Monday, December 29, 2014

My goal for the holidays: To clean my apartment so it looks like a real grown-ass adult lives here. However, I am currently doing everything in my power to avoid cleaning. Like repeatedly checking work e-mail, even though it's a holiday week and no one is e-mailing me. (Come on, guys. Can't you at least send me a cat video?) And sipping my green smoothie like it's a 2001 Sauternes instead of spinach. And making a baked potato and actually waiting for the oven to completely pre-heat before putting the potato in. Also, it's sunny in Seattle right now, and that's such a rare thing, so really I should be outside hiking around somewhere instead of cleaning.

And honestly, can you blame me for procrastinating?

Welcome to the vortex.

I refer to this as the shit room. It's where I throw random crap on the floor and shut the door so I don't have to deal with it anymore. It's quite possible there's an ex-boyfriend in there somewhere.

Too bad my 3-year-old nephew lives in Sacramento. He asked Santa for a real vacuum this Christmas.

So very Asian.

Hey, kid. You can come to Seattle any time you want. Your aunt has a lot of, um, activities planned for you.

Anyway, some other highlights from Christmas, which I spent in Sacramento with my family:

The gift that keeps giving.

Christmas Eve sausage party!

The theme was Meat, Lots of It.

See previous caption.

After all that, I had to get a workout in. And swimming in the California sunshine in a completely uncrowded pool is just so awful.

Happy holidays from my pig sty to yours. 

heart and courage

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Those times when you listen to '90s R&B on the trainer and start singing "I'll Make Love to You" to the cat and then realize what you're doing and thank god you live alone.

Anyway, I have exciting news: Coeur Sports -- which makes triathlon, cycling and running clothing for women -- has chosen me to be a brand ambassador for 2015.

Sorry. I don't know how to make it bigger. TWSS.

I guess they saw my Ironman finish time and realized they'd have gotten 16-plus hours of advertising if I had been wearing their gear. Ha.

In all seriousness, though: I applied to be part of Team Coeur because I love my sport, because I strongly believe there's something powerful and healing about movement, because I find a metaphor in triathlon, in the act of enduring multiple scenarios, of moving forward, from one discipline to the next, dealing with whatever gets thrown your way.

"Heart and courage," as the Coeur motto goes.


I went back to California this past weekend for Friend Christmas. Conversation ranged from why neck tattoos are a terrible life choice to all of the different options for birthing positions. (Remember, as I mentioned previously, Thai is very pregnant. And for some bizarre reason, Arvan knows a lot about midwifery.) We also talked about impossibility and how people spend so much time telling themselves they can't do something: "There's no way I can" or "That's just crazy talk" or "I'd totally fail."

I wonder: If you took all those no moments and used them instead to let yourself dream big, bold, downright scary dreams, what would happen?

Quite possibly the most epic game of Cards Against Humanity ever:

OK, maybe that's not the best example. But I think maybe you catch my drift.


Speaking of the holidays, 2015 is right around the corner. And even though New Year's Eve is kind of a stressful experience marked by ridiculous pressure to have The Most Amazing Night Ever when the reality is the best nights are the ones that aren't planned, I am so grateful for the new start. It's been a roller coaster of a year, with a lot of really tough spots, and I'm eager for something a bit more cheerful.

This is what's on my Christmas wish list:

That's right: Hope, good company and a bit of bourbon. Because I did, after all, just register for Ironman Louisville.

IMAZ race report: post-race

Thursday, December 18, 2014

So what happens after?

If you're me, first you lock yourself out of the condo at 1 a.m. and start calling locksmiths. But then Arvan, who somehow can still think like a real person after 140.6 miles, looks around in the front yard until he finds the hide-a-key and all is saved.

You also don't really sleep very much. Because adrenaline and being so full of sugar from gels and sports drink.

But the not sleeping is good, since you have to get up early to stand in line to buy finisher's gear, which you vow never to take off your body. And then you make sure your bike is all set to be shipped home.

And then you play tourist.

Note the outfit, never taking that shit off.

And the whole time it really hurts to go up and down stairs, curbs included.

But it hurts more when you have to drop your loved ones off at the airport and it begins to hit you that the wedding weekend is over and now you must go back to normal life. And also: Why can't we buy acreage and be together forever on a commune of awesome? (It's not as creepy as it sounds, I swear.)

Other random thoughts from IMAZ that don't fit anywhere, so I'm listing them here:

1. Apparently my parents went to church at some point during the run because they thought I needed heavenly intervention after that horrible bike. (For real. Welcome to my Catholic childhood.)

2. A story I heard from another athlete: There was a guy who had nothing on but a blue Victoria's Secret-ish thong under his wetsuit, which was quite the surprise for the wetsuit strippers.

3. When the volunteer brought me my bike at T1, he called it the "mini bike."

4. Coach Mark got his first drafting penalty ever. It is a sore spot to this day. Don't bring it up.

5. Yes, in case you are wondering, I did eat a hot dog on the bike, just like I did on every long training ride. And no, I did not have to use the Immodium in my special needs bag. In fact, my nutrition was spot on.

6. Some spectators set up a bacon aid station on the run. I didn't eat any -- strange meat can be risky. (Interpret as you will.)

7. Recovery since has been weird. My body feels OK, but my temperature is all off. For about two weeks after the race, I was constantly freezing. I'm just finally getting back to normal.

8. My first post-race adult beverage was an Old Fashioned. At a restaurant called House of Tricks. No, there was no magic show. And no, it was not a brothel.

9. I still talk to Jason, JM and Carlton, the three guys I met on the run. We are trying to pick a race to do together in 2015.

10. Would I do another Ironman? Absolutely yes.

IMAZ race report: the run

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dear god, if there was a moment when I wanted to kiss the ground and hug my running shoes, it was the second the hell on earth of riding against gale-force winds ended and I got off my bike. Because right then I knew I was going to finish. I knew I was going to be an Ironman.

And let me tell you: That is a freaking amazing realization.

Suddenly, everything was beautiful: The way Tempe Town Lake looked in the sunset light, the sound of feet hitting the pavement, the incredible support from the volunteers and spectators (Kimra, I cannot tell you how good it was to see you at that first aid station), the really tall guy in the sinewy tri suit who left transition with me. (Seriously, though, he really was very pleasant to look at.)

I cruised through the first 13.1 miles of the run, chatting with people, asking them about their personal stories, cheering for them, smiling uncontrollably. I was moving along pretty steadily until about Mile 14 or 15, and then it hit me that the day would be over soon, that everything would come to an end.

And since I am a weirdo who doesn't make good decisions operate like most other people, I decided to walk. Because I wanted to savor every second and think about where I've been this year and what Ironman meant. (Also, my hamstrings were starting to bother me a little. And I didn't want to look like I was dying when I crossed the finish line, which would probably send my parents into cardiac arrest.)

Around Mile 18, I got really cold and asked a volunteer for a space blanket. She ended up making me a poncho out of a trash bag instead. I spent the next few miles laughing hysterically to myself. Because when I got this tattoo last fall to immortalize both my favorite song and my first Ironman ...

... I didn't think the more accurate description of my race would be: "And I am wearing a trash bag on the desert plains all night."

Thankfully another aid station had space blankets, so I was able to update my look. I finished the last four miles of the run with three random guys I had never met before in my life: Jason, JM and Carlton. They were also wearing space blankets. We walked in a line, four abreast, and made each other laugh. It was pretty freaking awesome. 

Superheroes in foil!

Can't think of a better group to finish the day with.

As we got closer to the finish line, we could hear Mike Reilly's voice and the roaring crowd. Layla, Thai and Carlos materialized on the sidewalk, running next to me for a few feet. (Let me remind you: Thai is very pregnant. Very, very pregnant. I was worried babies were going to be born at that moment.) And then I saw Coach Mark and his wife, Teresa, cheering for me. (Mark had done the race too and finished hours ago, but still waited for my slow ass.)

I got rid of the space blanket (because photos) and headed for the finish chute.

I went straight to my parents, who were waiting on the sidelines. My mom was crying, and she kept saying: "You did it! You did it! You are an Ironman!" 

Then I took a photo with my new best friends ...

These guys: I'll never, ever forget them.

... and put my awesome hideous green jacket back on because I was freezing. (See? Now I will really never get rid of that thing.)

Seriously so overwhelmed with love and gratitude for my family and friends.

Aren't they the best in the world?

I don't know how to describe the joy of Ironman. There are no words. All I can say is that it is even better than this, if you can believe it:

(I know, right? Thank you to Ron for the amazing image!)

Run: 6:02:46 (new marathon personal worst!)
Total race time: 16:20:28

IMAZ race report: the bike

Monday, December 15, 2014

My mom and I were having a conversation the other night. "We're still talking about Ironman," she said. "It's been how long and we're still talking about it. Isn't it sad how we're still talking about Ironman for this long and we didn't talk about your wedding that way?"

And this pretty much sums up my relationship history.

Anyway, since we have now made the transition to Painful Moments in Michaela's Life, let's talk about the horror that was the bike at IMAZ.

Yes, I have a sperm helmet.

First of all, the three-loop course was supposed to be fairly easy. Arvan and I drove it as part of our pre-race prep. There were no huge climbs. The road conditions were incredible. (Arvan -- who is from Sonoma County, a.k.a. the Land of Patched Asphalt -- kept yelling: "There are no potholes! No potholes! No potholes!") And we both agreed the bike would be a dream compared to what we had experienced during training.

Unfortunately, on race day, there was wind. A whole big shit-ton of wind. (I've since heard it was the worst wind in the history of IMAZ.) And because my swim and T1 already took longer than I thought they would, this wind became a huge problem. What was supposed to be a "comfortable" ride (if you can call anything in Ironman comfortable) turned out to be absolutely disheartening. Imagine a long, steady climb -- which should've felt like a false flat if weather conditions had been better -- with at least 17 mph headwinds. For miles. And you have to repeat this torture three times. It was like riding a stationary bike in a stupid outfit with a bunch of other people who looked very upset.

About halfway through loop two, I began to wonder if I was going to make the cutoff.

The part when I started freaking out and yelling at people on the sidelines.

It got to the point where I was shouting "Are we going to be OK?" at every single person I rode past. And of course, the athletes all had Ironman brain and had no idea what time it actually was or when the cutoffs were, and the volunteers were equally confused and just tried to give me water and sports drink.

I went to a very dark place. All I could think about was how I was going to get pulled off the course and fail and it would be humiliating and would I even want to try again and Arizona sucks my ass and how was I going to explain this to everyone who believed in me. I got so down mentally and was so convinced I wasn't going to make the cutoff that I almost pulled over to wait for the SAG wagon. 

And then it hit me: That damn SAG vehicle is going to have to sweep me off this course. I will have to be forcibly extracted from the road. And until that happens, I'm going to keep riding. My mantra became "Easier than cancer" and "Easier than heartbreak," and I just said that over and over to myself and pushed on.

I finished the bike eight minutes before the cutoff. Apparently, I was so close to failing that my mom had seen the SAG vehicles start heading up the course to sweep people. And she was so worried that she cried to a security volunteer and said: "I haven't seen my daughter! What will happen to my daughter if she doesn't make it? She's worked so hard!" And she was so emotional that the volunteer started crying too. And they hugged each other.

Oh, Ironman: The way you bring the world together.

Anyway, I was so thrilled to get off the damn bike (no offense, Muppet, but that shit was rough) that I flew through T2. I cannot even tell you how relieved I was to start running.

Bike: 8:09:16
T2: 3:05 (the only fast thing I did all day)

IMAZ race report: the swim

Monday, December 08, 2014

The day before the race, Coach Mark and I had a long conversation. He asked me for my exact plans for every leg -- what I'd be eating and when and how much (yes, hot dogs were part of this conversation), where I planned to position myself for the swim, what was in my special needs bags, what my time goals were, what my concerns were, if I had any last-minute questions, etc.

And then he said: "It's Ironman, it's a long day, it's not going to be perfect. Expect three things to go wrong. And remember you're going to have to problem-solve out there. You're going to have to get yourself through."

Race morning dawned. To call it emotional is an understatement. Imagine standing there at the start, saying good-bye and thank you to the people you love (I hugged Layla so tightly and cried) before plunging into a crowd of thousands of strangers in wetsuits, all of you feeling the same thing: This day is the culmination of something you've been waiting for and working toward for so very long. And dear god, you hope you can do it.

I wasn't the only teary-eyed person out there. You hug them, these strangers who know exactly everything in your mind and your heart because they are there too, and you squeeze their hands, and you promise to see each other at the finish line. And then the line of people in wetsuits snakes toward the water and suddenly you are jumping in.

Hitting the water in a group was the scariest part. It was colder than I thought it would be. There was splashing and kicking. And the way IMAZ is set up, you have to swim about 200 meters to the in-water start. But once I started swimming, I felt better, calmer. I stuck to my plan and didn't go all the way up to the starting buoy -- I hung back under one of the bridges and sat on a ledge with a few other athletes. We wanted to let the faster people go first and give ourselves room. We waited for the canon, chatting and encouraging each other.

And then the canon sounded, and the day began.

I waited about a minute to start swimming and stayed toward the back and to the right of the masses. I didn't get kicked in the face and lose my goggles (one of my biggest fears), although there was some leg-grabbing and contact. And at one point, there was a guy with a snorkel who repeatedly swam into me. But otherwise, all went as planned -- no surprises. Water conditions -- even with a bit of chop toward the end -- were easy compared to what I had experienced on my practice swims in Lake Washington.

Before I knew it, the swim was done. The volunteers helped me of the water ...

Wetsuits, always attractive. Not.

... and then they told me to lie down and put my legs in the air (this totally reminded me of a bikini wax, by the way) and then they stripped my wetsuit off, helped me to my feet, shoved the wetsuit into my arms and told me to go.

I'm on the ground next to the tent on the left. Awkward.

And I was off to T1. It was weird to have to find my transition bag and then go into a changing tent (where a bunch of women were totally nude) before I could get to my bike. And then I had to stop at a port-a-potty and pee for like 5 million years because I had issues and couldn't pee in my wetsuit during the swim no matter how hard I tried.

First leg done and so far, no dying or pooping myself.

Swim: 1:53:52 (about 10 minutes slower than I was hoping for)
T1: 11:29 (longest transition I've ever had, quite possibly slower than some airport security lines)

thanksgiving in london

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Back in Seattle. The bad news: I'm completely jet-lagged and it's still dark out and I'm wide awake. The good news: It's snowing. And since I'm the only person who isn't still sleeping, I feel like I have the entire world all to myself. What to do with this power? Let the cats play in the snow on the balcony. Eat chips in my bathrobe.

And write about my last full day in England, which was Thursday.

I said good-bye to Corfe Castle and the countryside, took the train to London and met up with Arvan. (Because we are soulmates who live eerily parallel lives, without even consulting each other ahead of time, both of us had planned post-Ironman trips to our favorite places in Europe as a way to reward ourselves for our hard work. Only he wasn't stupid and didn't have a passport snafu like me. But I guess my idiocy was a blessing in disguise: I cannot even tell you how lovely it was to see one of my very favorite people waiting for me at Waterloo Station.)

We spent the evening playing tourist. (And trying really, really hard not to get run over by a double-decker bus. Crossing the street in England is tough for Americans.)

This may be my new favorite photo of all time.

I spy the Eye. (Sorry. Couldn't resist the dumb pun.)

While these landmarks were all gorgeous, my favorite part was when we walked through the Leake Street graffiti tunnel. The entire thing was covered in street art, and people were out there with their spray paint, making more murals.

(Hope this doesn't mean something offensive, and I'm too dumb to know it.)

One brief aside from our beautiful wandering: I want to know what goes through British people's minds when they name things. (Cathryn, maybe you can help me out here.) Because Studland. And Cockfosters. And Tooting Broadway. And mushy peas. (How is that appetizing?) And fish pie. (Actually quite good.) But this is the one that really gets me:


The Slug and Lettuce. That's right: There is a restaurant called The Slug and Lettuce. You will recall how I feel about slugs and lettuce and the awful, nightmarish time when I literally found a slug in my salad while having dinner at a friend's house.

It's safe to assume we did not have our Thanksgiving dinner at The Slug and Lettuce.

Instead, we went to Sagar for vegetarian thali.

One of the best Thanksgiving meals I've ever had.

It was a wonderful holiday. 

studland and swanage

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A place called Studland exists; I had to go. Because surely it could only be a village of shirtless English Premier League players, right?

I walked for a very, very long time. But all I found in Studland was a lot of fog.

And these cake-shaped formations known as Old Harry Rocks, which I really, really wanted to call "Old Harry's Rocks" and then laugh hysterically. (But this information probably doesn't surprise you since I'm the type of person who takes a bus all the way out to a remote village just because it's called Studland and then hikes around in mud and mist for hours, trying to figure out where all the studs went.)

Despite the false advertising, Studland was beautiful.

So I kept walking ... 

... uphill and downhill and through a bunch of sheep pastures ...

Clearly not studs.

... until the town of Swanage appeared.

And then I kept walking until I actually got to the town of Swanage.

See those cliffs? That's where I started.

And then I walked through Swanage ...

... and stopped at the cemetery, of course. (There are so many cemeteries in England. Squee!)

And when I got tired of walking, I took the bus back to Corfe Castle and finished the day with a meat tower bunless burger and a side of chips.

I may or may not has requested brown sauce.

It's my last night here in English countryside. Tomorrow I take the train back to London.

Unless another unplanned twist occurs and I end up on, I don't know, the Isle of Wight or something. Because with me, you never know.

corfe castle

You know how in "The Hobbit," Bilbo Baggins gets pulled into an unexpected adventure? That is pretty much what this trip is like, except I'm traveling by myself instead of with a bunch of dwarves. And I don't have to meet a dragon at the end. And I suck at riddles, so I won't be getting any special jewelry. And -- most important of all -- I don't have hairy feet.

I spent yesterday exploring Corfe Castle, the teeny-tiny village that is currently my home base. The day began with a proper English breakfast ...

Confession: I like brown sauce.

... and then I immediately went to the cemetery. Because that is what normal people do when they are on vacation, right?

Bonus find: There is more than one cemetery in Corfe Castle! And the second one -- called God's Acre -- has the most incredible view of the castle itself.

Here's a shot without the tombstones, in case they freak you out:

Next stop: The castle. The weather was terrible, so barely anyone was out (except for us crazy people who love cemeteries and rain), and I actually had the entire castle to myself for a little bit. Of course, I used this special time to take selfies.

Rocking the Elsa braid.

It was like all of my dorky childhood fantasies coming true up there. I was thisclose to galloping around on my imaginary white horse Magic and commanding my imaginary army to keep watch against the imaginary enemies and their imaginary banners with imaginary evil symbols.

Clearly, this is why I am single.

View of the town, as seen by the imaginary army.

Oh, and I was also simultaneously looking for that portal to a history that is populated only by really hot men who want to fall in love with a woman from the future. Sadly, no luck.

Where is my Diana Gabaldon moment?

Eventually, it got really cold in my make-believe world, so I hiked back down to reality, found a tearoom with a roaring fire and ordered the infamous Dorset cream tea.

And then I went back to my inn ...

... where I wrote this blog post and huddled in bed until it was time to eat dinner.

Pro tip: Fish pie tastes a lot better than it sounds, and since Corfe Castle is so close to the coast, the seafood here is pretty damn good.
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