for YOURSELF first and foremost. Whether it is a tough hill workout, knocking out a strength work session, or completing a damn TPS report at work go out and Battle. Every. Motherf’ing. Day -  and if you can beat yourself each day, then you will also up the competition come race day.


Lessons From the Path of Resistance - with Coach Samantha

I am not sure what it was about this past weekend, but for many of our athletes they had some workouts that were not easy, and I do not mean not easy in terms of the physical stress - although for some that was surely part of it, but I mean not easy in terms of how it felt relative to how they hoped that it should have felt or wanted it to feel. In addition, there was a healthy dose of technological issues thrown in and it was kind of a perfect storm for some less than stellar workouts - or at least if we only cared about the data.

We have all been there. We will be there again soon enough.

I often joke that if I had a formula for making each workout amazing that I would be a very wealthy woman, but alas that magic potion alludes me. Call it what you will - a front row seat aboard the struggle bus, but ALL athletes have bad days where they have every intention of putting in some solid work and for whatever reason -  their body, or equipment has other intentions. This can sometimes be traced to lack of sleep, poor workout fueling, bad eating habits, too much stress, rushing around, or a heavy training load… but then there are just those days where is feels like the planets have aligned and it just all goes to hell.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when this happens - as it is not an IF, but a WHEN…


  1. It happens to ALL athletes

  2. Your attitude will affect how this experience affects you

  3. These days can be a real opportunity for growth


Let’s start with an athlete’s perspective. We talk about this analogy all the time with our athletes and to be honest, I learned this concept from one of my past coaches, but the idea is that a coach has a map.  The coach sees the athlete’s plan from an aerial view. There is a starting place and the finish line and many routes to get there. Of course there is a “fastest path of least resistance” but there are also other ways to get to the end. This aerial view allows the coach to guide the athlete to their A race even when the ideal route gets blocked. The athlete, however, is in the midst of the forest and can only see a few feet in front of them. They see just the trees and the trail. This path can look amazing at times and dark and scary and hopeless at other times and even worse it can diverge. This is where the un-coached athlete often trips up and either chooses the harder path, or spends way too much time thinking about which way to go.

This weekend, many of our athletes experienced a giant boulder just being tossed on the trail seemingly out of nowhere. All of them had a choice - or several really:


  1. Sit down in the road,  or worse yet turn back

  2. Whine and complain, even get super angry and eventually some might get over the obstacle and others will stop in their tracks

  3. Be momentarily annoyed, but embrace the new challenge and emerge stronger


I am proud to say that all of them picked choice three, but I also know that there are many out there who would not have done so and that three is the hardest choice to make, especially without a solid support system. Some would have thrown in the towel right away, some would have wasted a ton of energy on being angry or feeling sorry for themselves (stand on the sidelines of any race and you will see this happen far too often). Those who truly want  to achieve their best know that this is just ONE workout of MANY and that the lessons that can be learned are perhaps far greater than what happens when the workout is perfect. While the athlete’s initial feelings might be of frustration, anger, or even failure, there is not much to gain from allowing those emotions to take over, but a ton to gain from knowing that on the days where you cannot hit the metrics prescribed, or you have wasted time dealing with getting your trainer to sync, or you forgot your stuff for the pool, you still get it done to the best of your ability.  The athlete who sees these days as a challenge rather than a defeat will in the long run be able to draw from this on race day.


From a coach’s view - the athlete who is able to adjust on the fly and deal with the boulder in the way without letting it stop them is the athlete who is best equipped on race day.  They are the athlete who will be able to handle the many things that come in endurance racing. I have never had a race without a wrench thrown in the plan, and while I might not be the most physically gifted athlete on the course, I am good at taking what the day gives me and making the most of it - in other words embracing the suck. “Bad” days are in a way a gift, they teach us things that perfect days never could, they test us, and when we rise to that challenge we emerge grittier and a better competitor. The next time you face a unexpected obstacle, look for the lesson that is presented and do not get bogged down by the data.


2017 - Another Amazing Year!

In 2016 we promised that 2017 would be even better - and dare we say that this was even more true than we thought possible.  Some of the things that made 2106 fabulous are still the same. We are still very proud of the team and how they work together to create a vibrant and caring community.  The coaching staff grew once again, and the camaraderie that each athlete feels with their peers surpassed previous years. And just like always we had a very solid year of PRs, podiums and first time finishes. 

While we are wildly anticipating 2018 and what will unfold, we want to take a moment to look back at some of the amazing achievements of 2017 - and what better way to do that than with photos. We hope you enjoy these as much as we do!

Way Back Wednesday Race Report with Athlete Emily Johnson

Ironman Louisville 2017



I swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles, and ran 26.2 miles…THAT’S 140.6 MILES… IN ONE DAY!!!

But this was so much more than one day.  Last year I had signed up for Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga 2017 which is at the end of May and I started training at the beginning of 2017.  As Chattanooga got closer I started thinking about what my next challenge would be.  I looked at how long it would take me to train for a 140.6, looked at the Ironman race calendar and Ironman Louisville fell dead on.  I remember texting my sister Genny back in April “if I asked you if you think I should do a full Ironman in October, would you say ‘no’?  If so, I won’t ask.” Basically, I was going to do it, no matter what anyone said.  People would ask “why?” and I never really had a good reason except if I ever wanted to do one, there wasn’t going to be a better time.  I signed up with Coach Teresa with the Evolve team and had 6 months to train…game on!

The training quickly consumed my life, but in a good way.  I trained 10-18 hours a week.  Every Saturday I went out for a long bike ride followed by a short run and every Sunday included a long run.  I always tried to get out the door early, but even still I was gone until after noon several days.  If we were traveling somewhere, my bike went with us…to the Lake of the Ozarks, to Chicago, and to Florida.  My peak training week I logged 18+ hours, which included a 112-mile bike ride in 95° weather through Wildwood, MO and was my first century ride.  Besides Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga I also raced the Route 66 70.3 in Springfield, IL where I PR’d by over 30 minutes.  I made some amazing friends on this journey and had incredible support from Jared and my family.  Jared had more faith in me than I did in myself, from the very beginning.

As for my race report, the day is kind of a blur, but here it is.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Most triathletes are worried most about the swim, I’m typically worried about everything after the swim (thank you Mom and Fulton Fins)!  It was a self-seeded start, so I lined up with the 1 hour and 10-minute group.  Thankfully, I found Jared and my family as I was walking down the chute.  Lots of pictures, hugs, and laughs.  I was finally more excited than nervous.  Before I knew it, I was at the edge of the dock and jumped in without giving it a second thought.  Here we go!

2.4 Mile Swim – 1:02:20

0.8 miles upstream in the Ohio River in an area protected by an island.  Nice because I didn’t have to sight very much since I could see land on both sides.  Got to the turnaround buoy and immediately felt the choppiness. Really nothing too bad, but not smooth.  I passed A LOT of people.  Kept repeating “strong and steady” in my mind.  Stopped once to un-fog my goggles. Loved seeing 1:02 on my watch when I got out of the water.  Got my wetsuit stripped off, saw my family on the way to T1.  I was super happy and having a blast!

Transition 1 – 7:37

My T1 volunteer was awesome!  So helpful, got everything out of my bag, handed me what I asked for and sent me on my way.

112 Mile Bike – 7:05:30

On to the bike.  Out River Road, onto 42.  We had a nice tailwind.  Then started the loop.  The main thing I thought about on the first loop was “dang, I’m a fast swimmer” since I was getting passed by tons of cyclists!  Ha!  But I knew that would happen so I just stuck to my race plan.  Felt pretty good and had a good pace going.  Saw tons of Evolve teammates on the route and saw my family in La Grange.  Bathroom break at mile 50.  Again, the volunteers were amazing!  They took my bike and asked if I wanted my bottles refilled and when I came out of the bathroom my bike was restocked and ready to go.  On the second loop and was looking forward to special needs so I could have a break.  Saw my family there and took an opportunity to squirt Anne with a water bottle…sister love!  I really stuck to my nutrition plan (gel/blocks every 45 minutes and 1 bottle/hr) as I’d heard so many times how important that was.  Fatigue definitely set in around mile 70.  Then at mile 80 we took a left turn onto 42 directly into the headwind. Miles 80 to 112 were BRUTAL…headwind, crosswind, rain, cold.  Sometimes the crosswind gusts were so strong it pushed me across my lane.  (Post-race I heard the wind was up to 30 mph and gusts up to 40mph!)  I pushed on except for a brief stop to remove a large feed bag that blew across the road and stuck to my back tire.  There were several times I remember just laughing out loud and thinking “you’ve got to be kidding me”!   River Road was very rough and the last 12 miles seemed to take forever.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to get off my bike!

Transition 2 – 10:35

Into T2, took my time, grabbed what I needed, quick bathroom break and went on my way.  How in the world am I going to run a marathon?!

26.2 Mile Run – 4:47:45

My legs definitely felt weird for the first couple miles, but I finally started to feel like I was in a groove at mile 3.  I was just so happy to be off my bike!  I saw tons of the Evolve crew and held a strong, steady pace.  I was worried about stomach issues as I’d been dealing with it during all my training, but started on my run nutrition (1 block every 2 miles then gel at mile 6).  For the first half of the run, I only stopped at a water station if I needed to refill my water bottle or for bathroom.  Bathroom break at mile 7.  Saw my family at the turn around (mile 8ish).  Bathroom break at mile 10.  By that time, I was NOT feeling good.  Saw my coach who told me to switch to salt and water only for the next hour.  I tried that for a couple miles and I couldn’t wait to get to special needs.  I wanted my gloves since it was starting to get cold and my cards from Logan and Avery for a little motivation!  What was the worst part of the course?  Mile 13!  You see the finish line and are within a couple hundred feet then take a right turn to head out for another 13 miles.  It was heartbreaking!  But special needs was around the corner.  Got my gloves and my cards.  Read my cards as I ran.  Logan had drawn a picture of me swimming, biking, and running, then put stickers all over it!  Loved it!  I needed the motivation.  I’m so glad Coach Teresa warned me before the race about the urge to walk during the marathon.  She had told me “You will really want to walk.  You’ll be extremely tired, see other people walking and want to just walk for a bit, but there is no reason you need to walk.  Walk through the water stations then get going again”.  It was really getting dark and I wanted to walk.  My pace dropped off, but I kept running and thinking “Coach Teresa told me there was no reason to walk”.  I had so many thoughts during the race that started with “Coach Teresa told me…”:)  So, I ran from water station to water station.  I also started to get hungry!  I definitely didn’t want any gels or blocks so I started to try the chicken broth as Teresa suggested.  Also tried pretzels and chips.  The salt tasted so good.  I continued to see my family and teammates over the next several miles.  I remember saying to my family at mile 18ish “I’m just ready to be done.”  But I still had so long to go.  Once I turned the corner at mile 20 to head back, I knew I was going to make it.  Just run to the next water station…run to the next water station.  I could hear the finish line about a mile away.  When I turned the corner, I could see the finish line and I saw Coach Sam who reminded me to “soak it all in”.  The finishers chute was packed!  Music, lights, banging on the fences, cheering.  I saw my family again right before I crossed the finish line.  It was surreal!  

EMILY JOHNSON, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN – 13 hours, 13 minutes 47 seconds!!!

Ironman was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, physically and mentally, but it’s amazing what our minds and bodies can do.  Thank you to Meg, Sarah, and Stephanie for making training so much more fun!  Thank you so much to Coach Teresa for all the support, planning, listening, and advice.   She picked me up as an athlete only 6 months before race day.  That is brave!  And I’ve never worked with another tri coach, but I bet very few of them do 112-mile bike rides in 95° weather with their athletes or rub their athlete’s feet after the race.  Thank you to Aunt Marilyn and Uncle Dave for the hospitality, delicious food, and wonderful company both during my training weekend in September and race weekend.  Thank you to my mom for joining me on my Louisville training weekend and for the whole Ironman weekend.  Thank you to my sisters for surprising me in Louisville the day before my race and for being there for me race day.  And HUGE thank you to Jared!  He knows just as much about triathlon now as I do.  He listened to me talk about it non-stop for over 6 months, came to all my races, joined me on training runs/rides, and so much more.  He supported me throughout this journey and believed in me.  

What an experience!  I am truly blessed!


Why I Quit Avoiding Swim Camp and So Should You! -athlete insight with Scott Kolbe.

I remember going to pick up my packet and dropping off my bike at my first 70.3, the wind was brutal, there were large white caps on the water,  and the bikes were sliding all over the place in the transition racks from the wind. The next morning they tested the water temperatures and the temperature was 55 degrees. I remember being relieved that there was no wind, but had never swam in water that cold. I was scared shitless.

That morning I remember meeting Coach Sam for the first time in transition (She was not my coach at that time). She gave me a pep talk and I remember thinking I needed this, again I didn’t know her – but she probably saw the fear in my eyes and body language. Let’s just say I survived this swim, it was brutally hard and I cramped up terribly swimming. Despite being miserable that day on the swim, I still had that feeling taking it all in and realizing I was doing this race no matter how hard it was.

Prior to Evolve I HATED every F&*^ing swim at every race. I absolutely hated swimming and fought it every step of the way. The conversation to myself would often be why am I doing this? This is supposed to be fun. I would have massive anxiety weeks prior to races. I said to myself I have to learn to swim better. But I wasn’t sure how to get there.

I remember Sam talking about swim camps and I KNEW the camp was what I needed. But the fear in me, said there is no F^*%ing way that I will ever go to one of those swim camps. The excuses I made up where pretty good. I just made sure they never worked with my schedule. The reality and the fear of going into an environment where I thought everyone would be swimming like Katie Ledecky and I would be the one holding up the camp sounded miserable.

So at some point, Sam said I really want to see you come to swim camp. I reluctantly agreed and I signed up for my first swim camp. I quickly was teamed up with two other athletes that were of similar ability and we shared a lane. I remember listening to every word trying to learn. The reality was that weekend I swam more than I had ever swam in a weekend. I knew I would be sore for a few days. But I survived!


So this is where things got interesting, I remember going back to swim and suddenly I would look at my lap average pace and I realized I was swimming faster. Those magic thresholds you place on yourself and pace. I suddenly realized I was swimming at an average pace that I dreamed of before. This same year, I went back and repeated a 70.3 from the year before. This time I shaved 7 minutes off my swim time and my previous swim time at this race was really good for me.

So something happened after this race. I continued swimming by myself. But I found myself starting to enjoy swimming. I was racing better and my swim was setting me up to have some pretty great races. I was also craving swimming in a group of focused athletes, Evolve has Friday workouts, but it does not work with my schedule, so after a discussion with Sam I decided to join a masters swim group closer to my home. This was so outside my comfort zone. Masters along with swim camp have raised my confidence level in triathlon so much higher; I almost forget how hard it used to be for me.

The ironic part is today people come up to me and say, well you don’t understand because you are a really good swimmer. I laugh and say, I probably understand more than you think. They ask how do you get better. I said two things, went to swim camp and joined a Masters swim group.

Ultimately I realized swimming is all about consistency, being pushed and good advice. So my advice is face your fear and eventually it becomes a distant memory.

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70.3 Xiamen Race Report - Athlete Insight with JP Palmer!

Believe it or not, this will be the first race report I’ve ever written!  Not sure why; I do enjoy talking about races after the fact, so I’ll just blame it on the fact that a large percentage of my life is spent writing research papers and textbooks and it feels like work to write.

So, the backstory to this race is important (to me anyway); in 2014 after I did Ironman Brazil and came back home, Pete (my late husband, who couldn’t go at the last minute because of his cancer protocol) said I should do Ironman South Africa next because they speak English there (I had a few difficulties along the way since I don’t know Portuguese) and he also always wanted to do a safari.  So, our plans were for me to do South Africa while I was on sabbatical and he would come along and we’d do a safari afterwards.

Obviously that didn’t happen, but after delaying my sabbatical a year (should have had it right after he passed away which I thought was a bad idea) I decided to do South Africa in 2016 because I was intrigued by it, and a bit of it was that it was honoring his memory in some weird way.  And I fell in love with the people there……I absolutely loved them.  So when Ironman announced that World’s 70.3 2018 would be in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the same town as where the Ironman was, I decided I would try and qualify for a spot.  I had read where the Wanda Company (who bought Ironman) had put together four new races, all 70.3’s, all in China and all offering both Kona slots and World’s 70.3 slots.  So my sneaky little mind thought hey!  I could try and get into great shape in the summer/fall, go do a late season race, and try for a World’s slot to go back to South Africa, figuring that the fastest people in my age group would be vying for Kona, and that perhaps World’s slots would roll down to me, also figuring that people might decline them (as they typically do it when it is in a completely different country….remember what happened at Florida 70.3 when slots rolled down to 28th place).  So, that was my thinking behind picking the race.

I almost settled on 70.3 Heifei, which was in October at the end of fall break, so the timing was perfect.  But when I talked to Wei Wei about the race, she suggested that Xiamen 70.3 would be “better” as it is a larger city/much better destination place/etc and oh, by the way, she can’t do the October race. So Xiamen it was!  And all this happened a year before the race, but it gives a little context to the why this race…….


The planning piece isn’t all that pertinent here and would take way too long; however, a couple of things are funny/ironic enough to mention.  One of Wei Wei’s good friends from Lifetime Fitness, an awesome athlete herself, Beth Sanborn, decided to try and qualify for Kona and was to be my roommate, and Wei Wei had a friend from England that she talked into the race and was to be Wei Wei’s roommate, so we’d be a fearsome foursome.  First, thank the LORD for Wei Wei and her ability to speak the language.  Not only did race registration not even open until August (and hello, who is going to buy a ticket to Asia unless they are actually signed up and paid for the race) but since we were doing the “travel package” (race entry and hotel rooms and transportation from the airport/etc), that link wasn’t live……and we waited……and emailed…..and called….and emailed…..for weeks.  Kept being promised “tomorrow”…..and “next week”……meanwhile I’m super nervous that they now only want Chinese to do the race.  Why else would this be happening?  Finally we were sent a form to fill out, and were instructed to email my credit card info and security code.  That was crazy….but whatever.  Then the wait to have them indicate that they received the form and charged my card began.  And by now it is the second week of September.  Finally heard back that they won’t accept a credit card and want a wire transfer.  Whatever.  Did it on September 18.  Got the link to register on September 29th (after a mess on their end saying they didn’t receive the money; well, Bank of America said differently) and BAM!  We were in!!  Whew!  

Next… to Xiamen, not straightforward as we had decided to fly in and out of Beijing using American Airlines/Orbitz, and the three legs within China (Beijing to Xiamen, Xiamen to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Beijing) using a Chinese version of orbitz, as the Hong Kong and Beijing part at the end were part of the sightseeing we were planning for after the race.

A page written and nothing about the race….maybe this is why I don’t write race reports!  So let’s get to the race.  We leave at 6 am on November 7th and get to Beijing at 11:30 pm on November 8th.  Wei Wei won’t be there till Friday night so Beth and I are on our own for 2 days.  No race stuff till Friday so we decide to go walk to the “beach” to see where the swim is.  Unbeknownst to us, it is one of the lowest tide days in months, so we see 150 meters of mud, no water coming up to the beach (hard to call it a beach, seemed like all just mud).  Hmmmmm.  Then we walked to the Bank of China so she could exchange $100 for yuan and it took over an hour and four forms.  This isn’t going to be easy………

A couple of things about the days leading up to the race.  I’d worked to drop 14 lbs and also operate best on a plain, vanilla-bland diet (this means simple simple carbs, low fat, nothing fancy, and I do better with non-restaurant food, to be honest) so for a couple of meals, I ate sandwiches I brought.  Yes I was in China, but no I didn’t want to eat stuff and have my system out of wack.  And Samantha suggested doing this for all the pre-race meals.  So I spent a couple of meals watching others eat and going back to the room and eating turkey and cheese sandwiches or bagels and peanut butter and a protein drink; I also carried a ton of fruit with me (just ask the girls how heavy my backpack was) as I knew getting to a normal store wasn’t in the cards before the race (no car, etc).  

The night before the race I did a dinner with Wei Wei and Beth, but ate plain noodles.  And a bagel and peanut butter before bed (again, all normal).

Finally, we are at race morning.  Up at 3:45, felt like a happy machine in that I wasn’t worried nervous, just excited nervous.  Machine in the sense that I was in the best shape I’ve been in in years and was pretty excited to see what I could do.  Walked to transition; this was the longest transition I’ve ever experienced in a race.  Ever.  The sign proudly said “Transition = 520 meters” which bragged how long it was.  Two bikes racks wide.  Added a hat to the run bag just in case; Wei Wei forgot all her Gu in the hotel and I talked her into going back for it.  What they had on the course was CPT and it’s not the same sugar as Powergel/Gu or Gatorade Endurance.  Waited for her to come back and watched the pros get announced one by one, and the Wanda Sports group CMO gave a little talk (the holding company that bought ironman).  Still felt pretty calm and excited.

Started in the 35-38 minute wave, which was a stretch goal, but I could tell the wind was going to be in our favor, and by 7 am it was up to over 20 mph.  Enough that the buoys kept floating out of place as we watched the pros swim…….so I figured I’d swim faster than “normal”.  It was tough getting out to the first turn buoy, as we were swimming diagonal to the wind/waves, but after 300 meters it was game on……you could feel yourself being pushed along like crazy.  Swimming 30 minutes is not in my wheelhouse but that is what I did…..wetsuit helped, of course, as does the salt water, but I was thanking the wind. I looked at my watch when I got out and felt like a real swimmer!!  Rode that high for about 30 seconds until I saw how crazy the palm trees were swaying and thought Damn!  It’s going to be a hard bike…….

So onto the bike.  Packed Gatorade endurance in baggies as I sweat 46 ounces an hour and couldn’t carry enough to drink, so I planned on mixing on the fly, which worked.  A little messy but whatever.  First 7 miles was straight into the wind and my heart rate was 160; promised Sam to keep it in the 135-145 zone, so I thought once I settle in I’ll back off a little, my heart rate is always high to start.  And I was committed to racing by the numbers for once in my life.  Then we turned back and had a sweet tailwind, and on the little add-on it was a head-wind again so I really worked on backing off a bit and only watching heart rate and not speed (because watching speed on a windy day can be depressing!).  

So, the amazing things about the bike course……besides passing a lot of guys (the race was approximately 12-1 men to woman, lol) were the “guards” or whatever you call them (Chinese military) standing along the fenced off bike course every 20 feet.  I kid you not.  And 8 million video cameras…..well, ok, not that many.  But I’d guess 800.  It is just the way it is in China.  On the beach boardwalk at any given place, look up.  You’ll see two video cameras.  Or more…..the comforting thing is that you know if something happens to you, someone will be there.  Course you won’t know where they are taking you if you are doing something that they don’t like……☺

Saw Wei Wei on my second loop; unfortunately, when I saw her there was a motorcycle riding beside her.  Couldn’t hear her arguing with the guy but it looked like she was; they were all over the course.  Easy to pick out a cute thing in bright green and blue; seemed like everyone was red and black.

The last 6 miles on the second loop were straight back into the wind; course was short by .5 (thanks Xiamen!)  Running into transition meant running though the football-length transition area, then you get to the bag area, and of course, porta-lou (they aren’t porta potties here) stop…..and if you’ve seen my facebook posts, their kind of porta-lous are in ground, so a stop requires a good workout on the quads….they felt ok, not as fatigued as I thought they would be.  Honestly, the bike time just flew by……water on the femoral artery and head at all four aid stations, tried to drink at least 40 ounces an hour.  Seemed to work as I had to pee like a racehorse after the bike.

So the plan was to run fairly conservatively the first 6 miles.  I had 500 calories of Gu on the bike and another 200 calories of Gu on the first 5 miles of the run, and carried a water bottle with concentrated Gatorade Endurance…….drank half, then filled it up so the next go-around wouldn’t be so concentrated.  So yes, a lot of calories early on, but I wanted to push it the second half and the last three miles, well, I was planning on running fast and so my gut wouldn’t be absorbing anything, typically your gut doesn’t when  your heart rate is so high.  Got up to 81 degrees that day, so I don’t know what the temperature was when I finished, but the second loop was brutal.  Stopped for ice in my sports bra 6 or 7 times and since it was a 3 loop course (actually out and backs) you see the same volunteers a bunch of times, and apparently I was an anomaly as the volunteers kind of freaked out when I put it there.  And after a while they had it ready when I got close, which made me laugh but I was too out of breath for that.  ☺


Started slowing down a little at mile 9-10; felt my heart rate creeping up so I started using water on my head (even grabbed a couple bottles sitting on top of trash cans and just prayed no one would tackle me and yell “outside assistance, she goes to jail!”)….mile 11 had a little downhill and I thought hey!  I still have a lot left in these legs and I’m going to try and really run hard these last two miles (I can honestly say it has been FOREVER since I’ve been able to do this) and I was so excited just by that.  Didn’t care what my time was, didn’t care who was in front of me, just was happy. I’m racing in Xiamen, I’m racing healthy, I’m racing fast, I get to DO THIS!!!  I was feeling super lucky, and super happy……and knowing my peeps were tracking me online kept me pretty honest too…..and I kept imagining Sam checking the tracker again…..and again…..and that made me smile inside.   

Had a fleeting moment of thinking “I wonder what Pete would think about this?” and immediately put it out of my mind; I was not going to get emotional and have my throat close and slow down because I couldn’t breathe.  Figured I could think about that later; like Coach Teresa (and my BFF) always says, and I believe also…..he is up there as proud of me now as he always was, and smiling his big smile, just wished I could see him at the finish line again like I always used to.

So here’s the best part of the race.  When you are on your last “loop” you have both the yellow and red armbands.  I had spent some time during the race looking at calves (for my age group numbers) and armbands to see if I could figure out where people in my age group were.  Easy to pick out women, obviously, because we were so outnumbered, and I was patting myself on the back once for running down two in my age group, however, when I passed them I saw one armband.  So good job, JP, they are an hour behind you so that wasn’t helpful.  

So I’m pushing the pace here, running above what I thought I could hold, but I kept thinking about the intervals Sam had me do, and some workouts my pace just kept getting faster the longer I ran.  And I thought I could do this for two miles and just thought about how hard some of those training runs were, and they were for this.  Then at mile 12ish, we began the lonely part… the boardwalk and no one at all along the way until the finish line.  One guy I picked it up a bit to catch was a guy from the hotel going for a Kona slot (much older than me, lol) and in front of him was someone with 51 on her calf.  Shit!!!  So I figured she started way behind me on the swim and was coming in at a faster time, which makes no sense now because I was not passed by a single women on the bike.  But whatever.  Race mode thinking.  I figured what the hell, my ego would like to just cross the finish line ahead of her.  So I hung onto her heels for a minute and then passed her.  Keep in mind I’m running about an 8:30 pace here, which is a stretch to think about holding at the end of a race.  And then she freaking passed me back.  And as any good self-centered competitive triathlete knows, you gotta try and pass ‘em back.  And I did, thinking “Oh no, this isn’t happening with 100 yards to go without me giving it my all”.  So I’m not sure where that 7:50 pace came from but for 100 yards, my legs held up.  ☺  Thanks legs.  And lungs.  And all those Damn Sam intervals.

That’s not even the best part.  She comes over to me in a few minutes and wants to know if I’m there for a Kona slot.  I said no, I’m there for a slot for South Africa, but that I don’t know if I was even close.  Then she wants to know my time.  Showed her, and asked what hers was.  Holy shit!  I beat her by over 2 minutes….so I guess I didn’t have to give myself a heart attack trying to run her down, huh!  She asks again about Kona, and I’m starting to get annoyed, and want to go find Beth and see how she did.  Was a bit worried about her, as I was gaining on her on the run and she is a faster running than me.  

So we found each other, went in for food and it was a freaking spam sandwich.  Smelled like a dead rat.  Right behind the finish line they had our morning clothes bags, so I grabbed it and yup, you’d be proud of me, mixed up my recovery drink (no choice, eh, between that and a delightful spam sandwich).  We grabbed a seat on the bleachers and waited for Wei Wei; so my fuzzy recollection is seeing a bunch of texts on my phone from Samantha that she had written during the race that went something like “I’m holding my breath” and “Just keep doing what you are doing” and “Mother fucking fuck!!”  I knew she would be tracking me and because of the time difference (14 hours) it would make for a late night for her…… so shortly she said she thought the tracker indicated second, freaking second, but it was not official as the tracker had paused!  That’s a podium, baby!!  She said I’d get a slot almost certainly to South Africa, and that the first place girl in my age group was from Turkey and the first place gal in Beth’s age group was from Thailand (the China 70.3’s are the only ones that have both Kona and World’s 70.3 slots) so we had people from all over the world.  

We saw Wei Wei finish, and then we all three waited for Laura, (she did a relay and we had to wait quite a while).  My legs do better moving afterwards so I paced the finish line chute for about 90 minutes……still couldn’t see results on the tracker, no timing tent, so I figured we’d find out when we got back to the room.  Which wasn’t until 430; by then my phone had died…..when I plugged it in I saw this:   “You did it….Kona…..I’m in tears……Fuuuuuuck……Text me when you get this” and “Holy Fuck Holy Fuck” from Samantha. Yup, just what I could hear her saying if she had been there ☺

I stared at the phone, felt like I was going into shock and then called her.  It was only 2:30 am Saint Louis time, lol.  She had texted that she was wide awake and I figured what the hell.   I had some tears on the phone with Samantha so that was awesome, it didn’t sink in then and it’s has not sunk in yet either.  But there will be time enough for that stuff when I get back and go give Samantha the biggest hug ever and see my Evolve friends.  The only downer of the day was that Beth didn’t win her age group and so she didn’t get a Kona slot, which I feel horrible about. So the next couple hours were surreal; going to the awards banquet (with crazy food like ox brisket, duck, fish balls---I was dying for a piece of pizza or a sub sandwich but whatever.  And then the awards ceremony, I usually just watch them, not be in them!

So probably the best non-race story happened on the podium.  The girl I ran down at the end….the same girl that asked me my finishing time and was I going for a Kona slot, that I told I was aiming for South Africa, .turns out she is an All-World Athlete from Turkey.  And so we get up there on the podium and she is next to me and says “Are you taking the Kona slot?” and I say I say what Samantha would have probably said.  “Fuck yes!!”  And she looks at me funny and said “But you said you were going for South Africa” and I just look at her and shrug.  Then she points to her shirt (she is proudly wearing her Kona Finisher 2016 shirt) and says “Do you have any idea what Kona is all about?” at which point I am not even sure what I said.  WTF!  She kept talking and it was like she was moving her mouth and I couldn’t hear anything, I was just trying to process what she just said to me.  Now I can think of better retorts, but at the time, I just finally said ‘You know, I did ok there in 2013” and turned away.  Who says that to someone, but whatever.  

She tried one more time, after we got off the stage, and asked if I was taking the slot. What did I just say? Felt like slugging her.  But with all the video cameras everywhere it would be my luck to end up in jail over something like that.  So I just smiled and said yes.

So, a little wordy, but it is what it is.  Would have to say that I credit trusting Samantha in 99% of the training plan (I still balk at the two hour ride the week out but that’s just me).  You guys know how it feels when someone has your back, and I always feel like she has mine, and only wants the best for me.  Sometimes I would look at a week’s workouts ahead of time; sometimes I could only do it one day at a time, especially on the harder run days.  But this year I logged everything and swam every interval and if for nothing else, it taught me even more about structure and consistency and following a plan instead of winging it. I can also say that focusing on nutrition both while training and while just living has made a huge difference.  I tightened up my eating habits and made some changes along the edges starting back in July/August (like putting food in smaller bowls, never eating standing up, buying baby bagels instead of the monster ones, and eating even more fruits and veggies than before) which helped a ton, as did simply being more mindful of the equation calories in < calories out.  Pretty simple.  I also know how my weight hinders my running pace, and wanted to give it a go to see if I could finish a race that I traveled half-way around the world in a manner like I have in the past (NOT dying at the end and shuffling, lol) with a combination of solid training, high fitness and solid race weight.  

So now I’m looking forward to 2018!  Love ya guys and gal, I just love my Evolve family.  I may not see all of you all the time, but I keep up with your training/etc. on Facebook and via Sam, and carried your energy with me. Love you Teresa, you would have loved this trip and thanks for all you do for me.  And Samantha, I’m out of words.  You know how I feel about you.  I couldn’t have done this without you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart


2018:Time to Fail - with Coach Samantha

This past weekend was the first really cold weekend in Saint Louis, some of our athletes ran through snow in Chicago and New York and suddenly it really felt like winter. The onset of winter, the shorter days, and the feeling that holidays are fast approaching have many of us thinking about our goals for 2018 and beyond!

Season planning for many athletes is in full swing and race schedules are rapidly filling up - which has naturally made me begin to think about my plans for 2018.

For me 2017 was a year that marked a turning point in my athletic career, after several years of of working to get back to running and triathlon following intensive knee surgery and even more intensive rehab, I proved that long course triathlon was something that my body would still allow me to do.

2017 was about me making sure my body could handle the training, and thus I have decided that 2018 will be all about working on my mind.

 When you text your best friend a selfie while laying on the floor after an FTP test where you nearly died and your FTP was a whole 2 watts higher than the previous test!

When you text your best friend a selfie while laying on the floor after an FTP test where you nearly died and your FTP was a whole 2 watts higher than the previous test!

When we discuss season goals with our athletes we always try to focus them on goals they can control and not outcomes  - we want to focus on the process of their training and not dwell on where they hope their training will end up. The goal is to be present!

Working with athletes to formulate their plans for 2018 led me to do a very deep introspection of what I wanted for my athlete-self in 2018. And after much thought - I  have one goal - to see how much I can suffer. I know that sounds really vague, but I was in a good groove of pushing this many years ago and my body just would not allow me to reach those limits. With a healthy(ish) knee again, I am ready to jump back into it.

The truth is that I have crossed many a finish line and the pattern usually goes something like this - I feel like I’m going to die .... walk for a few minutes … regroup… and then inevitably think I could have done better at x, y and z. And I doubt this will ever change as I think it is the driving force to race, but I would like to think I could creep closer to eeking out a little more suffering.

In 2017 my coach and I were really cautious about my training and she was super smart to limit the number of races that I did until we knew what I could handle. This meant that I raced one Half distance Aqua Bike and a 70.3 - this was just enough to test the waters with my knee, but simply not enough to test the limits of my mental toughness. I made a lot of mistakes at Muncie and while I was happy to be racing again, the end result left me with a feeling of disappointment and a desire to achieve more.

And if I am being totally honest, I put up a lot of barriers which would guarantee that no matter what happened at that race, I had a reason why and an out if racing was not for me any longer.

So what’s the plan to achieve this big goal? I have to accomplish a few things to make it happen.

The first is that I need to race more - nothing insane. I plan to race four times in 2018. At this point I am thinking three 70.3s and a sprint. Racing more will give me more chances to work on the suffering in a race environment. Race anxiety is something that I really battle with - like it fucks me up in the head. I love and hate to race, and since I love, love, love to train, and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to coach, I have avoided racing a ton as of late with the excuse that my knee could not handle it - the truth is that my knee can probably take it, but I was not sure that my mind could - and for the first time in a long time, I am ready to slay those race anxiety demons.

I need to fail. A lot. This is a huge part of this puzzle. I know for sure that I have to be able to come head to head in training and racing with failure. In fact my hope is that I can fail - this is not something that I have ever really wanted before - who wants to fail? But, one thing that really has been amazing for me as an athlete is the opportunity that I have as a coach. I actually do not think that there is anything you can do in your athletic career that will make you a better athlete than to coach as it allows you to  intimately see the journey that so many others take and provides you with a first hand glimpse of the inner workings of great athletes during their highs and lows. It makes me realize that failure is not something that only I experience. And it also has shown me that those who achieve the most view failure as an opportunity. My 20 year old self would have said fuck that shit and gone the other way - but 20 years later and I realize that this is what is most needed to take me to where I would like to go as an athlete and a human. And honestly what I have needed all along.

I need to take chances. This is probably my biggest barrier that I need to get over. As a coach and in many aspects of my life, I am confident, but when it comes to how I see myself on a daily basis, I see a person who is not fast enough, does not work hard enough, and could always do more , which prevents me from taking chances and truly getting really uncomfortable. This makes for a lot of noise in my head - noise that needs to be silenced if I want to be able to get out of my comfort zone.

 No kids, no husbands - time to swim, bike and run until you don't know if you should laugh or cry from the feeling of exhaustion.&nbsp;

No kids, no husbands - time to swim, bike and run until you don't know if you should laugh or cry from the feeling of exhaustion. 

I am really lucky to have two really amazing friends in my life, who have helped me to get to a better version of myself and they are often the ones helping me to see my true potential. This was crystallized this past summer when I went home to New York and went for a run with my best friend.  I had warned my coach about my New York vacation and as I had just raced, I was not in a specific training block so I went into full rogue athlete status. Colleen is a total badass runner and I know that running with her means that I better be ready to suffer. She is a machine and has the ability to get to some deep place and hurt in a way that I can only hope to one day. On this particular run we set out on one of old routes (back in the day we logged a million miles before the sun was up each day) and so while I have not lived on the East Coast in almost 10 years, I know each twist and turn, up and down, and shaded stretch of the route ---- or so I thought. I guess, after 10 years, Colleen had decided to change the route a little and this threw me for a mental loop as I had already mentally planned and decided how the run was going to unfold. I knew when I would hurt the most and where I would get relief - I had a total mental plan and had decided the outcome before the run started. I was sure that we were headed to the right at the end of the street, which meant one push up the hill, followed by a flat and then one big hill before we turned to the last mile stretch home - but nope, she signaled that we would be heading left. Instantly, in my head I was like, what in the actual fuck, left, I have never run this way, I have no clue what lies ahead, and that just meant that I got so mentally bogged down that I let the run control me, rather than control the run. LEFT did not fit my plan! A plan that I was so beholden to that I would no longer just run and enjoy.

I know for sure that what I need is to let go of my need to control every step of the way - the next step in this journey must include letting go of control in order to gain a new sense of control and a freedom to fail, learn, grow, fail again and reach beyond my current limits.


The Time is Now!

For many athletes and fitness enthusiasts January 1st seems like the perfect time to get started on fitness goals. Which naturally leads to the New Year being a very popular time to start with a coach or a training program. However, in many cases, waiting until then might be too late - and here are few reasons why -

One of the best times to work on the aspects of your sport that need fine tuning are the months of the “off-season” (we should probably note here that the term off-season is the time post A race and approximately  20 week prior to your A race of the next season). This is usually something that many athletes avoid as it can be less than fun to come face to face with your weaknesses, but the truth is that those who see the biggest gains, are those who are willing to take a hard look at their limiters and go about working to fix them before the season heats up. Ideally, this is something that should be evaluated throughout the season and worked on continuously, but is usually easier to deal with during the months with less training load. One mistake that we often encounter is the run limited athlete who thinks that the best way to cure their running issues is to go right from tri season to a stacked road running season. While we certainly learn a ton when we race, we also expend a ton of energy that we want to conserve for the season ahead and many can feel stale once it is time to get the ball rolling again. A coach or proper training plan in the off-season will help to work on weaknesses and not lead to burnout in training and racing or even worse injury.

pool deck.jpg

At Evolve we believe that the training plan is secondary to the coach/athlete relationship that we work very hard to establish. We all want our athletes to realize their best self and that is only possible if we are invested in learning how best to motivate and assist our athletes - and this takes time. It can take several months to solidify how best to work with a particular athlete and likewise it can be the same for the athlete to understand what they need to do to help their coach help them. We have many athletes who we have been coaching for years and who have grown with their coach to get more out of of their training year after year. Getting this right takes time and if you wait until January 1st, this can easily spill into the larger training months.

Testing! Everyone’s favorite. The off-season is a great time to run some baseline tests, work on establishing and cross checking zones, and building a huge foundation heading into the season ahead. We use several metrics at Evolve, but heart rate is one of our most frequently used and for a new athlete to transition to HR based training it can take time to learn how to use the metric appropriately. This process and learning curve is best ironed out prior to the start of the season. Additionally, as coaches we look at the year differently than the athlete - the athlete sees a race as months away and the coach sees the race as only 10 months away - or 10 training blocks. Time is the most valuable commodity we have in the sport and the more time a coach has with an athlete to sharpen them, the better.

Many athletes crave the change that comes with the off-season and any well crafted training plan takes into account the need for different forms of movement along with the need to prescribe the correct training load. We often encounter athletes who pack their off-season full of “fun” races, and while we love a to mix things up with some unique racing experiences that keep things fresh, we see athletes who have run so many "off-season” fun runs that they are burned out by the time their season rolls around. A coach can help navigate how to best balance fun without going overboard.

If you find that you are fall into one of these categories, then now is the best time to jump at getting a solid off-season plan in place to catapult you to an amazing 2018!