Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The "Cuban Connection"-Meet Rene and Martha Centeno

They say that sometimes you meet friends in the most unique situations...and my friendship with the Centenos is no exception.  It all started in the ER.

Yes..you read that right.  I was in Durham NC while I was attending a weight loss program known as Structure House and had gone out on a long bike workout (back then...a long bike workout was 25 miles) and I got run off the road by a pick up truck.  The guy never stopped and I buried my front wheel into the sand along the side of the road and went over the handlebars.  I was able to walk a 1/2 mile to a local convenience store out in the middle of rural North Carolina and get a cab back to my car...complete with one slightly damaged bicycle.

Upon returning to my apartment and having the medical staff at Structure House look me over, they thought it would be  best to have my now swollen knee looked at in an ER.  I headed to UNC hospital because they had the shortest wait time.

While sitting in a cubical waiting to get XRay'ed, I heard a gentleman speaking english and spanish next door.  He then proceeded to talk about Florida, and of course, I spoke up.  "Where are you from in Florida?" I asked...and a friendship with Rene Centeno was born.  We chatted about our home state, and how much he missed the sunshine...and talked about the travel business.  We exchanged cards...and before you knew it, we were having coffee and joined by his wife, Martha. A week later, my hubby was in town and the four of us headed to dinner and we became fast friends.

That was 3 years ago...and in that time, Rene and Martha have become some of my biggest cheerleaders in so many things: Triathlon, Weight Loss and Life.  Martha and Rene had never really been involved in any sort of endurance sports prior to meeting me, my husband and my friends in Orlando but before we knew it, they had signed up for their first half marathon...and Rene signed up to help Team in Training in North Carolina and did his first metric century bike ride in Asheville NC.  In those 3 years, Martha lost 40 pounds and became a triathlete...a runner...and learned how to swim beyond a dog paddle.  They became members of our Key West Ragnar Team in 2013 and have even run half marathons in Seattle, Disneyland and Disney World, and Virginia Beach.

Rene and Martha have watched me struggle with my weight and with my relationship with food but have always been supportive.  They started attending my races and when I decided to go for one more Ironman, they immediately purchased Ironman Support Crew T Shirts and promised to help out whenever they could.

And boy have they helped...from riding and running with me while in North Carolina to being my canoe escort during long swim workouts, they have consistently been there to help.  If you attend Ironman Florida or Ironman Augusta 70.3, you'll see them on the side of the road cheering like crazy for my team...and for me.

How blessed I am to know amazing people like this and to have friends like Rene and Martha...and those mentioned in previous posts.  I don't really believe I would have gotten to where I am today without them....

Oh...and the next time you see them, ask Martha about her experience paddling a raft...or better yet...ask Rene :)

Thank you guys for all you have done...and all you will do in the coming weeks....words can not really express my appreciation.

Monday, September 23, 2013

100 miles revisited...The Ride for Ronald Century Ride

A ride for more than an Ironman workout....A ride for a cause.  Well now...that's just right up my alley don't ya know!!  But as I stood in the twilight of a beautiful sunrise in Lake Nona yesterday morning...so many emotions hit me that I was unable to really communicate with those around me.

It's been quite a number of years since I did 100 miles on my bike.  The last time? Ironman Florida 2008...and...as we know ... that didn't end well.  The time before that?  Racing for another cause...LIVESTRONG and 100 miles in the hill country of Austin TX...with the names of Leukemia patients pinned to my back.  You visit those moments in your head as you stare down 100 miles.  And then suddenly, the cyclists before you start rolling...and you are on your way.

It was a beautiful day...cool in the morning...clear... and you could almost feel fall is trying to make it's way into the Florida weather pattern.  My riding partners were excited as they were about to complete their first Century Ride.

You gotta love those milestones.

There would be tears and frustrations...and pain and fatigue from all in the group. I would be called a B*tch in jest that made me laugh so hard I almost lost control of my bike.  We would stop to help a fellow cyclist that left the house without CO2 to fix his flat and our riding nurse soon to turn Ironman fixed the gentleman's flat in record time.  There would be stops that included peanut butter and jelly "toast" from the heat of the day and ice that went down the sports bra to keep us cool...and a "nature stop" that I needed that just didn't seem to come quick enough (note to self...don't go 68 miles without a rest stop)...but in the end...as we approached the finish line, we were one group .. excited and happy and exhausted.

And in my mind were the kids in that hospital next to the finish line fighting for their lives.  I couldn't complain during the ride today because I know it could be so much worse.  I could be in that hospital instead of pushing the pedals of that bike.  It was such a blessing to know that I could still go 100 miles...even at age 50...and even though the last 5 miles were painful, hot and down right uncomfortable, as we made out way up the last hill and could see the Children's hospital ...how could I complain?

We were definitely at the end of the pack....with just 5 or 6 rider completing this event behind us...but it's one more mental hurdle I jumped over with the help of Bonnie, Marie and Muki...my riding partners who all achieved a special goal today...

Just 6 days until Ironman Augusta 70.3 ... a "training day" that just happens to include a half Ironman.
40 days until Ironman Florida

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hitting the Bricks

The Bricks...hmmm  brings up images of beautiful tree lined old world streets with worn but elegant stone and brick that pave the way.  It reminds me of what caught my eye about our home here in Orlando...the Old Chicago Brick exterior made the house seem sturdy and safe.  Bricks make just about any structure strong and stable and sturdy...

And in triathlon they do the same thing..

In Triathlon, a brick is putting two disciplines together in the same workout.  This weekend, our team embarked on Coach Sway's famous "triple brick" workout which includes 3 sets of biking and running.  For me, it was 18 miles on the bike, the a 2 mile run   x 3.....doesn't sound TOO hard if you have been doing long distance workouts...

Let me tell you...looks can be deceiving.

While the nation is starting to experience fall, Florida is still in the heat and humidity of summer so we are still starting workouts early....so it was up at 400am...breakfast...bike loading and then the 40 minute drive to an area very close to Walt Disney World.  These roads are relatively flat and low traffic...perfect for the workouts we had to do.  Sway was prepared for the heat with two pop up tents, two LARGE coolers of ice, ice water and chilled fruit to cool us off.

As we started of first brick, I felt fantastic....the air was relatively cool...no wind...and my legs were fresh from a rest day.  Gone are the days in January that a 20 mile bike was a long workout.  After months of training, 20 miles now feels pretty easy.

Making it off the bike and on to a two mile run, my legs felt awesome.  My breathing is good and my pace is...well...slow but steady.  I start to feel pretty confident about my training and my readiness for Ironman Augusta 70.3 .. just 2 weeks away.

I come in off the 2 miles and mount my bike again.  Brick 1 complete.  I head back out on the course and something in my mind clicked.  I knew the course...I knew what was to come and suddenly...it didn't feel as fun.  I was dealing with those negative voices in my head again.

The wind was picking up a bit and the temperature was starting to rise.  I checked my speed and I was a little slower.  I picked up the pace and focused.  The second round of cycling completed...it is now in the 90's and my body is hot and fatigued.  I grab that ice for my hat and all I can  muster is a walk....

Or was it all mental??

It's the voice in your head that tells you to go home and lay on the couch.  It's that little push from within that says ... "you can't complete this...you can't continue".  It has taken me months of training to turn off those negative voices and, even though, my "run" turned to a walk for 2 miles, I continued ...  heat and all.

By the 3rd cycling workout, the wind was a little stronger....but I was determined to finish this.  I can't tell you how many times I have talked myself out of completing workouts...but today I would not.  I was slower in this final bike section....but as I came in, a smile crossed my face.  I didn't stop.  I didn't pack up and go home.  I did what I came to do.

As I headed out on the run, the heat was incredible BUT....I continued to tell myself the same mantra that got me up Sugarloaf Mountain "You can do more than you think...' and I ran.  Sway was completing this workout as well and as she ran past me she told me "Dig Deep...Stay Focused"....and I did....I walked a bit but in the end I ran the last half mile in to complete my triple brick.  I can tell you in the past, that I have just stopped at the second round and did finish the 3rd but today...it was the mental training of Ironman that kicked in and help me push through.

Over 50 miles on the bike and 6 miles of a walk/run to the Ironman World sounds like an easy day...but for me it was pushing through the obstacles and getting those bricks stacked up....making me a little stronger with just 47 days until Ironman.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Learning from the past...and remembering those who helped me along the way

November 2008

To those that tell you that Ironman is an individual sport, they have never been as blessed as I am.  This journey to Ironman started in 2008 with my first attempt and "Melissa's Maniacs"...a group of amazing friends who took time out of their lives to help me fulfill a dream.  I know this was a very long time ago but a lot of these people are still supporting my dream today...or have gone on to fulfill dreams related to endurance events: It's very important to me to thank a few of them because I wouldn't be HERE if it weren't for them.

Beth Crepeau (last girl on the right)
"Coach Beth" as she has been known will tell you that Ironman Florida inspired her to become a triathlete and then to become the Coach of the Lake Nona YMCA triathlon team.  She has participated at the Ironman distance and completed Ironman Florida 70.3.  Beth was a marathoner before...but it was this moment in time that brought her to "the dark side" of triathlon!!!!

Debbie Lewis (4th from the left)
A dear friend who went on to race a sprint distance triathlon, a half marathon for Team in Training and do countless 5k's for charity.  She was an amazing cheerleader and Ill never forget all the wonderful things she did for me during my first attempt at Ironman....many many thanks.

Sandi Fuller (3rd from the right)
My "marathon buddy" who taught me to "slap that ass and call it Sally" all the way to the finish line in more half marathons than I can count.  Sandi taught me that endurance racing could be a party...with 13.1 miles stuck in the middle.  We traveled throughout the US running races, drinking beer at the finish line and just enjoying the world.  Without her, I don't think I would have gotten over my fear of running long distance. Thank you for being there to make me laugh...and cry...and helping me believe in my dreams

Laura Stiles (5th from the left)
The woman who makes one of my FAVORITE foods for after ANY race: MACARONI SALAD...and who has endured her own "race" of surviving and thriving through a kidney transplant.  Laura's plain "say it like it is" language calmed me before a lot of races and gave me belief in myself when I thought these tasks were impossible...I have learned from her toughness...and I am grateful beyond words..

There are so many other folks that helped me along the way...and 8 more weeks until Ironman Florida...so stay tuned as I share and thank those have made this journey so incredible.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

It's the straw hat...Meet Mike and Vi Auld

I think a lot of us have friends that are recent in our lives, some that appear and then suddenly disappear for little or no reason....but then there are those few who have been around for a very long time.  I am blessed with two very special people like that named Mike and Vi Auld.

I have known Mike and Vi for over 20 years.  They have seen me at my heaviest weight...and they were there when I made the decision to have a full open RNY Gastric Bypass.  Mike will tell you that a major milestone in my weight loss was when he walked behind me and saw me bend my knees while walking for the first time.  At my highest weight, he said I walked like a "Weeble."

When I first started doing  endurance races, Mike and Vi made a point of being at almost every single race, camera in hand, cheering me on.  I started with the Danskin Sprint Race at Disney then went on to the Clermont Series of Sprint distances...then it was the St. Anthony's Triathlon and the Olympic Distance...and from there...it was Ironman Florida 70.3.  All the while, Mike and Vi were at every race cheering, screaming and telling me to "hold my head up" on the run.

When I made the decision the first time to run an Ironman, they did not hesitate...they promised to be there...and they were.  Not only did they volunteer to help in bike transition and other positions throughout the race venue, Vi brought groceries and cooked enough food to feed an army....athletes and spectators alike. When I didn't finish the first time, they returned with me the second time...and did the same thing again.

Mike has taken photographs that you will see on my Facebook page that no other photographer has ever been able to capture.  It isn't where Mike takes the photo...it's the EMOTION he captures in the photo.  The look on my face after finishing a windy bike portion of a race or the lean of a the bike making a  hard turn where I feel like I can win the Athena division of a race....he has been on the road....every time.

And how do I find Mike and Vi amongst all the spectator?? It's the magical straw hat.  I make jokes that it has certain powers of picking me out in the crowd and bringing me through the tough moments in a event.  I look for that hat as I exit the swim or transition...and I race towards it when the miles seem long on the run.

I am blessed beyond measure with these friends, Mike and Vi, and if you have the pleasure of running Ironman Florida, I hope you will look for them because, no matter who you are, they will cheer you on and make you feel like you're gonna WIN the race.

Thanks guys...I can not find the words to full express my gratitude for your love, your friendship and your constant support of my insanity in the world of Triathlon.  You are a blessing in my life.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Making it "over the hill"...

Hills seem to dominate my life lately.  The last few weeks, my coach has focused my bike workouts in the hills around Orlando...and honestly...it's not my favorite workout.  As a famous Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack said, you have to "embrace the suck"...and I have done a lot of embracing...

But the "hill" I stare at this week is a little different.  It's a hill that some doctors and professionals felt I would never reach.  It's a hill that, instead of feeling BAD about it....I am excited....thrilled and grateful about.

On Saturday, I turn 50.

There won't be a big party... there is another party going on that day that take priority over my birthday ...but as the date approaches, I am doing the happy dance.  I remember a conversation with a doctor just 15 years ago saying "You won't see 40."

Never say I CAN'T do something...

I may struggle...hell...I might make a total "asset" of myself...but Ill give it a shot and I might even keep coming back until I get it right.  Mega weight loss is a lot like that.  You lose a lot then you fall back and gain...you lose a little more...and fall back again.  That has been my journey to this place of training and racing and getting stronger.

As Ironman approaches, I keep focusing on this journey and I understand that Ironman is a pretty big long shot for someone built like me but so was getting to this place here and now.  No one thought I could get this far.  I had trainers that said it would be impossible to do what I have already done.  Ive watched others who had the opportunity I had back in 1998 give up and let the weight come back..let their fitness slip away...and there were times I wanted to do the same.  The couch looks pretty good a lot of the time but I somehow get out the door and get on the road....or on the bike...or in the pool because there is this burning desire to do what they said was impossible.

And Ive had a lot of help...

In the weeks ahead, I want to start thanking the people who have been patient and my rock solid support through my weight loss and my Ironman journey.  But for now, Im staring down that big 5--0 and pretty thrilled to be right here.

58 days until Ironman

Monday, September 2, 2013

The importance of a Team

Ok....I know...we all look crazy here...but after the day we had when this pic was taken...you might understand why.

This is my "pod"...my cycling pod on the Tri With Sway Triathlon Team.  These are the women that, when I finish the bike portion of the Ironman, I will have to thank with many many beers...and my hugs...and many tears...because I wouldn't be where I am now without them.

On Saturday mornings we get up at the crack of dawn to make our way to the hills of Clermont, Howey in the Hills and Tavares Florida to get stronger and faster on two wheels.  Our entire team meets up, gets instructions from Coach Sway and off we go in our selected groups.  We have been called the "Tenacious Turtles" or 4 M's and a B (Marie, Melissa, Melissa, Muki and Bonnie).

We ride together...and stay together....through dropped/broken chains, flat tires, dropped water bottles and..of course...my lack of speed. When I first started riding with these fine ladies, I was so embarrassed and disturbed that they would wait at each turn for me.  Slowly, Ive gotten a little faster so the wait time is not that long.

Climbing hills that are difficult even in an advanced cyclist's world is tough for a girl that is not exactly built like a cyclist but these ladies have made it fun.  They are the reason I get up on Saturday morning.

I have been on many teams in my days of attempting and completing events: half marathons, marathons, half ironmans and such...but never have I had people so caring and so nice as these folks.  All of our Tri with Sway team has this belief running through it.  I believe my friend Jim on the team said it best: one team ... one goal.

I had a rough weekend....I only completed 60 of the 80 miles because I decided to stop and help someone with a flat. On this rare occasion when I realized we could not fix the flat without help, I told the ladies to ride on...and with much reluctance ... they did.

One taxi back to our cars and an hour later, I continued my bike workout alone. On mile 50 of my ride, it began to thunder and by mile 52 it was POURING.  I was on a very hilly portion of the ride known as Dewey Robbins Road and going pretty fast down some hills in the rain can make ya nervous.  But, I wasn't alone....I looked up and friends Dwana and Jim were there in their van to check on me...just to make sure I was ok.

Pretty good group of folks don't you think.

Meanwhile, my pod had ridden on and ended up with another mechanical problem: Marie and a broken chain.  They found a cycling store and were able to get it repaired and continued on.  They never called it a day...they never considered quitting even though the hours on the road were getting very long.  They finished the 80 miles...every single one.  I met them 10 miles out in my car just to make sure they returned safely.

I guess the point of my blog is to emphasis that triathlon is an individual sport.  The race is just you and the course...but to GET to the race requires more than just yourself...it requires a team. Im pretty blessed in that regard.

60 Short Days until Ironman