Want to know what it takes to prepare for an Ironman? How about what it takes to prepare for an Ironman AND deal with autoimmune disease? And what if you have over 300 food allergies and intolerances to deal with?
Food was once killing me. Now I’ve learned to turn adversity into advantage.
Countdown to Ironman Tremblant: 0 [Race was August 21, 2016]
Update #14 August 21, 2016 I became an Ironman!
For more details about my Ironman journey, please click here.
Update #13 August 11, 2016
With all the hard training behind me – many weekend swims at the local lake, more miles cycled than my bottom would like to remember, runs on the trails and on the roads — the time has finally come! In ten days, I’ll be lining up to race my first Ironman!
Thanks to my Coach Michael Covey, my chiropractor Gentry McGrath, my doctor, and supportive friends and family, I am probably in the best shape of my life! From July to now, I have abstained from eating out in order to protect my food supply from cross contamination; the one unfortunate time I did dine out, I got pretty sick and lost some weight, so I finally put up the surrender flag and stopped taking any chances.
I also decided as a precaution to abstain from drinking alcohol during the summer, as the sugars were causing some GI distress. The result? I have leaned out and muscled up. After hitting the free weight room up to three times a week, I saw a dramatic change in my body composition and strength.
One of the things I have noticed is that my metabolism has changed as well. I want to devour hamburgers (more than one!) when the appetite-suppressing effects of aerobic exercise wears off (poor cow). It’s not uncommon for me to eat four to five times a day, just to keep up with how quickly I’m burning up my meals and snacks.
What I didn’t expect to happen is that I’d be lining up with other athletes at the lowest weight I have been since leaving college. I’ve adopted the hashtag, #TinyButMighty, to describe my state of being. While I can’t race fast, I have become a steady athlete, one who can put in the hours and keep going and going. Half the battle is mental, and I have that mental part down.
My recovery plan after the race is to eat white rice and nap a lot. For at least a week!
For those who wish to follow my race progress on August 21, my bib number is 1009.
Update #12 June 2 2016
Do you believe in miracles?
If not miracles, than the unrelenting human spirit?
Birthday came and went, and so did a month of rehabilitation on my shoulder and spine. MRI came back as profuse spinal joint degradation across C5-7, and a hemangioma (likely benign tumor) bulging outwards, which was the cause of the pain that bothered my shoulders so badly and sent pain into my elbow, wrist, and hand.
After many chiropractice adjustments, medical spa massages focusing on opening the brachial muscles and scalenes, physical therapy exercise to strengthen my hand, and a six-day prednisone taper for the inflammation, I am happy to report that I have been able to get back on the training. My Coach helped me modify my training workouts and strength training to appropriate levels to give my shoulders time to adjust and heal.
I swam using a front snorkel for the longest time, just to give my neck time to be in a neutral position whilst swimming. Transitioning back out to open-water swimming, I’ve had to modify my swim to breathing on the right side more than half the time, as this side seems unaffected. Most of my Spring bike rides occurred in the “Cave of Suffering”, my husband’s Computrainer in the garage, so I could keep my head down in a neutral position and stretch every-so-often to release any tightness in the neck and shoulders. I have lost track of how many times I have completed the Ironman Mont-Tremblant course over the past months; I think it’s somewhere around twelve times Mont-Tremblant, and four times for Victoria.
According to my chiropractic doctor, my arm strength is approaching what it was before this whole mess started. It was a tear-jerking relief to hear him say that when he first saw the MRI and prognosis of my condition, he thought he would have to tell me that this whole “Ironman Journey” would need to be shut down! Yet now, I’m swimming, riding, and running fairly comfortably, with little need for pain medication, if any at all.
Next week is my first race of the season, Victoria 70.3, which involves a calm, wet-suit legal 1.2 mile swim in Elk Lake, a 55mile bike ride on a new route (with some impressive elevation), and a lovely double-looped trail run around the lake. Time to beat: 7 hours flat. Considerations: 1) it may be hot (80F +, and 2) I have unfortunately lost some weight, and have a little more than a week’s time to eat like a woman on a mission – protein, protein, protein!
Finally, I have received some very good news. My husband’s employer has a matching program for employees who are involved in 501 (c) charitable organizations. It is now a matter of applying for the matching program, so we can add my “Ironman Fridge to Finish” fundraising effort. My desire to raise $10,000 now needs only raise $5000, and that seems a bit more do-able.
I have only but one thing to add: GAME ON!
Photo by SpiceandInk.com. Used with permission.
Update #11 April 19 2016
I had an excellent time in Maui, HI for a triathlon training camp March 18 – March 26, completing all the bike rides including the Mighty Haleakala ride from Pai’ia to the Haleakala Summit (10,023 ft of elevation gain over 46 miles).
With nagging shoulder pain ongoing since February, I’m now awaiting a proper diagnosis of what might be causing the problem. In the meantime, I’m enjoying my birthday week, no hard training, and some beautiful and extraordinarily warm Spring weather in Seattle.
Update #10 March 10 2016
I was mildly injured on a bus ride in late February, which put a crimp in my ability to walk, sleep, or even drive. Today was the first day back in the pool after multiple sessions of massage, chiropractic adjustments, and a heck of a lot of pain medication.
In the meantime, I’ve managed to complete another trail half marathon (my third trail half marathon, and my seventh half marathon in total). All I can say is, I am glad I love to run!
Before I was injured, swimming and cycling were going well. The good news is that I’ll be a bit more comfortable by the time I arrive in Maui, HI next week for a triathlon camp. Camp activities include jungle hike, trail and beach running, cycling to Hana, the Maui Winery, and up Haleakala (from Pai’ia), and ocean swimming, as well as an afternoon snorkeling trip.
Because of my numerous food allergies, intolerances, and Celiac Disease, I’ll be cooking my own food rather than eating the catered food that comes with the triathlon camp; the coaches and I were in agreement that this is the safest way for me to care for myself during the trip. While it can be nice to have someone else taking care of food so that my head can be completely focused on the activities, it would be extremely difficult to keep my food separate from the food of the other participants.
As usual, I always find a silver lining. I’m planning on mapping out my menu plan for the camp on Trello.com, and after I’m finished, I will use this as a template of how I’ll teach future clients (perhaps YOU!) how to travel, shop, prepare, and cook food and snacks for active vacations. I’ll have access to a car and two large grocery stores, one of which emphasizes natural foods. I’ll also be hauling in my own dried, low-process foods, such as brown rice pasta, and no-added sugar and no allium diced tomatoes from Italy. All pictures of food will get posted, and I plan on provoking just a little bit of food envy from my triathlete peers, not because my food is going to necessarily be better than food created by the hired caterer, but because my food is completely customized to little ol’ me!
Update #9 February 5 2016
197 days to go until Ironman Tremblant, woo hoo!
This past week, I had my first week of higher volume workouts, with the net total of training hours cresting to sixteen hours! With careful planning and eating, I was able to finish all of my training rides, strength training, running, and swim sessions, and even enjoyed a few hours of snowshoeing.
And then, I noticed my weight was off by almost four pounds down. Oops. This is a case where weight loss, while not dangerous, isn’t good because it was unintentional. I anticipate that on my actual Ironman race day, I will weigh in (as is required) before the race, and then I’ll come in 7-10 pounds lighter at the end of the day. In this case, it’s known and intentional, and therefore you can do something about it. When it’s not intentional, you need to find out WHY.
It’s a good thing it’s still early in the training season, because it gives me time to analyze and assess with my coach what is happening, and to experiment with a couple of options: 1) increase protein intake per meal, 2) eat extra food the day before a heavy training volume day, 3) add a rest day, 4) pay attention to sweat rate and adjust fluids and electrolytes.
Perhaps it’s even a good goal for me to come into my races just a couple of pounds “heavy”, to give me a little more room to fall. I don’t have any attachment to the numbers; I want to be wherever my body says, “healthy” truly is.
Otherwise, I’m doing great, tucking in an extra nap on the weekends to recover from the big volume training sessions, and cooking the majority of my food and snacks at home. If you haven’t done so already, check out the recipe for dairy-free panna cotta my friend Amalia shared; I love this!
One of the things that happens when you’re on a medically-necessary low carbohydrate diet is that any muscle building that you are doing has a chance to show up, even on smaller frames like mine. Combined with the higher protein diet I’m on to build muscle, it’s surprised me with the emergence of muscles on my back I never thought I could ever have.
Don’t worry — bike shorts sometimes have a drawstring that makes everyone look like they have a muffin top! I’m grateful I have anything remotely squishy to show for, because the training tends to suck it all off like a vacuum.
Other than feeling like my rear-end is crying because of soreness, the training is doing what it’s supposed to — getting me ready for one of the world’s toughest tests of endurance.
Update #8 January 17 2016
This week, I caught a head cold that’s been going around. And I was so looking forward to what my Coach put on my Training Peaks schedule for the weekend: a team workout, and a back-to-back repeat of the Half Ironman bike course for Tremblant! Whoa! But because I was sick, we backed it down to the team workout (so I could still get strength training) with no anaerobic intervals, and an Olympic Distance bike course on the Computrainer.
I continue to keep my nutrition pretty simple and repetitive, with maybe a change of menu on the weekends. On Sunday, I usually add some simple carbs such as rice porridge, along with fermented foods, left over meats, and wilted vegetables. In the past week, I had one bad reaction to eating out at my favorite burger place, but we figured out it was because they put chevre directly on my burger, and I’ve felt that small amounts of goat cheese versus chevre work better. That mistake cost me a few days of discomfort and rashes on my face and arms. Not that I really felt them much compared to the head cold I was fighting.
Handling the food issues is a constant commitment to eating primarily at home, and vigilance when I decide to eat out. Earlier in the week, I was invited to a catered event sponsored by Microsoft, yet I chose to bring my own food in a thermos. Good thing, since even their gluten-free option was laden with corn, cheese, and other foods of which I am food intolerant.
We also have another snowshoeing trip scheduled at the end of the month for cross training. Although I really have to work for the views, it’s always worth it. I also enjoy the company of other triathletes from the team.
Speaking of which, I just booked my tickets for a return trip to Maui for this year’s Ironspeed Maui Triathlon camp. It’s six days of ocean swimming, cycling, hiking, and running with other triathletes in warmer weather, and it’s such a treat after the cold winter and rainy days in Seattle.
216 days to go!
Update #7 January 11, 2016
I’m in full swing for Ironman training. In the past few weeks I’ve built up my bike volume back up to the Half Ironman distance, practicing on a Computrainer with the Mont-Tremblant 70.3 course loaded up, and a Netflix movie and show queued while I ride.
The course is hilly and very challenging for me, but it gives me a chance to practice my nutrition, using real food and dosing with small amounts of caffeine to test sensitivity to taking caffeine in pill form or in a liquid. It also helps me see which carbohydrates give me the best bang for my digestive enzymes!
The mountains near Seattle received a lot of snow since mid-December 2015 until now, so my Coach has assigned snowshoeing for cross training. The long-slow low-intensity activity mimics the long-slow outdoor run, and I can typically go for about three hours before I need to eat anything.
Strength training is tough for me, but the payoffs are starting to show. My swim stroke is stronger, more efficient, and more fluid. I am also having less pain in my shoulders as the muscles are more engaged.
The food allergy testing I had done last month revealed that I am allergic to alliums (no surprise). I’m aligned to do further blood testing this month, but for now, doctor’s orders are to avoid all dairy, grains (except rice), alliums, nuts, legumes, beans, , corn, and soy. So I said good-bye to sunflower seeds, which was a tough one.
The biggest challenge I face is to simply avoid situations where I am forced to eat out. Much time is spent planning out my food and eating times. Social engagements are particularly tricky. Yet my husband and I notice that I tend to only get sickened by food when we eat out; not every time we eat out, but 99% of my food-related illnesses or Grumpy Tummy days are related to eating a food outside of our home, or in packaged/processed form that is new to me.
I recently switched my crackers from sesame and rice to rice only in order to comply with my allergist’s orders. The packaging of both products are similar, almost identical ingredients, and same amount of ounces, calories, and macronutrients per serving. But for the one without sesame, it was $3.99, and the one with sesame, $1.99. It is really true; eating clean, allergen-free, and gluten-free is much more expensive.
I am also planning on returning to Maui Triathlon Training Camp Ironspeed Hawaii this March. Let’s just tack on some more money to the training budget! But I think it’s worth it. It’s beautiful, you get a ton of bike riding and ocean swimming in, some hikes and runs, food, friends, and awesome coaches who are looking after your best interests. My Snappy Dragon I (Lemond 2006 Bontrager) has been trued, headset cleaned, chain replaced, and headset tape reset. And I bought a Ruster Amoured Hen House to put it in, testing it for travel with my TT bike in August.
I could really use that Powerball winning ticket about now, ha!
222 days to Ironman Mont-Tremblant!
Update #6 December 15, 2015
This week, I started pickiing up the bike volume by training longer on an indoor Computrainer. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s a piece of hardware that connects to the back of a bike trainer frame, and has wires that run to a panel and to a laptop so you can control resistance, add the equivalent of hills and speed, and download programs that replicate existing courses all over the world. It’s a great way to build endurance and volume year round, but it’s very helpful when the weather is too icy, wet, or windy to safely ride outside.
Food-wise, I seem to have hit another “bump” in the road with emerging food intolerances popping up here and there; the latest has been fructose. I agreed to another round of food allergy testing, so that wil happen at the end of the month. Not a big deal to remove more food from my diet, right? My options are pretty restricted as they are, and I consider myself lucky that I’m able to hang onto some weight while exercising longer and more vigorously. We’ll be adding more strength training, which will help me hold onto some weight.
My coach and my IM husband have made me aware that I will still likely shrink down in size even further, even if I am able to maintain a good weight in number. That is just part of what happens when you “lean out” during Ironman training.
Update #5 November 30 2015
Off-season training is really a wonderful time. Nothing hurts! Distances are manageable, the workouts are shorter and vary in intensity, and in general, the activities of the Ironman-in-training are pretty chill. I’m putting in a swim or two a week, a couple of bike rides on the computrainer a week, and a couple of runs. One of the things I’m enjoying during long-slow runs is how long I can go without having to consume any food. As these long-slow runs get even longer than 2.5 hours, I will need to eat something in the form of an easy-to-digest food. For these trainings, a small sweet potato mashed with maple syrup will work!
Food is easy too. For Thanksgiving, I had dinner with a friend who prepared an allergen free, gluten-free, completely “Imei safe” dinner and dessert with a menu that was so detailed and inventive, my mother asked me to stop reading the descriptions because it was making her hungry! I can’t say no to bacon wrapped dates! During the off-season, it’s OK for me to try to gain some weight back, knowing that over the course of the next nine months, it’ll be a challenge to keep the weight on (this is normal for triathletes).
The newest developments: I can no longer eat out when I get a craving for Indian food, due to my new allergy to alliums (leeks, onions, garlic, shallots). I may also be developing an intolerance to brussel sprouts. Oy!
Finally, it looks like I’m headed for dental surgery. A couple of wisdom teeth have finally decided to be “on the move”, and it’s time to have them extracted. Their removal will be timed with the least active time of the year, so I can rest, and basically not need to eat solid food. All my food has to go through a blender, as I still can’t eat any food that comes out of a box or a carton. I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of chicken broth and liquified rice, but whatever works, eh?
Update #4 November 20 2015
Last weekend, I ran the Grand Ridge Trail Half-Marathon race in Issaquah, WA. It’s a beautiful, mostly single-track trail run that includes a five-mile loop with quick elevation gain in the beginning, and rollers with a snaking descent to the turnaround point near Duthie Bike Park.
A steady downpour from the day before turned this trail into a series of soggy paths with rivers of water flowing down the middle, and an unexpectedly wide river crossing before Mile 2 that left my feet wet for the remaining eleven miles. My running buddy was injured during the race at Mile 7, so I let go of time and pace. She’s OK, but was unable to finish; I finished up pretty much alone (but not last!) at 3 hours 39minutes.
Most of the remaining six weeks of 2015 will be focused on building muscle and strength, improving my swim efficiency, and increasing my volume on an indoor Computrainer, as the weather outside is generally not safe for road biking. I have a choice to continue doing long-slow runs outside, as these help me to keep my heartrate low while increasing the pace.
This method of running combined with a low carbohydrate but high fat diet teaches my body to be metabolically more efficient. I find I need less food during training and races, and I have far less issues with GI distress. I’ll be dedicating a future post to my data surrounding my own remarkable transformation (from bonking in 45 minutes, to being able to run 3 hours without carb intake) into a “fat burner”.
Update #3 November 9 2015
We got back from Maui at the beginning of last week after competing in the Maui Xterra 10K Running Event on October 31 (yes, I ran in a costume!) and Xterra World Championship (Man-Geek, my husband, does Xterra).
I had a great time conquering my personal goals — tough trail running in hot weather, and rough ocean surf swimming. When I take on a challenge that makes me a little anxious, I find that I can take on bigger challenges without getting flustered.
While I was away, I received some good news: I can return to cycling again. There was a question of whether I needed to get some minor surgery, but this is no longer the case! I already celebrated with a couple of short rides on the Computrainer (in the Cave of Suffering, aka Man-Geek’s garage).
Currently, I finished my last long trail run of 11 miles and 1500ft of elevation gain before the Grand Ridge Half Marathon on Nov. 14. Other than a mild incident with almonds (rotating in some nuts to see if I am becoming tolerant again), the gluten free diet combined with a modified AIP nutrition plan on the MET periodization plan (Metabolic Efficiency Training) seems to be working well to keep my CD symptoms in check.
Other than some unexpected weight loss coming back from Maui, I’m doing great, energy levels are good, and if I can stop kicking rocks into my ankles when I run (!!!), everything is really pretty awesome.
I also had a swim analysis completed at SwimLabs in Issaquah, WA. During the analysis, I learned more about what I could do to get a more efficient catch and pull; apparently, I’m drafting my legs well, and my head position in the water is also pretty good. Rotation on my right side needs more work. I’ll get my videos in a few days.
Here’s my kitty cat Loomi, giving me some purr resonance on my sore muscles after my long run. Compression socks and an ice pack to the ankles completes the post-recovery routine!
For an inspiring read on those who take longer than five hours to run a marathon or longer than fourteen hours to complete an Ironman-distance triathlon, read this article by Athlinks.
Update #2 October 23 2015
Strength training is this funny activity for me. Just imagine me, all 118-ish pounds of 5 foot 3 me, grunting while doing squats on a machine (or single legged squats with weights), while nearby is this perfectly tall, chiseled male who could probably bench press all of me on his “easy” setting.
I discovered last year that if I used the tail end of the off season to ramp up my strength training, I not only could gain the necessarily muscles I needed to start the next season right, but I could hang onto precious weight that helps me feel better overall.
The difference? When I’m under 115 pounds, I don’t feel great, my bones stick out, and I sleep poorly. When I’m above 117 pounds, I start feeling the closest thing to “normal” that a person with CD and food allergies can feel.
And that is AMAZING!
Update #1 October 20 2015
The “givens” of my existence – I took a short inventory today.
- Small arms for swimming (translation: not the ideal size for built-in swim paddles), thus more strength training for arms and core
- Strong legs for running (hooray!) and uninjured (yahoo!)
On a short hiatus from cycling (until December)I can now return to cycling, working back up to my normal FTP. Yay!
- Eat four times a day on a high fat, low carb, gluten-free and modified AIP (autoimmune protocol diet). Eating out is risky and I do it only when necessary
- 5’3, 117# Tiny but mighty!
- Having Celiac Disease means checking in with the guts after all meals, and really watching my nutrition intake, such as increasing sodium and keeping my gluten-free carbs from any flours to a minimum.
So when my Coach added two sessions of strength training per week a couple of weeks ago, I was initially excited. Now, I’m just sore. The good news is that strength training does make it easier for me to hang onto some weight. Without it, I find it difficult to maintain a stable weight that allows me to move the way I like.
Low Heartrate Training – during long runs, I keep my heart rate in Zone 2 or low Zone 3, focusing on time and heart rate rather than distance. When I first started, I had to walk a lot of the time, and the pace was around 15min./mile. Now, I’m approaching 11 min miles on the same trails, which means I’m getting faster at the same heart rate. It also means that I don’t need to eat anything on my runs until somewhere after the second hour, definitely the third hour during a triathlon.
Xterra Running Race October 31, 2015 in Maui, HI
Grand Ridge Half Marathon Event Nov. 14, 2015 in Issaquah, WA
Looks like I will not be running the Seattle Half Marathon in late November.