In 2014, my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. For a while, continuing life seemed impossible. That summer, she attended a camp called Epic Experience. Epic challenges cancer survivors through whitewater kayaking and other adventures to find that cancer is a part of their story, but doesn’t define them. She came back changed, with a new determination to live. I race to bring awareness and funds to Epic. I race to be a small representation of my mom and her tenacity for life.
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The Grind and How to be Crazy
A recent Monday I came into work and my coworker asked me
about my weekend.
“It was pretty good, I had a really fun brick workout this
He proceeded to say, “I assume every workout you do is fun
to you though, right?”
“Well, no, some of them really suck. And some of them I just
don’t want to do at all.”
This was when I got a slight smirk. A smirk that said “I
knew you were crazy for training for this Ironman, but you must really be crazy
if you don’t enjoy all of it.”
Reflecting on the word “fun” is like reflecting on the word
“happy”. When I think of the word fun, I think of roller coasters. I think of
playing games and laughing. It’s a state of being that, in all actuality, is
rather fleeting. Just like how the word happy implies a state of permanence. Am
I unhappy? Absolutely not. But I don’t sit at my desk at work all day with a grin
on my face. I really felt that this concept was opened up to me by The
Oatmeal’s Cartoon: How to Be Perfectly Unhappy. You can find it here.
Triathlon is my passion. At this point in my life, I
wouldn’t want to spend the majority of my free time any other way. At times, it
is truly fun, I love the feeling of the wind in my face on my bike and the
cruising feeling I get when I reach a runner’s high. But today, in February,
those times are few and far between. It’s dark. It’s cold. I’m tired. I’ve been
training for two months and have yet to see the sun actually rise during my
morning workouts. And the after-work training is no different.
Me getting home from swimming on a particularly chilly morning
I’ve had some really hard days. And I know I’m not even into
the hardest part of my training. I’ve had days where my legs seem to be
literally screaming at me to stop. I’ve had nights where the stress of work and
personal life cause me to sleep in my own tears, yet somehow, I still get out
of bed when that 4:30 am alarm rudely yanks me awake. There are times when I
want nothing more than to come home and eat a pint of ice cream in bed, but I’m
dragging myself to the gym.
So how do I do it? Why am I so crazy? I have a hard time
explaining it even to myself. I’m perplexed at my willpower to continually
pursue an exhausted and sore state. I’ve thought, there must be a girl in my
brain who slaps a button whenever I feel unmotivated, and it plays a montage of
sappy Ironman finisher and inspirational videos like this one. Certainly, there
are times when I’m reaching the end of a particularly long workout and I can
envision crossing that line, with tears in my eyes. But not all the time.
If you had the attention span to read that whole Oatmeal
comic, you might be thinking what I’m thinking. I’m in the pursuit of more than
momentary comfort. And I’m definitely past the pursuit of a healthy
lifestyle/bikini body. This may even be a little bit unhealthy. I’m driven
to see how capable my body can become. I’m curious to see if there are limits
to my dreams. I may be exhausted all the time, but I’m getting stronger. Like
Matt Inman said, “I want to hurt so I can heal”. Every time I think I’m gonna
break, I come back able to run faster, bike stronger, swim harder.
Bringing things full circle, a huge reason I’m training and
racing is for my mom. My mom once told me that out of the 6 marathons she did,
only the first one was actually fun. The rest, she was in and out of
ambulances, battling knee pain, and she almost always felt like throwing up.
Why the heck would someone not learn from the second marathon?! The third
even!? Why on earth would she do six!? Through this process, I’m finding that
I’m a lot like my mom. I’m a bit of a masochist, and seem to enjoy suffering.
But there truly is nothing like achieving what you thought was impossible, and
I’m in search of that.
Honest moment here. My mom has been dealt a crappy hand. She
never smoked. Never drank. SHE RAN MARATHONS. And she has terminal lung cancer.
I’m never going to minimize how sucky that is for her, and for me, as her
daughter, to always have on our minds. It’s easy to get caught up into thinking
“I don’t deserve this. The universe is pitted against us.” But instead we move forward
and make the absolute best of it.
My guess is that a lot of people are dealt “crappy hands”.
All over the world, people go to bed hungry, women are harmed, and children
lose their parents. As much as I want to be stressed about my mom, my personal
life, my job, I try my best to think of how blessed I actually am. My friend
and former teammate Valerie Snider said it best in a Facebook status. How
fortunate am I that I get to be a woman
engineer. I get to race in spandex
and wear swimsuits without being ostracized or harmed. I have the luxury and
time to train for an Ironman without worrying about where my next meal will
come from (more like where can I find a bowl of ice cream). And I have the most
loving, funny, and supportive family in the whole world. While I have these
things, I’m going to make the best of them and take full advantage of all that
my wonderful life has to offer. Today, that means dragging myself out of bed at
4:30 to see how strong I can be.
In the aftermath of all of the soreness, hobbling around, and celebrating a job well done with photos, phone calls, and text messages, I'm finally sitting down to reflect on my first Ironman. :)
In the two days prior to the race, what I found most surprising was the overwhelming sense of calm I felt. I expected to have butterflies in my stomach and a feeling of dread or fear, but instead, I only felt a desire to dive in (literally). I was so ready to begin my race day journey. On Friday, Mom and I drove up to Boulder so I could get a wetsuit swim in the Boulder Reservoir before packet pickup. The water temperature was perfect, and honestly, that was the clearest water I had ever seen in that lake. Ever. It was nice and refreshing, and my love for open water swimming resurfaced after a long winter of pool swims. We then rolled to packet pickup and athlete briefing, where the officials warned of a weekend with record heat. Even as we sat out there in the sun, I felt relatively calm …
“Come on, Ali, you’ve got this. You can do this,” my dad
Me, through thick sobs: “I CAN’T.”
He looks at me with a bit of hopeless exasperation, but
tries to stay positive. This is the umpteenth time I’ve done this to him, my
high school cross country coach, my mother. The formula goes something like
this: Start running, hit mile 2-3, start cramping up, start hyperventilating,
start walking, start crying and insisting I can’t do it. Despite being able to
chase a ball across a soccer field for hours at a time, I can’t ever muster the
attention span or inner peace needed to go on a simple 30-45 minute jog. I had
it set in my head that I wasn’t cut out for endurance sports. I wasn’t the
athletic or coordinated child, I was the nerd child who just didn’t have the
Growing up, I watched my sister Mia kill it in every sport
she tried. She had tenacity, a fire inside that I had never discovered. She was
a talented runner, she could throw a ball, and in the pool, she…
Howdy folks! I’m posting a monthly update on life and
training, since I’ve only got the Ironman planned this year, and I wanna fill
you in on more than just one race. Read on for a few exciting items.
Yesterday was the 3 year Cancerversary for my mom! Meaning,
3 years ago on March 5, her life changed forever. She was given 2 years to
live, and it was a dark time for all of us. Thanks to a lot of perseverance,
strength, love, and Epic Experience, we’ve all pulled out of that place and
live our lives fully. I am so so thankful and blessed to have my mom for
another year. Take that, cancer! She wrote about it on her Caring Bridge Site,
which you can find here.
In other news, even sweaty triathletes clean up nice. February 18th was
the Epic Experience Hearts and Hope Gala! This was an exciting culmination of
the year for Epic, and I was so honored to attend and be a part of the
celebration. I brought 3 of my girlfriends to join me for drinks, auction, and
dancing. We had …