USA Duathlon Nationals

A few months ago I was contacted by an outstanding individual I met in 2010 at XTERRA trail run nationals in Bend, OR. I’d had a conversation with he and his darling wife Tatjana about my Newton Running shoes.  A couple of months later I met them again in December at Worlds in Hawaii. It was so fun to see that Tatjana and I now sported the same brightly colored Newton Momentus trail running shoes! I don’t remember what the rest of our conversation was about, but sometimes it is amazing how the universe puts together the right people at the right time for a greater purpose.

Jeff Trout has a vision. He is a Veteran and triathlon and high school track coach.  He has been through a lot serving our nation. He also watched many of his fellow soldiers come back with traumatic brain injuries, missing or very damaged limbs, among others. Led by way of passion for endurance sport as well as overwhelming empathy and love for his fellow soldiers, Jeff had the vision to create foundation, The TriSoldier Project to help injured soldiers recover. Jeff works tirelessly to help these heros to  find happiness and a wholesome mind, body, and spirit as they learn to live back in American society with very different circumstances than they left with.

I have never been a soldier, but in the spring of 2001 I donated blood at Red Cross and passed out immediately after. Somehow I cracked my head just wrong on the concrete floor and lost enough blood and oxygen that I have never been the same.  At the hospital I was released early with my head stapled back together as I had no insurance. The last 10 years needless to say have been a wild ride.

Traumatic brain injuries are tough. On the outside people look just fine. On the inside all of a sudden the person doesn’t even know who they are. Panic attacks, flashbacks, altered personalities, inability to cope and manage stress are only some of the consequences. I became this person. I lost my ability to read or write, flunked my next semester of college (my first ever), and spent several years essentially homeless as I struggled to live off $300 a month with no one to help me.  This eventually led to attempted suicide. Somehow at that lowest moment of my life I listened to a little voice inside that said to keep trying. I made a decision I was going to become well. I didn’t know how it would happen, but I was going to make it no matter what.

It is now 10 years later. I have had many severe ups and downs. The help I desperately needed finally came in many forms. Today there is still enough residual to remind me of where I came from, but I made it and I am still climbing. I know someday I am going to reach my own huge potential and I am so excited to be on my journey.  I still get overwhelmed easily, become confused in crowded and overstimulating situations, have problems with memory among other things, but I am able to function and thrive in most ways in our society.  I can hardly imagine what soldiers must have seen and been through. And then to try to work with the aftermath later? I want to help.

I am looking forward to helping Jeff with his organization.  Part of what I want to do is teach soldiers and others who suffer from traumatic brain injuries the beautiful other side they can someday find. Endurance sport has been a huge part of that healing for me. I am grateful each day my body is able to feel joy through my running, cycling, and yoga. I am going to help soldiers overcome their obstacles in the ways that helped me.

So why the long tangent? Jeff contacted me not long after our second meeting in Hawaii and asked if I could ride a bike. Ha!  He had so idea how I love to ride. I consider myself these days a runner with a biking addiction. Or switch it the other way around and I could also be a cyclist with a running love.

Duathlon is finally becoming embraced in the US. USAT with a lot of help from Jeff is embracing the sport and striving to make it big and grand and wonderful just as triathlon is.  Jeff asked if I would like to race Duathlon nationals in Tucson.  Even though my main thing is running for 2011, for his invaluable TriSoldier Project and for the love of my bikes I said yes. I also realize it was the answer to a wish a long time ago that dualthon would become mainstream in the US. When I am healthy and fit, biking and running are both very strong for me. Not so much the swim in a tri…. It is finally happening. Duathlon is on its way in big time!  I am looking forward to it’s growth.

Little did I know what a huge challenge this would become for me.   First, I no longer own a Time Trial bike. I sold it last year so I could have a way to fund some of my running races. Luckily I know many generous people. My friend Emma Gerrard who is a professional triathlete let me borrow her bike. It is too small.  I had a number of other friends offer bike parts, their time to switch things around, etc to help make it work. When it was all said and done, the saddle was still almost 2 cm too low, but I decided that I would do the best I could.

Then came housing. Again short on money, my friend Jake who owns a cool company selling Athlete’s Octane which is an incredibly effective athlete nutritional liquid formula, offered to let me stay in his home in Tucson. His amazing and talented girlfriend Kara (She did awesome placing 2nd female overall!) also competed in the Duathlon Nationals.  Thanks so much Jake and Kara for opening your home to me.

My friend Art helped me ship my borrowed bike, Jeff and another new friend/athlete Josh Evans had it ready and built for me when I arrived in Arizona. That taken care of, I thought I was ready to race.  The hard part of spending two weeks struggling to get a bike etc. together and getting myself to the race was the end of it. Right?

On the day I was to fly out to my race, I was teaching a client trail running technique.  I was running close behind him so he could hear me speak and hit a rock and sent myself flying. My hips and hamstrings on my left side seized and twisted to the point I could barely finish my run. This was one day after my amazing chiropractor/acupuncturist Greg Freebairn had helped me make sure my body was ready for my race. My natural doc Dr. Harkins and helped me as well in getting muscles to fire I had shut down racing a few weeks prior. I undid all off this and worse in less than a second. There was no time to go back to try to fix it.

I knew I was in trouble as I had extreme pain and only about 25% of my normal flexibility on my left side. But being me, I caught the plane for Tucson trusting that somehow my body would allow me to race. Friday morning I woke up not feeling any better. But, do you want to know how I know I have the best doctor ever? I called Dr. Harkins once to tell him what happened. He called me back I kid you not, six times that day to help talk me through some things to help my leg. Ice, hot tubs, arnica, homeopathic remedies, and the list goes on.  He is amazing and I am so grateful.

Getting ready to pre-ride the course

Other than being incredibly worried about my leg and hip, Friday was great. I hung out with Jeff, his wife Tatjana, and fellow athletes and new friends Josh and Hillary both out of Cali.  It is rare when I have people to spend time with when traveling to races. This was such a treat to feel as though I had “family” at an event.  The same went for the evening at Jake and Kara’s home. They made me an amazing dinner, wouldn’t let me clean up and even their sweet dog Preston loved me lots to help me feel like I was home.

I was exhausted that night and passed out early. I slept with a wish to my body that somehow I would awaken the next morning and feel better. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. The leg still had very little flexibility race morning. My sacral iliac joint was still out and I was having nerve pain up and down the back of my leg. Ugh. I foam rolled and stretched and was worried.

Wow. It’s been along time since I was part of a scene like this

At the race site a while later I could barely jog let alone run. Super man Jeff helped me out a lot. Five minutes before race start he made me lay belly down on the sidewalk and massaged my hamstrings in an effort to get some of the spasms to let go. It helped a lot. By the way. CW-X is so good to me. I have a contract with them to wear their clothing for my events. I lived in their tights every moment of this trip minus the race. They gave me permission to race in a TriSoldier kit. Thanks CW-X. You rock!

When I stood up from my short last minute massage, I could at least straighten my leg and push a bit.  When the gun went off at the start, I stayed with the lead girls at first.  By a mile into it, I was leading despite the pain.  On some levels it felt easy as my lungs and heart were not working hard, but on the muscular side, I just didn’t feel right. I was lacking power and my normal gait. At the end of the first 5k I crossed the line into transition in the lead. I ran at a much slower pace than I even run a typical road 10k or half when I am feeling good. I ran an 18:53

Heading into the 30k bike, real trouble started. I did okay until about mile 3 when my hips decided they didn’t want to deal with the saddle being too short. They seized taking a lot of my leg power with it.  Gosh darn it. I ended up biking the next 15 miles not able to push like I normally can and having to stand up off the saddle for most of it. I watched as my lead quickly not only slipped away but was shattered by many of my competitors. Seriously? I am such a girl who doesn’t like to be humbled…

On rare occasion have I ever been so happy when the bike leg was over. I was nervous going into the second run. I’d had to work much harder than I possibly could have anticipated making it through the bike. Focusing on deep breathing and my abdominal muscles was the only way I could pedal at all by the end.  I was disappointed as the lead women were so far ahead on the run that I would have need at least a half marathon and a miracle to catch them. But there was only 5k.

I ran a very slow 2nd 5k. My hips were twisted and my hamstrings in the left leg were so very locked. Despite this I still passed many, but not enough. I finished the race with a 3rd place in my age division and 12th overall.

Even a girl who believes in looking for the positive and knowing that I had some major issues that didn’t allow me a performance showing my true capabilities couldn’t totally hold it together. I congratulated my competitors with as much smiles and grace as I could, but I know I didn’t mask my disappointment very well.

Jeff was sweet in trying to console me. What a great guy. But the fire inside me still burned.  And yes I did cry later that night when no one could see me. A huge highlight of my day is as I walked to my car to look for my phone to give a race report to wondering friends, two people ran up to me calling my name. Who in the world in Tucson Arizona in the middle of a medical complex in the middle of nowhere of town could possibly know my name?

Me with Valerie Stewart and her son Aaron!

It turned out to be my brother’s darling mother in law and her son Aaron who live in Tucson. They found out I was racing and came to find me. Huh. I didn’t even know they lived in Tucson. What a joy to know they cared and would take their Saturday to seek me out. I hadn’t seen either of them for years. I smiled my first true smile of the day and laughed some good pure laughs with them as we caught up on each other’s lives from the past years.  Thanks Valerie and Aaron!

I wish I had more time with them. But, I had to spend my time packing up Emma’s bike to ship back to Utah. Or should I say I showered off my stinky body while Josh Evans packed my bike.  I wish I could hire Josh permanently. He is heading off to join the Army soon. He is a hard worker and very talented as he placed second in his field and kicked my butt big time. I told him I was going to beat him trail running as soon as my leg gets better. He doesn’t believe me!

Jeff escorted me to TriSports.com to ship my bike.  Yes he knows a bit of my long “getting lost” history. TriSports is a fabulous shop by the way. They charged me a very fair price for shipping and made it easy and worry free once I got it to them. Their online company is incredibly impressive as well. Check them out if you can!

After that there was a bit of chill time before a way too long awards ceremony. I really wonder if the people of USAT realize that athletes who just raced themselves to pieces are tired that late at night, and if they were like me, it really hurt to sit!  Oh well.

The next morning I was lucky to have a very amazing woman as my seat companion. She is from New York and her husband is a tri coach and athlete. It was fun to chat with such a beautiful fit happy woman. She has a really fun vegan blog that is very worth checking out http://jlgoesvegan.com/ She definitely made my flight much better. Especially since we sat on the tarmac for an extra 40 minutes to replace a light bulb? Seriously! Look outside people. Does it look dark to you at 8AM in Tucson? The bulb couldn’t be waiting for you upon landing in the 801? No, Delta is not my favorite airline. But they did at least get me home faster than a 14hour drive would have.

And now I have Jake and Kara and well as Valerie and Aaron to visit when I go to Tucson again!  It is one of the things I love the most about traveling to races. Like minded souls make me so happy. I told them I was moving onto their couches next winter! With my son Canyon of course 🙂

Congratulations to my competitors.  I am so thankful for everyone who helped me get to my race. I am forever grateful for all of my support from Jeff and Josh www.trisoldier.org ,Newton Running, Zarephath trading, CW-X, Greg Freebairn, Dr. Harkins and I can go on and on. They say it takes a village to raise a child. In my case the world literally raises and constantly saves Rachel.