Monday, September 12, 2016

Cut and Sewn

On August 22nd, nearly 7 years after my gastric bypass surgery, I had my first cosmetic surgery. I had  an abdominoplasty, also known as a tummy tuck. In talking/writing about it I don't like referring to it as a tummy tuck, because I'm afraid it makes it sound like I did this for vanity, which I did not. The thing is, 6 years ago, in the very beginning of my new life as an averaged sized person, the skin didn't bother me. After I had maintained my nearly 140 pound weight loss for a few months I saw where my abdominal skin sat and though "ok, I can live with this". Weight loss surgery (WLS) patients are recommended to undergo cosmetic procedures after maintaining a healthy weight range for 6 months to a year. That time period came and went for me and I decided not to pursue cosmetics. At the time, the extra skin wasn't very bothersome, and the thought of cosmetic surgery terrified me. Yes, I was scared to do it. It looked painful, and I was scared of the sedentary lifestyle that is needed for recovery.

Fast forward 6 years, my life has been the opposite of sedentary. in the span of 6 years I finished 3 ironmans and 7 half ironmans, plus more smaller triathlons and running races than I can count. I am 35 credits away from my bachelor's degree. I have been go go go for the past 6 years. In February I went to see my new primary care doctor for my yearly checkup and labs pertaining to my gastric bypass surgery. When it came time for the routine check for hernias, she asked right away why I hadn't had the excess abdominal skin removed yet, because there was so much of it. I was honest with her and told her I couldn't afford it. She held up the large flap of skin and told me a surgeon at the army hospital could do it and asked me if I had lower back pain. I told her yes, it just recently started developing and I didn't know why, but I assumed it was from riding my bicycle. After 6 years I had recently noticed my abdominal skin had started protruding instead of hanging. The now protruding, heavy skin made sense as the cause of my lower back pain. I knew it was time. The skin made it look like I had a gut, it stuck out more than my chest, and I was putting biofreeze on my lower back twice daily because of the pain. I couldn't hide behind the fear anymore. I had to go through with this.

A week before surgery, abdominal skin protrudes after losing 140 pounds and keeping it off for 6 years

When I was finished racing for the year I went to see the surgeon at the army hospital. She insisted I go to a plastic surgeon and assured me everything would be approved by my insurance as this looked more reconstructive than cosmetic. Sure enough, after I met with the plastic surgeon for the first time, my insurance approved the procedure quickly, and 10 days later I had a surgery date.

Originally I wasn't going to share much about this. I learned there are huge misconceptions out there about this procedure, and many still believe that diet and exercise will tighten skin. As a former personal trainer who can tell you that there is no such thing as toning, many still believe that toning exists, when it doesn't. You can only build and strengthen what is under the skin, building a larger muscle will cause it to press up against the skin, but the skin itself does not tighten. I knew this before WLS. In the days leading up to my surgery I watched YouTube videos of the procedure because I wanted to know what was being done to me. The comments section floored me by the sheer number of people who commented "why go through all this, just diet and exercise" or "if they would have just done some sit-ups" and similar comments.

As a WLSer who waited 6 years to have the first cosmetic procedure done, and has held a strict exercise/training regiment for 6+ years, I felt I owed it to the WLS community to share my story. I could not find any WLSers who have waited as long as I have, nor could I find any who had been as terrified as I had been.

I have quite a few WLSers who follow me on Instagram. Last week I posted my 2 week post op picture, along with a before picture. Even though the post surgery pic is fairly rough, as I still have a drain in my hip because of a draining hematoma, and as my kids say my incision line looks like I was sawed in half, I found it harder to reveal the pre surgery pic. Up until I posted that pic, I can count on one hand the people who I have allowed to see my extra skin in all its glory. For some reason it has always been a source of shame, and I'm not sure why. I was 300 pounds, the skin stretched, I lost 140, the skin stayed. Such a simple anatomical concept but one that brought me shame and embarrassment. I can admit that the protruding skin brought down my self esteem. I sit at 20% bodyfat with a resting heart rate of 65, yet I looked like I had a big gut and I had to buy pants a size larger in order to tuck in my extra skin. 

With all that being said I'm talking (well writing) about it now, in hopes that it will help others. There are so many "before and afters" out there that make this seem so wonderful, but the recovery has been pure hell. Today I am 3 weeks post op, and I am so sore and tired. I have been dealing with draining a large hematoma since day 3 post op, and because of it I still have a drain coming out of my right hip, which has been the bain of my currant existence. The swelling is unreal, hitting its peak in the evenings. I have to wear an abdominal binder 24/7. I have a high pain tolerance, and I'm trying to be a "tough girl" and not complain at all since I chose to do this, but it hurts, it just plain hurts. Hematomas are not common when "regular" people get tummy tucks, but they are a common complication in massive weight loss people. Through all this I still realize how fortunate I am, I got a tummy tuck from a board certified plastic surgeon and didn't pay a dime. I am grateful

Not a long of training and racing will be going on in the next few months, so I'll keep progress updates here. Its been years since I have written anything WLS related, and I consider this to fall into that category. Through the pain I have to keep faith that the hematoma will resolve, I will recover, and this will all be worth it, I just have to be patient.

The Instagram pic, revealing to the world the reality of what it looks like to lose 140 pounds. The right is 16 days post op

Monday, August 1, 2016

My Medal Collection Part 1-Running

Over the past 6 years I have raced a lot. My medal collection is massive. They all tell a story, whether an interesting one or a boring one. This is going to be a 3 part series where I tell a summary behind some the stories behind the medals. Today I'm going to start with my running medals.

October 2, 2010- Jacksonville Marine Corps Half Marathon

My first half marathon. 10 months after having gastric bypass surgery running a half marathon sounded like a great idea. It was a big race, but not a huge race, perfect field size for a first. The course had a few hills, but they were all at the beginning so adrenaline got me up and over them. The finish line was fantastic with Marines putting finisher's medals around runner's necks. I learned on the day that finishing a half marathon wasn't too difficult, but if I was to try to race one it would be a tough distance to race. I ran a 2:05 that day. Joel was deployed to Iraq at the time. He was so proud, and impressed by the finisher's medal. When I got home from the race, I couldn't stop looking at this medal, I couldn't believe I ran the whole distance without stopping, just 10 months ago I had been 300 pounds and getting winded walking through a parking lot.

December 19, 2010- Jacksonville Bank Marathon

My first marathon. 13 months after gastric bypass surgery. After the Marine Corps Half Marathon, I had ran 2 more half marathons. After my 3rd half marathon, I decided to take on the marathon distance. I didn't train properly, I didn't know how to. I literally just went for it. Joel returned home from Iraq 6 days prior to race day. On this day I learned a full marathon is a completely different animal than a half marathon. I hurt like I had never hurt before, I felt pain like I had never felt before. I did not walk one step. I ran a 4:17. My support team at the finish line brought me to tears, it consisted of Joel, Loraine, my girls, and one of my Army buddies who lived nearby. It was at this moment that I realized for me personally, having people there for you make the difference between a good race and a great race.

November 24, 2011-Subaru Distance Classic Half Marathon, Jacksonville, FL

Though a plain looking medal, this one represents a big achievement. This race was a few weeks after my first Ironman, and for the first time, I actually trained to run a good half marathon. For the first time with running, my training was focused and dedicated. I wanted to run a sub 1:50 half marathon, and this course was completely flat so I felt I had a good chance. Joel ran this one too, it was his 2nd half marathon, I was so proud of him, his time was well under 2 hours. Our first half marathon together, we ran alongside each other the first 4 miles, on this day I took off and didn't see Joel until the finish line. I ran a 1:48, and was so happy I met my goal after training so hard. It taught me the lessons on working hard, and mental toughness. It was also at this race I was begin to realize my immense ability to suffer.

December 18, 2011-Jacksonville Bank Marathon

My second marathon, I bridged the gap from the Subaru Distance Classic to the Marathon the next month. My goal was lofty, sub 4 hours. I trained hard, mostly solo except for the few times Joel ran with me. Joel ran it too, as his first marathon. He was just trying to finish and I had a goal time so our training and paces were different. We ran our 16 and 18 milers together in training. Even though I had done an Ironman a few months prior, running a fast marathon is a different level of pain. I was in agony around mile 22. Mile 23 and 24 I walked the aid stations. I had to dig deep and just suffer, telling myself suffer now, you have the rest of the day to not run once this is over. I met my goal and finished in 3:56. Joel finished 36 minutes after me. After finishing, and seeing what a marathon is like, Joel was so impressed with my time. The greatest thing about Joel running this marathon, was from there on out, at tough endurance events, he knew about the pain, and the level of suffering to endure these things. I still have yet to run a 3rd stand-alone marathon.

February 9, 2013 Hilton Head Island Half Marathon

I know its a big time gap from the last picture. 2012 I did 4 half ironmans, and didn't do as many running races. The few I did were nothing spectacular and nothing to write home about. At this point I had several half marathon where my time was 1:48 and I was looking to break that. Joel had deployed to Afghanistan months before the race. I was emotionally hurting on the inside at this time in my life, and I used that internal turmoil to run this race. I was angry, I felt it in my stomach. I used that anger and pain to just run. I was hurting, teeth gritting, nearly in tears. I ran a 1:44, a huge PR, nearly puking at the finish line. I didn't feel any better, and I hated the way that I felt. I don't talk about this race much because it represents a dark time. If this is the only way I can run that fast, then I never want to run that fast again.

November 9, 2013 Savannah Rock n Roll Half Marathon

I had no business running this race. I had fallen into a deep depression after 2013's Ironman Louisville, where I had worked so hard and fell dramatically short of my own expectations. Joel had returned home from Afghanistan a few month prior, and was running the full marathon. That race morning I didn't even want to do the race, I was still pissed off about Ironman. This is a huge race, roughly 20,000 people. Joel started several waves behind me, I was in wave 3. I had an uneventful run in 1:47 and just wanted it to be over. Here's is why I included this medal here, it was the day I never felt so alone at a race, ironically a big race. I waited 3 hours for Joel to finish after me, all alone, 20,000 people plus spectators and I had never felt so alone in my life. This is where I got my disdain for huge races. This is also the race where I decided to not be a part of Team RWB anymore.

January 11, 2014-Savannah Rails to Trails 50k

My first, and so far only, ultra. I have discussed this day many times, as it nearly caused my demise. I had my best run training cycle ever leading up to this race. I managed to let go of the disdain I carried from Rock n Roll to focus on this race. I ran four 20 milers in training, 2 of them being mostly on trail. I felt so ready, and excited, for race day. I loved the race, the scenery was beautiful and it was so well put together. I thought during the race "I want to do more ultras". Joel was there for support, and it meant the world to me. This is one of those race that strengthened our bond, I still smiles at the memories together from this race. I ran a 5:09. Five days later I nearly died as my intestine ruptured during the race and I didn't know, I had emergency surgery and it was a long road back to recovery.

March 15, 2014-Hilton Head Shamrock 5k

My first race after my intestine rupture. I just wanted to get back out there, I wasn't looking to get a podium spot. After surgery I had a big-time attitude adjustment (much needed I might add) and started to realize what is important in life. I had given so much of myself to racing it nearly killed me. My PRs will not be on my headstone. What I remember about this race, Hugs from Joel at the start and finish line, and our breakfast date at Cracker Barrel on the way home. This medal was for second place age group after running a 23:55. To me, this medal represents a new chapter in my life.

May 3, 2014-Crimestopper Azalea Run 10k Savannah, GA

I have never been a fan of the 10k distance, why, because I never knew how to race it. I know how to race a 5k, I know how to race a half marathon, but the 10k had always been a big mystery. This was the day I learned how to race a 10k. I ran a 47:52 and this medal is for 1st place age group. It hurt, a lot, but I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. The race was nearby the bike shop where Joel went on his group rides, so we rode together, he went on his group ride and I ran my race. He made it back in time for the awards ceremony, I love the way he looks in his cycling kit. We showered at the gym after that and went on a lunch date out in Savannah.

September 21, 2014-Konquer the Konza 25k Manhattan, KS

My first running race in Kansas. The Konza Prairie is the most beautiful place I've ever had the chance to run at besides the beach. The race taught me about Kansas hills, and what was in store for my running life in my new home. I finished in 2:23, a tough race but a rewarding one. A woman I had been coaching for years ran this race too, and I stayed for her finish and ran her in. The race was sponsored by Tallgrass Brewery, Joel absolutely loves all their beers. Runners could have all the post race beers they wanted. People were starting to leave but the coolers were still overflowing with cans of their beer. I starting stuffing my backpack with as many as I felt I could get away with for Joel.

November 15, 2014-Longview Half Marathon, Kansas City, MO

My first half marathon after my intestine rupture, as well at my first half marathon in Kansas. Another first, it was my first half marathon in sub freezing temperatures. It was 14 degree that morning, I had on all the gear. It was a hilly course but I learned that since I have short legs, I can run down the hills quickly to make up for time lost on the climbs. Joel was out there to support me, he was at mile 7 cheering and again waiting for me at the finish line. After all I had been through the months prior with emergency surgery and moving halfway across the county, I was so happy to run a 1:48 that day.

December 6, 2014-Alternate Chili 10 Miler Kansas City, KS

Another below freezing race. This race taught me that not all trails are created equal. This was on a bridle trail, very slick and muddy, it was a 10 mile fight to stay upright. I fell down some hills, fell going around corners, and struggled on the rope climbs, but I never felt so alive. My shoes and legs were completely covered in mud at the finish. I finished in 2:15

May 23, 2015-Bill Snyder Highway Half Marathon Manhattan, KS

It was neat to run the inaugural race, and the medal is awesome, but this race made me realize I don't care much for the road running crowd around here. I had a lot more fun at Konquer the Konza and at the Alternate Chili 10 miler. I have always felt the people really make the race. Joel ran this race too but I got ahead and lost him around mile 2. I ran a 1:49

April 9th, 2016-Rock the Parkway Half Marathon Kansas City, MO

The largest medal in my collect. During this time, I had returned to Kansas State University to finish my bachelors. I was serious this time around, and was in full on school fatigue. After Ironman Louisville 2015, which was the race of my life, I really started buckling down on the other aspects of my life. Being the best wife I could be, being the best mom I could be, being a good friend, finishing what I started many years ago (school). I didn't train for this race, I just showed up, literally. It was another freezing day, I couldn't even feel my feet until close to mile 3. I ran a 1:54 and I wasn't even mad. For me, this large medal represents balance, the start of another new chapter. I'm no longer obsessed with training, my training and racing never comes before my family, I put school over training and racing. Right now I'm just running, and I fit that in where I can. Looking at just doing cyclocross and running next year, and finishing my degree and joining the work force again

Friday, July 22, 2016

Freedom from Pressure

I'm not sure when, or exactly how it happened, but I have come to terms with it, my tri fire has fizzled. The past six years of my life could be a monotonous story of swim, bike, run, race, repeat. Missed family vacations, missed date nights, miss opportunities, all for the sake of triathlon.

I could feel it building early in this year's tri season. Every race morning I woke up not wanting to go. I raced on Sunday, I groaned when my alarm went off at 2:30 a.m. What used to be mornings filled with excitement and anticipation, were now mornings filled with dread and the feeling of "lets get this over with." On the drive to Wichita for the early morning sprint triathlon, I looked over at Joel, who woke up at that horrendous hour and offered to drive us. He didn't know I had been feeling this way, I have been in denial so I have not told anyone. He was doing his best to support me in my race, waking up with me, doing the long boring drive in the country. I felt a sadness, as this was his last weekend home before going to the California desert for 30 days for Army training, and he had to wake up at a time we used to go to bed in our dating days, to take me to a race I didn't even want to do. My sadness was because I could have just realized these feelings, and not do the race, and we could have had a wonderful date night the night before, making more memories together.

Over the past few months I am getting progressively slower. I'm not sure if its because of my extra 10 pounds, the fact that I sit at a desk doing schoolwork anywhere from 4-9 hours every day (but hey, I'll be able to graduate from Kansas State University next year), or the stress of my husbands new job since because of it I have to do a little more at home and don't have as much time to train. I consider those factors, but I honestly feel it is this: the pressure is getting to me. When you are fast, there is pressure to stay fast, and sometimes that pressure becomes overwhelming. When you have an average time, or you don't win, you are asked "what happened?" Because when you are fast, just finishing isn't enough.

I've taken the time this week to think about what I want for the time being. I came to the conclusion I hate swimming, I'm ready to run long distance again, and I want to try different cycling disciplines. This week I decided to just run, no pressure on myself, no time goal, just run for the sake of running, and I have loved it.

I'm not quitting triathlon, I think there is still a fire within that could be sparked and ignited again, I'm simply taking a sabbatical from it, however long that may be. During this sabbatical I'll be doing long distance running races, cyclocross, gravel races, time trials, and mountain bike races. All the things I have wanted to do over the years, but didn't in pursuit of triathlon. Those are part of my missed opportunities. I'm a natural runner and I love cycling, I want to see what else the cycling world has to offer besides triathlon. I still want to race, just not triathlon.

I want to run and ride on my own terms, not to be fast, not to meet any time goals, but simply for the enjoyment of the run and the ride. I need to enjoy this again, not dread it.

I'll be undergoing surgery in a few week to get the extra skin off my abdomen removed, after that I start the long healing process. I'll have my cyclocross bike by then, and when cleared to ride I'll be able to explore the miles of gravel and dirt roads around here at a gentle pace, it will be fall in the Midwest at that time. Cool temperatures and changing leaves will be greeting me in that new chapter, and I'll actually be moving slow enough to take it all in and enjoy it, with no pressure. I'm allowing myself freedom from pressure.

Tomorrow morning I am doing a 5 mile running race on my Army post. Its actually on one of my favorite running routes. Its a very small field, maybe 30 people at the most, After writing this and getting all out, I'm looking forward to tomorrow's race, I don't feel pressure. I just get to go run a route I love without having to worry about vehicle traffic.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Two Years Ago, My Turning Point

This blog post has been a few months coming. I meant to write it in January at the anniversary of my near demise, but honestly, I have burnt out on writing. I have been back at K-State since January (will cover that in a later blog post) and had to take a fast track English course requiring me to write five multi-page papers in an eight week time span. Needless to say, I was burnt out on writing. I feel that this is important to write about at it has been the one event that has changed everything, not just the way I go about racing. Like the title suggests, it has been my turning point.

As I have mentioned, January 11th, 2014, I ran my first 50k and unbeknownst to me I ruptured my intestine. My body let me know on January 17th, 2014, it was the most agonizing pain I have ever felt. Joel is the only one who knows this because he was there, but while in the exam room waiting for a diagnosis I was screaming out that I wanted to die. The pain was that intense. The pain was so excruciating and it took so long to get a diagnosis, at that moment in time I felt that death was the only escape. After the diagnosis I was rushed into surgery, which was a success. Waking up I knew I had a long road to recovery.

After a few boring days in the hospital, being visited by the girls and some of my friends, it was time to go home. Joel had been at my side since I woke up in the middle of the night screaming days prior. As I was standing at the bathroom mirror in my hospital room getting ready to leave, Joel handed me my wedding ring. I had given it to him right before I went into surgery. I was in the hospital for four days, Loraine would come sit with me for a few hours so Joel could go home and shower and change clothes. We never knew when I was going to be able to leave, so Joel must have carried my ring with him every day. I couldn't wear it while I was there as I had an I.V. attached to me bloating up my arm and fingers. On the day I was discharged and he handed me my ring, I put it on my finger and smiled at him. Neither one of us said a word, and have never talked about it. It just felt like a moment where no words were needed.

Being in the hospital, the pure shock of what had happened sort of consumed my thoughts. Going home, having to take it easy for two weeks, is where I really had to think of everything and let it sink in. I had to come to terms with the fact that running almost killed me. Triathlon, running, had become my identity, I had allowed my hobby to completely consume me. Because of running, my girls were close to using the answer "I don't know, she died when I was really young" when asked about there mom when they get older.

This experience was truly the toughest life lesson I have ever had to learn. Thanks to Facebook's "on this day" I see how everything I did before this was never enough. I was never fast enough, I was never happy with my race, after every race I would beat myself up for not running faster, getting dropped in the swim, not surging the hills on the bike. I had set absolutely impossible standards for myself that were unreachable for someone of my athletic ability, and since I always fell short I couldn't even be happy with "I tried my best and gave it my all".

Looking back, I see that 2013, and everything that happened that year, led up to the disaster. Coming off a great 2012, I had high hopes for 2013. Joe was deployed to Afghanistan, and even though we stay close even with distance between us, he is my rock and not having him home was demoralizing. In February of that year I got a half marathon PR of 1:44 (which I haven't come close to ever since) so I started off with a false sense of encouragement for the race year. After that February race everything went downhill, fast. A few decent sprint tri finishes, and then Florida 70.3. My worst day at a 70.3 ever, my only time going over 6 hours. Many people had a bad day at that race so even though I wasn't happy with it, I managed to move on because Ironman Louisville, my second Ironman, was in August. Joel came home in late June, just in time for my really long bike rides for Ironman training.

2013's Ironman Louisville was sort of a prologue to the disaster. I had the worst race day ever, and I went home feeling broken and defeated. I trained so hard for that race. I finished my Associate's degree in late 2012 and put off starting my Bachelor's to train for Ironman, I missed out on time with my kids to train for Ironman. All for what? I let it affect my everyday life for about 3 months after the race. I was angry and frustrated, all because of a race. I couldn't shake it. It was about this time I had a falling out with my team, Team RWB, a team I cared about and dedicated a lot of time to. In my anger I vowed to absolutely crush 2014, I would train harder, put in more hours, I was a woman obsessed. I was heading toward a path of athletic self destruction. The universe had other plans for me. The universe was about to show me the errors of my way.

Although it was painful, very painful, I am thankful for what happened. Last year I had my best Ironman ever. I PRed by almost an hour, and I didn't train nearly as hard as I did for the first 2 Ironmans, and I raced 16 pounds heavier. I made it a point to not train in the evenings and to take Saturdays off occasionally to spend time with my family. Throughout the whole training cycle, I felt so much better physically and mentally, and didn't get the feeling that I was living to train. I finally found a good balance between my hobby and the rest of my life, and my family didn't feel like they came second to triathlon.

2015 Ironman Louisville, I still can't believe I did so well with so little training
Up until 2014, I had raced long course every year since I started triathlon. Because triathlon had become my identity, I felt obligated to race long course. In 2014 I had so much fun racing only short course I decided to do it again this year. I will not being doing an Ironman next year as I have a good chance of graduating from Kansas State University in the fall of next year if I stay focused.

I love triathlon, that will never change. For the past six years it has been my passion, and it still is my passion. I vow to allow it to continue to be my passion, but never again will I let it become my obsession. I will continue to train hard, but sensibly, not self destructive. This life lesson taught me that, and for that I will forever be thankful. I learned how to be kind to myself, to cut myself some slack and not expect perfection, and to be happy to live to race another day, no matter the race results of that day. I learned to listen to my body and not take risks in training and racing. My family is so precious, and I always want them to know that they are my whole world and to show it I must always give them the love and priority they deserve.

On Monday I turned 33. Writing this has me thinking about my girls when they are my age, and what they will remember of their childhood. The girl aren't going to remember all my podium finishes, or my 13:26 Ironman, or my 1:44 half marathon, but they will remember that I ran and I raced triathlons. What the girls will remember, standing next to me in Bramlage Coliseum cheering on the Kansas State Lady Wildcats basketball team hoping for another win, sharing a big bucket of popcorn, jumping up and down as they score a last-minute basket. They will remember I bought them memberships to the Junior Wildcats Club, and getting the chance to line up in the tunnel to cheer on the team as they run out to the court. They will remember Friday night pizza and candy movie night as a family. They will remember doing the kid's fun run at my races, and taking home a really cool medal. Laci will remember me taking her to swim team practice 5 nights a week without a groan or complaint, and always telling her I'm proud of her. She will remember me being her biggest cheerleader at her swim meets. They will remember Christmas morning and the tasty breakfast after presents, and the ham dinner later that night. They will remember me taking them to Starbucks and then to Varsity Donuts for the best donuts in the world. They will remember trips to the lake and family bike rides.

Cheering on the Lady WIldcats
There is so much more to life than training and racing, I just had to nearly lose it to realize it. My turning point. Thanks for reading

Breakfast out with my family on one of my Saturdays off from training