Friday, April 25, 2014

Boots On Ground

Boots On Ground...literally
I know it's been a while since I've updated you on life here...but unfortunately now that I'm "in country" there is so much that can only be shared in retrospect.  So I may be quiet for a long while, but know that eventually you'll hear about my life and adventures in this crazy place.  For now I'll share a bit of what I can about my new world and daily life here...
I've been here for about two months now (I think)...time is a funny thing never really know what day it is or what time zone you are on when you initially get here, but also, everyday seems to blend into the next and each day is roughly the same.  It's like a perpetual groundhog day, same faces, same food, same job...and yet the time just flies...
Starting right away on the night shift really helped me adjust to the time difference as I essentially stayed on the same time zone as home.  I have since continued on that shift since our move to teams.  It's been quite a transition though.  When we first arrived we came in every night for orientation and then came to meetings in the I had about 10 hours of sleep in about a 72 hour period at one point.  Needless to say I was a total zombie and wasn't very communicative with anyone! 
Things have continued on that busy trend and there are some days where I'm mostly awake for over 24 hours.  You know I'm a huge fan of this has been quite a lesson for me, but a helpful one (learning how to be less of a brat on less sleep).  I'm so lucky to have a team of people with me daily who tolerate my tired antics, lack of a filter, and hangry (tired and hungry) tendencies and know how to support me when I'm down.  I think this is one huge benefit of living/eating/training/breathing with the same group of people since day one.  Although there is room for lots of drama...there is also room for understanding, support, and tolerance.  We know each other...sometimes too well.  The best example is my roommate and I...not only do we live together but we work on the same team.  We live,eat, sleep, and work the same schedule...and usually spend a significant amount of our down time together.  This could be a really bad deal if we didn't get along, thankfully we do and I am so blessed to have her.

Bis, me, and the roomie Smo
As for daily life...the base is actually quite nice...for Afghan standards.  We have beautiful barracks (I'm not being sarcastic here) that are rocket proof.  The hospital is also rocket proof...which is a huge blessing.  The strangest thing I miss however in terms of my surroundings is color...any color other than brown or grey.  I miss trees...and flowers.  The only scent blowing on the breeze is the one that comes from the pooh pond.  I miss the ocean terribly...any body of none pooh infested water actually.  It's easy to get lost here because every conex looks like the next...the cement walls that protect the buildings from rockets all look alike, except for the occasional graffiti that differentiates one from the other.
The food isn't awful..well it is...but I've become accustomed to it I think (I constantly say that my standards have dropped significantly in all areas of my life).  We currently have 4 DFACs (dining facilities) to choose from...all serving roughly the same menu, with a slight difference between the Bristish one (the Cambridge, and my current favorite) and the Asian one (the Far East).  There are lots of selections, but some I can't even pronounce, let alone recognize...breakfast is by far the best of all 3 meals here and I religiously attempt to make it to a DFAC in time for the full meal...otherwise I am stuck with midrats, which are a pared down version with only fake, powdered eggs and all the meals leftovers.  We don't have a DFAC at the hospital so I've stocked up some food I had sent from home or friends have sent in my cubby to eat during my night shifts...that and candy sustain me!

The NATO gym is beautiful and close to our home.  It's usually pretty busy but there are plenty of machines and I haven't yet had a problem getting onto a machine I want.  I also found the spin classes there, you have so sign up super early (or have a good friend do it) because they are really popular...but it's allowed me to attempt to keep my bike fitness thousands of miles away from my beautiful bike and winding San Diego roads. Honestly though, my heart has gone the way of Crossfit and I've been a regular there since we arrived. I love the workouts and getting stronger, but I keep coming back for the international group of friends here for many different reasons and jobs all coming together to suffer for an hour.  Lately the number of Navy yellow has been increasing...they say we multiply like flies, I think they are correct.


There isn't much to do here on a regular could hang out at the USO, the MWR, or the liberty center...or you can simply walk the boardwalk, and watch the people.  The motly crew of contractors and troops from every corner of the globe is a feast for the eyes and ears.  In one sentence you can hear French, Dutch, German, Afrikanns and Pashtu...or english with any flavor of accent you could dream of.

Overall things are going well and time is flying.  When we aren't working we are on it's a constant thing here...we are tied to our pagers and you internally (or externally) curse whenever they go off...because unfortunately it's never good news.  Everyone here also rotates through the duties of charge nurse and OOD (officer of the day...the civilian equivalent is the house supervisor).  After this deployment I'll have plenty to add to a resume!  I'm also going to be working in the trauma department starting in May.  They added a fourth team and needed another nurse...and I'm so blessed to have the opportunity.  I'm even more blessed to be able to be working with Warner again.  We haven't been able to see each other much with our vastly different schedules, but now we will and it will be awesome.  Our doc is Aussie so deciphering what he's saying will be a challenge, but a hilariously welcome one.

I'm excited about being here...though I really miss home, it's a strange mixed emotion.  But we are truly doing great work...creating miracles in the midst of chaos.  I'm blessed to have a hand in it...especially during this pivotal time in the history of this country.  I never knew what this would feel like and I believe that even I will struggle to put this experience into words as I go...but I'll try.  For my own I don't forget the lessons I'm learning.  Lessons more in humanity than compassion and empathy.  This place will change me, I know that now, in subtle and not so subtle ways...but all for the better I hope.  I know if that isn't the case I'll have you to whip me back into shape when I return.  Until then know I love you and miss you all so all are always in my heart.

Afghan sunsets are still beautiful


Where all the magic happens

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Cold and hungry


As we near the end of our pre deployment training and look towards our long months in the desert I can't help but reflect on the crazy experience this has been thus far.  I don't think there is any way to truly capture it all in words, but I'm going to do my best with some help from my battle buddies!

When we arrived at Camp McCrady (a small sub camp of Fort Jackson Army post) it was late at night.  We were hungry, tired, and freaking cold.  We had waited for hours at the airport in CA to catch the flight to SC.  Needless to say we were all slightly crabby.  We filed into a classroom where they thankfully had a hot meal waiting.  Normally I would have been not too happy about the soggy veggies, powdered potatoes, and greasy meat... but on that night it honestly looked gourmet to me.  We filled out paperwork and awaited our room assignments.  We then had to drag our seabags to our hooches (one of the many interesting words that is used around here.... this one describes our barracks).  In contrast to NEMTI where we had just come from this place was a huge upgrade.  NEMTI was cots in a wooden sea hut, these were bunk beds in a normal building.  Complete with lockers to store our gear and an attached bathroom that didn't require walking outside (I'm realizing on deployment it's the small things that make you happy).  We proceeded to pass out and sleep quite well on our 2 thread count sheets and wooly green Army blankets.

The first week was plenty of classroom time.  Most of us medical types started to get a little cabin fever... little did we know we should have appreciated the time spent sitting and relaxing, because things got a lot rougher!  We were fitted for our vests and Kevlar helmets and given 2 huge seabags along with a large rucksack of gear.  We had already been given one seabag in San Diego so now we had a total of 4-5 depending on how much personal gear you brought.  We were told that we were only allowed to bring 3 seabags, the rucksack, and a carry on with us into country... yeah, you do that math, packing will be interesting considering moderation is not my strong suit.

We were then issued our weapons.  For the nurses we will always have a sidearm, but for the benefit of total weapons immersion and familiarization we were also given a rifle to carry.  And by carry I mean never have more than arms length away from you.  It reminded me of the flour baby I had to carry in middle school... you had to have it at all times and care for it like a child.  Now my "child" was capable of deadly force... minor difference I guess.  We also had to clear both weapons before entering any building.  And clearing is not a one man job, you always had to have a battle buddy with you.  Need to use the head (bathroom)?  Bring your buddy cause you can't take your weapons in there... so your buddy stands outside like a husband holding his wives's purse.  Want to go to chow?  You better hope someone else is hungry cause those bad boys must come with you and be cleared prior to entering the DFAC (Army cafeteria). 

Week two ushered in our new normal...hours upon hours spent at the range.  Wake up before dawn, put over 40 pounds of gear on (along with layers upon layers of clothes to combat the inevitable cold), file onto a bus with your platoon, drive to the range, sit in the bleachers watching the sun come up and get ready to shoot your weapons all day.  Sounds like fun until you know that a few lucky ones have been at the range since 0430 loading ammo for the day.  Or that almost every range day happened to be cold and rainy (30-40 degrees usually).  Lunch every day was an MRE (and I may never eat Skittles again).  Firing positions normally would be fine... but pile all that gear on and the kneeling fighting position turns into me looking like an arthritic grandma trying to hobble my way to the ground.  And don't you dare drop anything because a gaggle of Narmy sailders (Navy sailors trying to be Army) will just stare at it helplessly hoping someone else picks it up because bending over is a lesson in balance and strength with all that gear making you entirely too top heavy. 



There were also days spent learning other important combat skills such as rollover drills for the vehicles, convoy tactics, base security, individual movement techniques... too many to tell... but I will say one of the most valuable lessons is my new vocabulary... I'll give you a quick lesson...

First, there are many, many ways to say OK in the Army.  They include but are not limited to hooah, er, yut, tracking, good to go, and ra.  For example, "Place your weapon on safe and holster it before you leave, tracking?"   The correct response to this... simply a return "tracking", said with motivation!  So a conversation between us all sometimes is like cavemen communicating with sound... it's entertaining and entirely normal.  Next there are the subtle differences between Army and Navy lingo.  A bathroom is a latrine, not a head.  We are living on post, not on base.  And we shop at the PX, not the NEX.  Then there are just the plain old interesting terms and phrases we've picked up:

Police up the brass - pick up the shell casings on the range after shooting all day.
Battle rattle - the full set of gear we must wear at all times including the vest, helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, goggles or ballistic sunglasses, and gloves.
If you're walking you're wrong! - refers to the sense of urgency required when going anywhere.
Treat everyone with respect but have a plan in mind to kill them - enough said.
Shootas, sailas, killas - said before every time we would shoot on the range to get our attention.
Brain bucket - helmet.

There are so many more, but now you might be able to slightly understand what I'm saying.  In all seriousness though these past few weeks have been some of the hardest I've ever experienced.  There have been moments where I honestly questioned my place here... exhaustion will do that to a person and I didn't know tired until I could easily fall asleep on the cold rocky ground without a problem while others are shooting their weapons yards away.  There were some nights that a shower was far too much effort (my hygiene gets relegated to baby wipes sometimes!).  The food is definitely questionable, but by dinner you just appreciate a hot meal.  The togetherness gets overwhelming at times, but you realize you have all your battle buddies suffering with you and it makes you feel slightly better.  The drill sergeants are unrelenting in their quest for everything we do to be perfect, but they are some of the most motivating and inspiring people I've met in my life. 


In the end, however, it's all been worth it.  Sitting on the other side, looking back, it's one of the best experiences of my life.  I'll never forget the lessons... some may save my life or the lives of my battle buddies.  I'm more than ready to move on but so thankful I had this time to learn more about myself and my tolerance for embracing the suck that combat training can really be.  I've gotten tougher, stronger, and live the motto of Semper Gumby (always flexible) everyday.  I'm ready for what's ahead and thankful for what's behind. 




Sunday, January 19, 2014

One Day Closer


Well yesterday was the day...the beginning of the deployment.  It's kind of like ripping off a band aid, it hurts so much in the moment, but then...once the initial sting wears realize you will actually survive.  And we will...all of us.

Now we can countdown instead of counting up.

Just so you understand the way this all works...there is quite a bit of training that has to be completed before we can step a boot on the Afghan sand.  So I'll be playing Narmi (Navy personnel doing Army training) for a while until I actually arrive in theater.  But honestly, it already has proven to be some of the best trauma training I've ever experienced.  And after the theater specific medical component of our training we'll switch gears to combat training and become as familiar as possible with daily life in a war zone.

I'm sure the thought of me in full "battle rattle" (all the combat gear we have to wear) isn't pleasant for you... but I will say I'm very blessed to have the opportunity to learn these possibly life saving skills.

I also have to say a bit about the team I'm with.  Here, at our first training stop, I live in a hut with 12 women.  Some are mothers, some are wives... but we are all nurses.  In this we have already formed a bond.  We take the teamwork and "having each other's back" adage to heart and look out for one another, even this early in the game.  We are all well aware that it's going to be a long, stressful deployment and we must watch out for our shipmates... always.

The other nurses, doctors, and corpsman here with us are also wonderful.  The biggest lesson through all the training is the stress on teamwork.  We are to live and breath this daily.  Through our teamwork, lives will be saved...a lack of it could cause deadly gaps in care.  The instructors started this lesson off early with a drill on team building yesterday... let me tell you, a bunch of military members doing PT in a team environment is especially hilarious (all I'll say is 4 count everything).

We have been warned that the next few weeks will be difficult physically...but our time in theater will be even harder, mentally and emotionally.  Although I'm apprehensive, I'm excited.  I'm ready for the challenge and entirely looking forward to the training ahead.  I promise to keep you as updated as I possibly can despite the crazy training schedule.

I love and miss you guys already.



Friday, December 6, 2013

The In Between


I'm not even sure how to explain this to you but I figured you might understand, so I'm going to try.  I've got about a month left until I check in... until I can start counting DOWN the days to coming home instead of counting UP the days until I leave.  Logistically I'm almost completely ready to go save a few little things.  Mentally I'm as prepared as I think I'm going to be to do this.  Emotionally... not quite there yet.  I think I'm fine... and then a song will come on the radio and I'll start crying.  Someone will ask me a question and I'll ponder it a bit too long because I've become lost in thought.  The kids will suddenly look at me and say something profoundly sad... that's the worst of them all.

The other night I went into Shanne's room to say goodnight to him... he sat up in bed, grabbed my face with both of his hands and said, "Mommy, please don't leave."  What do you say to that?  I didn't have words for that one, only a long hug as tears rolled silently down my face. 

But the most heart wrenching moment was shortly after I returned home from Alabama.  Addy must have heard me talking about some of the stories I heard from the nurses and medics who have already been down range... the inherent dangers associated with flying MEDEVAC missions in country.  I was in the kitchen when Addy came up to me with huge tears in her eyes.  I asked her what was wrong and her response nearly knocked the wind out of me..."Mommy, I don't want you to die." Then she started crying.  I held it together as I held her... but once she was settled down I went into my bathroom, sat on the floor, and sobbed.

There is no easy button for this part, is there?  No words to pacify the pain... no hug that will ever be tight enough to last 9 months... nothing to make up for the moments I'm going to miss.  The most difficult part is how I feel.  I'm ready to go... excited to go... looking forward to the challenge.  But the flip side of that coin is that I have to leave you all.  Leave my babies.  It's such a strange place to be. 

After all my years on the home front side of deployment I can now say with certainty that it's harder to be the one leaving (especially as a mom).  As the planner I not only feel responsible for making sure everything is ready to go at home... but I have to deal with the emotional fallout of leaving.  I will never diminish the challenges we, as military wives, face when our spouse leaves for a deployment.  But as the one at home you still have your version of normal everyday.  You see your children, tuck them into bed at night, watch them grow and change.  The one leaving doesn't get any of that.  They get a strange place, a strange land, with people who will ultimately become a surrogate family (for that I am eternally grateful).

So here we sit... one month to go... so much to look forward to between now and then.  Embrace it all, right?  Enjoy the time... but be ready for the pain.  Here goes nothing.




Thursday, September 26, 2013

Plan B

Disclaimer:  You may want to grab some Kleenex prior to this took a few to write it.  You've been warned...


As I've sat here for hours and hours doing online classes reviewing every facet of the military's Plan B (i.e. what to do in the WORST case scenario when in theater), I've realized that the Navy also seems to believe in one of the biggest lessons you've instilled in me...if you have a Plan B then you probably won't ever have to use it...but failing to plan is planning to fail. 

Prior to this deployment I've been getting all the boxes checked on the "Must Do" list...update my will, make a family care plan, designate powers of attorney, update beneficiaries for all insurance policies, etc.  But all this planning leaves out the most important aspects of my personal Plan B.  What would I want you all to do if I were to not come home?  How would I want my life remembered?  What legacy would I want for my children?

So here it Plan B...may you have it so you never need it...

I've written my just in case you should start by reading know where they are.  Read them to the kids...and then tuck them away.  Don't dwell upon them.  They are simply words, they are not me...and you won't find me there.  Move on from them and begin to honor my life.

I don't want a funeral, you know this.  I do, however, want the whole military bit...I want a flag for you to place upon the mantel...I want guns saluting me (because really, military members in full dress uniform shooting rifles is an honor).  I want bag pipes playing, complete with the men in kilts (what they wear or don't wear under their kilts is completely up to you...get down with your bad self mama).  But I want to be cremated...and donate what you can of my organs, I don't need them anymore.

I want a celebration...preferably on the beach.  A full blown party!  Invite everyone...and have it during the middle of the week so they all have an excuse to have a day off.  Make it in the afternoon so no one has to get up early either.  Also, no fact everyone should wear purple (it is my favorite color and I'll love watching all the men rocking some purple).  No flowers...I've never really liked them anyway...they die and no one needs reminders of death.  Instead plaster pictures everywhere.  All my favorites from the best moments of my life.  Light candles everywhere...I love them.  Have a book out that people can write down their favorite (appropriate) memories of me for my children to read someday.  There must be of course, even though you don't like it much (it's my party, suck it up buttercup).  And of course there has to be plenty of food.  Make sure there are all the gluten laden options that I always wish I could eat but never can...cause trust me I'll be eating them all in Heaven!

As for my ashes...I don't want them spread in one place.  Because I've never been a girl to stay in one place for very long now have I?  Instead I want you and Mike to take a trip with the places that I've places that will help solidify their memories of me. 

Start at the Bay Area.  Tell them the stories of me as a little should probably also make a stop at Monterey with dad and let them see the squirrels that made such a lasting memory for me (I think I was younger then Addy at the time and still remember that trip).  Take them back to Bodega salt water taffy...let them eat it till their tummies hurt.  Take them into the city...take the ferry there...walk along Fisherman's Wharf...feed the Sealions...let them eat junk.  Bring everyone...Dad, Kasso, Grandpa and gang, Danny, Devin...everyone...wrap those kids in love (and probably warm jackets too since the city is never warm).

From there the stops are in no particular order or precedence...but these are the places I want you to take me on my final journey... them Miami and South Beach...I grew up there in so many ways and I'll always have fond...though slightly blurry...memories of it.  You can tell them the stories of my time there...I'll forgive you (though Mike can leave some of those stories until they are older!).  Take them to Key West...the place where I started my journey as their mom.  You and Mike can take them again to the beach where we got married...bring the wedding photos along.  Bring them down Duval street and to the Southernmost Point...I know they've been there before but I want them to see it with my eyes this time.  The eyes of a young girl just beginning her life...with all the hopes and dreams of the two of them to keep me going.  Watch a sunset with them from the pier...and leave a memory of me there.  That place will always have a piece of my soul.

Rhode Island...the place where I became a Naval officer.  Though none of you were with me...this place shaped me in so many ways.  Take them in the summer though so they can enjoy the beauty that I couldn't see through the snow.  Remind them of the pride I felt as I realized what donning that uniform meant.  Take them to eat seafood in downtown Newport...walk the streets that I walked.  Roam the base if you can...I'll never forget that place.  Have them stand at attention in the morning while the flag is raised and the national anthem played...may they never forget the country and the ideals their mother died to protect.

Washington D.C....I have so many fond memories of this place.  Take them to every monument and museum you took me.  Bring them on the 4th of July...sit them on the steps of the capital to watch the fireworks...tell them the story of our night there.  I'll never forget that night...I hope they don't either.

The Grand Canyon...take them on a cruise down the Hoover Dam and tour the Grand Canyon with them (avoid the airplane ride this time!).  Hike with them there as that is still something I've yet to do and want to.  Maybe even camp...or hole up in a little B&B for a night or two.  Soak in the views, take lots of pictures...leave a memory for me.

Hawaii...take them back to the big island.  Walk down All'i drive with them again...tell stories from our trip.  Buy them a shell necklace...spread plumeria flowers into the ocean for me.  Teach them to surf (or get lessons)...ride those waves for me.  Stay somewhere different this time...on the water.  Listen to the waves at night and know that I'm there.  A piece of me will always be there...tell them that anytime they want to be close to me they can find solace in that island and find me.

Cruise...set sail with them on the same cruise we took...walk up Dunns River Falls with them in Jamaica (since I couldn't go)...walk the beaches of Mexico...swim with the stingrays in Grand up at the buffets.  Tell them all our stories...but don't forget to sit on the balcony with them every, single morning and drink coffee/hot chocolate and eat breakfast with them.  Look out upon the ocean and know that I am there...watching...smiling...loving them from above.

San Diego...there will always be memories of me here.  Here is where I became a nurse...a mommy to adult.  I grew up here in many senses of the word.  Take them to La Jolla cove...swim with them out into the center...tell them not to be afraid of what's under the water...never be afraid of what you can't see...have faith.  I'll be there. 

Ask them where they want to go...what adventures shall we have?  Take them...walk with them...listen to a kid with them (don't let this force them out of childhood).  Allow them to grieve.

And then help them move on (and help yourself move on too). Though I never, ever want them to forget me...I don't want my death to be a stopping point in all your lives.  Know that I died doing something I believed in.  You instilled in me a huge sense of patriotism and pride in this country...I'm heading over there knowing the risks and ready to embrace the challenge anyway. 

My love for them will go far beyond my matter when it ends.  They are the two single best accomplishments in my world.  May they grow up knowing how wanted they were and how loved they always will be...from this earth or the other side of Heaven.

I guess that about covers it.  The little details you know.  These are the things I felt important enough to put into writing.  I hope you all find a way to move on goes's too short to dwell on this.  Live your lives for me things I wanted to do...go places I wanted to go (please, please take them to Paris and Rome for me!).  Live each moment, each day fully...with eyes and arms wide open...

I love you all so much.



P.S.  Now that you have this, may you never need it...that's what my Plan B is for...if you have it, you won't need it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013



Although it was hard to spend any time away from you all and the kids prior to deployment, I can't even begin to describe how grateful I am for the opportunity I was given.

Two months ago when I got the phone call that I was selected for the Joint En Route Care Course in Fort Rucker, AL with the United States Army School of Aviation Medicine I was floored.  Only four individuals from the upcoming Navy deployment rotation were selected for this collateral duty....and I was one of them.

The course was to train medical providers to transport critically ill patients aboard helicopters...both to transfer between facilities in country or possibly from point of injury to the hospital.  This is a joint venture between the Army (they run the rotary wing aviation gig in theater) and the other branches who provide medical care.  It helped all of us (officers, enlisted, flight medics, nurses, and doctors) learn to communicate and work together in a way to best help those we are trying to save.

I learned more then I can ever put into writing...but many of the lessons had nothing to do with medicine and more to do with the things I'm about to face for the next year of my life.  With new knowledge comes fear...but it allows me to better prepare mentally for the challenges ahead.

Enough of the scary stuff...onto the fun.  First off I was able to meet my team...the three other people I'll be working alongside in this venture for the duration of the deployment...I may be biased but they are kinda awesome.

The boys look so's all a facade

Most importantly I was able to connect with another woman...a mom...a wife...someone who understands exactly what I'm going through right this moment and who will be going through it alongside me the entire time.  Meeting Christine is probably one of the biggest reasons I was supposed to be there (pretty sure she'll kill me for saying that...OMH Chris).

I think I spent nearly every day in Alabama pinching myself for the opportunity I had been given...from water survival old fashioned survival a ride in a CH-47 Chinook (and placing IV's while flying)...every day was an adventure.  I learned so much about aviation physiology (topped off with some personal time in the hypobaric chamber...I can last 2:38 sec at 25,000 ft without supplemental oxygen before I feel like death).  I learned more about the difference between hospital medicine and battlefield's going to be some undoing of hospital habits and the type A ICU personality I've developed in order to thrive in the fast paced environment I'm about to live in.  But most importantly I gained a huge respect for every other service man and woman who is part of a MEDEVAC team.

The SWET (shallow water egress trainer) chair
They strap you in and flip you gotta get out on your own...
Yeah, we built that shelter and that fire...maybe not the best but it does the job
Our ride for the day
Placing an IV while biggie

Working a simulation with my amazing medic partner (no, my patient didn't die)

I also learned that the call sign DUSTOFF assigned to the MEDEVAC units has a huge meaning...Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Fighting Forces.  Awesome, huh?  Makes me wanna step up my game even the best to serve the best. 

Overall one of the most amazing and humbling experiences of my life.  With 3 months to go until D day I'm home and ready to complete final preparations before leaving...the reality is starting to hit.  I'm leaving.  For a long, long, time.  But until then I'm going to enjoy it all.  Every.  Single.  Moment.

Thank you for your endless love and support.  I couldn't do it without you.  I love you.



We Passed!!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hypothesis Proven

So it's been two days since my second crack at Barb's Race half ironman.  My second chance, my second go, my second time racing in the beautiful place I call home.  But this time I got here in an incredibly different way and the results were better then I imagined. 

If you didn't know this already my training going into this race was a complete experiment.  Reading through my race report from my last go around it was clear to me even in retrospect that after that race I was burned out...severely.  I gave up the sport of triathlon entirely for over a year and then only raced short course for the next two years.  I vowed to find a way for that not to happen this time around.  So the experiment began...

First I had to examine what went wrong last time.  I had a great coach, great friends, and the will to work hard...but I didn't have the time.  I tried to pack traditional long course training into a very non-traditional schedule.  I was a full time night shift nurse, I had two small children, I had a husband who needed me, I had a home that needed time/effort, I had friends that valued my time...basically I was busy and my schedulewas abnormal to say the least.  It just didn't work.  I was trying to fit in workouts in between 12 hour night shifts that were just too long or I'd try to move them around to fit better...but with one kid still at home (Addison was only 3) it was impossible to fit all the training into my schedule so I'd end up feeling depressed and defeated by something that others managed to make look easy.  And again, my coach was amazing, but unfortunately if you don't live the married with kids and a crazy night shift job don't entirely understand the demands of it. 

This time around I still have a full time night shift nursing job...I also managed to add in a job as a Naval Reserve Nurse Corps officer...and one as a contract flight nurse.  I have two children who thankfully are no longer small and both in school.  I have a husband who still needs my time.  A house that still needs work (though we did hire a gardener!).  And I still have friends who value me and my time with them.  My demands had actually how do you figure that out??

You hire your USAT certified mom to be your coach.  She also happens to live with you and knows the details of your schedule and it's unique challenges better then anyone.  You hatch a plan to increase the overall quality of the training and decrease the quantity.  No more crazy long training days...more really, really hard sets on the track, in the pool, and on the trainer.  Double days to maximize time and a whole lot of..."Hey, let's just run with this and see what happens!"

The numbers in training looked good.  I was also playing around with my diet and adopting a more paleo diet based upon the book by The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel.  It was changing everything...I was dropping inches (not a pound at all!), feeling better, getting faster, and my long term GI issues were resolving as well. 

We were happy...but it remained to be seen how this would hold up on the long course.  The truth was leading into the race that I had yet to complete a workout over 4 hours.  In over a year.  Seriously.  So I honestly wasn't sure if at some point past 4 hours the proverbial wheels wouldn't just fall off and leave me feeling completely flat...but it was time to find out.

We traveled up north on the Tuesday prior to the race and I checked into hotel de Dad (aka my dad and step mom's house with my kiddos).  Mike wasn't able to make it up this year as we had just returned from a vacation to see his family in Tennessee and he was out of vacation days. 

The days leading up the race were filled with family, rest, food, and small/short bits of last minute keeping it loose training.  I felt relaxed, calm, and happy.  I had made it to the start line without burnout or injury.  I still loved the sport and was actually getting excited to race.

Race morning arrived and I woke feeling rested and ready.  I had an 8:36 wave start but still wanted to get there early to get good parking.  I ate 2 slices of dry GF toast (according to the Paleo diet for athletes you do add carbs back in during the time surrounding longer races/training days), and 2 eggs washed down with the Clif Shot powder in water.  I grabbed a banana and Clif Shot gel for later and a cup of coffee for the road.  I had taken my pre race Immodium (if you are an endurance athlete you get this) as well as some Claritin as my allergies were kicking my butt!  I woke up my Sherpa-in-training (my little brother, Danny), and we headed out. 

In a stroke of complete luck we found a parking spot directly across the street from the swim start as someone pulled out of the space in front of us (hello good omen!).  I borrowed a bike pump from a fellow athlete as mine wasn't working and pumped my tires a bit under the recommended pressure since I knew the roads were less then smooth on this course.  We then made our way down to the beach and I quickly set up my transition area...nothing fancy there.  I showed Danny around and he bodymarked me and helped with my sunscreen as I ate the banana.  We watched as the Vineman athletes went off and slowly filtered in.  Then it was time for me to warm up and eat my Clif Shot...a quick run followed by a swim and I was ready.  I said goodbye to my brother and entered the corral with my wave (the last wave of Barb's race athletes).

The Swim (33:32, 1:36/100 yds, 7th in my division):

The water was comfortable, I positioned myself at the front towards the left side, and I took off with a vengeance when the horn went off.  I fought to stay with the leaders until we were a solid distance away from the main field.  I felt awesome.  The only hitch in the swim was the fact that no matter what, if you are a fast swimmer you inevitably end up swimming through other waves.  And here, in the river, those swimmers turn into walkers...suddenly and without warning.  So I spent plenty of energy dodging swimmers and walkers and sighting to see where the next human obstacle was.  But no matter, I finished in a time that was comparable to my training and was a 3 minute PR over last time.  I ran up the ramp, had my wetsuit stripped, and threw my bag of gear to my waiting Sherpa (did I mention yet how awesome he was?!).  I transitioned and didn't even attempt to mount my bike at the bottom of the hill...I just ran up and mounted at the top (lesson learned from last year!).

The Bike:  (3:11:36, 18.0 mph/avg 1st half, 17.5 mph/avg 2nd half, 10th in my division):

The bike has always been my Achilles heel...I've never been the biggest fan.  After a stellar fit by Rachel and the team at Moment Cycle Sport I felt ready to tackle the bike this time around stronger and more comfortable.  Well I WAS stronger and more comfortable...but unfortunately my bike time was 2 minutes slower then last time.  At first I was pretty discouraged by this as my goal was to do 2:45.  But looking at the race times, only 4 women in the entire field went even near that time and only 17 went sub 3 hours.  It was a windy day out there...and I don't know what else...but I felt great nonetheless and know I gave it my all.  I chowed down on half a PocketFuel chocolate espresso, a handful of  custom paleo coconut lemon cream Healthy Bites, and a pack of Honey Stinger chews. I drank water and Clif Shot lemonade.  I took half a banana from one aide station but that was it.  I knew I had made the mistake previously of over eating and I wasn't going to do that this time around.  I played leap frog with a few racers but wisely minded my USAT P's and Q's as I knew marshalls were out on the course and didn't want a penalty hanging over me on this draft happy course.  I came into transition feel strong and actually excited to run.

Run: (1:52:01, approx. 8:30 min/mile avg, 3rd in my division):

I unfortunately had to visit the port-a-potty pre run as I didn't think running with a full bladder was going to benefit me in any way.  Luckily it was a quick stop and I was off.  I knew in training on flatter, coastal (read: cooler) roads I could average nearer to an 8:00 min/mile for the distance.  I wanted to break my half marathon PR of 1:49 but I had set that on a flatter course as a stand alone race (not after a swim and bike) I was just ready to roll with the miles and give it my best.  I was thirsty and hot out there in the hills with minimal I tried to grab ice when I could and would grab a sip of water at every other aide station.  I also grabbed a few cups of flat Coke and took my first Honey Stinger gel at mile 1 and my second at mile 6.  It was funny because I felt like I was running slower but I would glance at my watch and see that I was indeed running under 8:30's unless I was heading up a hill.  I passed people often and got a lot of comments about how strong I looked...unfortunately responding was not currently in my grasp so I tried to smile when I could.  I didn't really hit any kind of wall until a bit after mile 10...I wanted to lay down and I wanted a tall glass of ice water.  That's all I wanted.  But I knew my family was at the finish and I knew I was doing I sucked it up...said a few words to myself...and kept on trucking. 

Coming into that finish line was beautiful.  I could see my dad, brothers, kids and my brother's girlfriend.  They had the Barb's Race tape up across the line so I actually got to feel like a rockstar and hold it up for a brief moment.  I was quite shaky and wobbly after crossing but so, so happy to be finished and still be happy about the whole experience.  I got my medal and beelined for my family.  Over the next few minutes I found out I had taken 4th in my division.  I had set many goals for myself and one of them was to come in the top 5...mission time 5:43:43 and 4th out of what looks to be 60 women who completed the race in my division.  It was also a 16 minute PR on this course for me.  But more importantly I completed it happily...with plans in my head to race this distance and longer again. 

Hypothesis proven.  You can race this distance on less then the "normal" training volume and still reach goals and do well.  Did I win?  No.  Did I learn many lessons?  Absolutely.  I know I need more time on my bike...and more time in aero.  I need to brick a bit more.  But otherwise I'm beyond happy with the results.

I have so many people to thank now...but overall just a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me, prayed for me, encouraged me, and been there for me.  A huge thanks to my family....without their love and support I would never be able to do this sport that I so love.  And the biggest thanks of all to my Coach Mom...thanks for believing in me when I don't believe in myself.  For your willingness to try something new...for your adaptability...for knowing me so darn well...for keeping me sane...for loving me through it all.  I look forward to our next adventure and experiment. 

As I head into ultra marathon training now and then a large triathlon break due to deployment I'm already excited about the years to come.  I have so many goals and a renewed love for this sport that constantly pushes me to find my limits and push right past them...

Thank you all...