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Friday, January 26, 2018

Failure Greets Us All- Tampa Bay Frogman Swim

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.- Winston Churchill

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.  - Johnny Cash

When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel. - Eloise Ristad

I have been told my entire life that if you do something, anything, you may and eventually will fail. Now, my parents didn’t say this to be cruel or to have me accept failure in the things I would attempt or as a way of life. Instead they told me this because the reality in this world is that you will falter, things will go wrong, and no will or faith will stop you from meeting failure. I have met failure several times in my life. One such time was when at a young age I failed at being a balance beam gymnast; I learned failure as I fell off a railroad tie surrounding our garden smashing my face into the driveway below. But from this event I learned other things- first, cement hurts like a son of a gun, a lesson I would be taught several times in life. Second, I learned that I could not fear the edge just because I might fall. You see the reason I was on the edge beam was to pick green beans from our garden. All the green beans had been plucked from the “safe” garden area this factor didn’t stop my desire to eat them. I remember the events of this fall clearly- tears, blood, that metal taste in my mouth, my screaming, sitting in the bathroom while my mom bandaged me, peroxide, iodine, stinging. But what I remember more was seeing my mother yelling at me and shaking her head when she caught me picking beans on the edge again, still with healing wounds from my previous failed attempt. Now I laugh and hope that she will too, but then I believe it was far from funny to her and maybe a little twinge in her heart knew she could not stop me from failing or falling in life. In my mind, my being afraid of falling again was not going to help in the task at hand; it wasn’t going to get me those green beans and stepping over or on the tomatoes would surely find me dead. Maybe from this I should have learned to stay away from the edge or to be afraid of heights, but I wasn’t wired or taught that way. Failure didn’t bring fear; it brought stubborn determination and at times more failure.

I didn’t really think about failing when I started racing. I have always had this mentality about racing: just make it to the finish line. I gave little thought to my fear of not making it across that line. I tell you this to tell you that the thing I did fear the most in racing happened this past weekend. I failed to make it to the finish line. I failed to make it to the finish line on a swim event that I not only love completing but have a passion to be at because of the cause they support. Yes, on Sunday, 21 January 2018, I was pulled from the waters of Tampa Bay during the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim; never crossing the finish line.

Now let’s all take a deep breath because I need one.  Like the story of the Titanic you now know how the story ends but let me tell you the rest of the story.

The day before the event we did all our normal things. We stopped by Sweetwater to pay for our kayak rental and talk to others about conditions on the water. We then went over for the practice swim. Patrick, braver than me, went in the water skin only. We swam around and out a little ways, feeling the cold “holes” of the water. The water temps were in the mid 50’s, so cold but not unbearable. I swam in my sleeveless wetsuit knowing I would not be in the water for an extended period of time on this day. Just shy of a mile we exited the water. The water was certainly cold, but not the coldest I had swam in. After the swim we went for Korean food (another normal). Now set up, stretched out, and our hunger satisfied, we completed pack pick up. Everyone is friendly. This event is ALWAYS friendly. People don’t feel obligated to have to know you in order to talk to you. The chatter is about the service men we are swimming in name of, past events, and things that have taken place over the past year. We talk of water temps and wind and hope for the both to stay calm overnight. Then satisfied that all boxes are checked and double checked we head home. All normal. The only thing not normal about this day was that my stomach was upset. The 9 miles of throwing up while swimming that plagued the Alligator Lighthouse swim ran through my mind; three cold miles would be a long ways puking in the waters of Tampa Bay, so I hoped for the best.   

On Sunday morning, we head to the starting beach. The sun is not up yet; it will rest for a few more hours. Here on the beach we encounter the first problem of the day, Patrick has no kayak. The guys are running late, leaving several swimmers and kayakers nervously pacing the sand. The only positive for me is my dad is there with his kayak. Although I always find comfort in knowing Patrick is on the water, even if not beside me. I talk to a few people but again my attention turns to my stomach which seems to be trying to scream over the crowd for my attention. My first thought is “please don’t throw up”. Then I stated to think, “well if I can just get to the start without throwing up I know I can swim while not feeling well.” TMI moment: Throwing up was not what was actively happening but my stomach was acting up. Thankfully I was out of the porta potties as the athlete and kayaker brief started. As the brief started kayaks were still missing, pacing was still happening; anxiety and frustration rose around us. Just before the ceremony was to begin the kayaks show up and Patrick sets up his rig. He has had a lot of practice setting up a kayak so this is done in short order.

The ceremony began with the reading of the names of the fallen Navy SEALs whose badges we dawn around our necks, whose names we swim in memory of, and whose memories surround us through their families, their friends, their service comrades, and there ever still photos. You remember that you aren’t on this beach for yourself, this is bigger than you. This event brings a purpose beyond ourselves. You are reminded that today you are standing here because others can’t; you stand here because others stood up and gave for you; you stand here because you believe in honor and grace.

Then the Color Guard marches out to present the colors and the National Anthem begins. In the three years I have been a part of the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim one of my favorite things is the National Anthem (swim or not swim it plays). Not only because it is another reminder of those who we stand on this beach as representative for but because of what happens next. As the singer begins the crowd falls silent. You see hands reaching to their hearts, people stand to attention, and salutes are offered toward our ever waving flag. Then as the second line begins you hear small voices from all around you begin to sing. The voices get louder, stronger, raised together, and inspiring others. By the time bombs are bursting in air your heart to soaring with pride and compassion for your purpose of this day. The conclusion of the National Anthem brings cheers and uproar across the beach. The colors are retired and the start line begins to bustle.

Last messages of good luck to friends and hugs to family. Ready to take to the water. 

As the first wave heads out the cheers on the shore are loud, as many remain there, waiting. This cheering noise will diminish as the wave numbers go higher and the number of those left on the beach dwindles.  The second wave goes off and there is a call out for an extra kayaker. Patrick, who was not assigned a swimmer yet, goes towards the call for assistance. He begins to move his kayak to head out in the following wave only to have it realized his kayak is a rental and could be used by the support member for the particular swimmer. See the kayak for this person didn’t show up, meaning Patrick’s kayak would go but not Patrick. As I approached, thinking I was kissing him good bye and telling him to paddle strong, he was removing his gear from the kayak and it was being whisked away to another kayaker who jumped in and went to find his swimmer. There was talk of more kayaks coming but it wasn’t looking good for Patrick to get on the water this day. While Patrick was never intending on kayaking for me, like I mentioned before there is a comfort in him being on the water, a comfort I can’t put in words but it is built over years of trust and hours of him looking after me in the water.

My wave readied, I hugged my mom and kissed Patrick and told my dad I would see him out in the water. My wave entered the water slowly since the water temps were low and the sun had not warmed us yet we moved very slowly, as if we would not be cold if we snuck in not disrupting the water. We gathered together wishing each other good luck, reminding each other to be safe, and letting each other know we would see them on the other side. Our kayakers are behind us and I spot my dad giving him a signal that I am who I am- seems hard to tell us apart in our wetsuits and hot pink caps. My dad signals back; we would do this about three times before the horn would start our wave.

In the minutes leading up to the start I felt good. I had my line laid out in my mind and knew where I wanted to be in order to be in “clean” water and out of the crowd. The horn went off and I took a high line closer to the radio tower and then bridge. My dad was at my right hand side within a few minutes of the start. I gave him a wave, just to acknowledge that I knew it was him. I settled into my stroke early- 1, 2, 3, breathe, 1, 2,3, breathe, spotting forward as needed and watching the bow of the kayak for direction. The sun was, as usual, in a horrible spot hiding the buoys for me, but I knew our course was good. On the course we were on we were out closer to the bridge, just us and a few other swimmers; all the rest of the teams were closer to the buoys and mostly out of my sight as they were behind my dad’s kayak given my water level view. I was in clean, flat waters and moving well. At about a half mile I felt this tightness on my left side, but it quickly faded and I gave it no second thought. I figured it was shoulder and back tightness from the full wetsuit I was wearing. I am not a fan of a full wetsuit but I wanted warmth over comfort.

I felt strong hitting the first mile mark. I was holding a good pace and we were positioned well in the Bay for the current drift that was happening. We began crossing the sandbar. On the sandbar I started to feel the side pain again, only this time it was going from my shoulder to my hip on the left side. Also there was a feeling like my guts were being crushed by the wetsuit. I briefly stood up and stretched my side and arm. I felt the water leave the top of the wetsuit, which I believe added to the problems to come (only in retrospect). I reentered the water and began swimming again. Now I could feel the cold rush over my core. I tried to focus on the stroke, to find that smooth motion I had before- 1, 2, 3, breathe. I was longing for this pattern to come back to give me a sense of comfort and control, but I was not finding the rhythm. I swam on and then something happened I had never had happen before.

As I was swimming it was as if there were two worlds overlaid on each other. One is reality and the next was a disorienting view of reality, like waking up from a dream where you are trying to figure out if what your mind is showing you is real or not. Only I wasn’t asleep. In years of racing with cold, sleep deprivation, pain, lacking nutrition, I had never had a cognitive feeling like this one. Somehow my mind was literally scaring me into thinking I was going to sink. I know this is crazy- one I am in a full wetsuit, you don’t sink in wetsuits; two, I am in three feet of water I can literally stand up inn this moment. I swim a little more and the water deepens. I pop up and grab for the kayak. I am pretty sure this is the moment that I saw panic in my father’s eyes. A panic I had not seen since I was much younger and popped my elbow out of socket while wrestling in the living room. I grabbed the kayak thinking I could center myself. I think I told my dad that I was okay but that I didn’t know what was happening in a sense of I didn’t know why I was not just continuing to swim past this feeling. I took a few breaths and tried to stretch again to ease the pain along my side. I let go of the kayak and went back into the water.

My dad pulled up his anchor and paddled. I only made it a short distance further before popping up again and grabbing for the kayak. I knew now what I had feared was about to happen. My dad felt my hands and my neck, I said, “I can’t do it.” Something was wrong and I did not know what. Funny enough I know that I didn’t become disoriented to not knowing where I was or what was going on because in true athlete fashion I stopped my Garmin at 1.8 miles my day was over.

Before I could really process what was taking place my dad singled for help, the right choice as time wasn’t something needing to be wasted if something bad was happening. The safety jet-ski with rescue board came over and the lifeguard jumped off the back. He helped me onto the board, jumped on to the jet-ski and instructed the driver to go, but to go easy so I would not be thrown off. I had wrapped my arms into the roping on the board and he held my hands, shifting my body to make sure I stayed on the board. I know he told me his name but I was too busy being mad at myself and frustrated to remember. He told me repeatedly that I was okay; he was comforting and kind. My mind raced I knew I was okay. My health was okay, but “I” was not okay.

I could feel the shore getting closer. As we slowed and then stopped I stood up. The pain along my side still there, still reaching deep into my abdomen. Patrick and my mom were on the shore, they both jumped up seeing me. Patrick came towards me as the race coordinator and medical personnel moved towards me. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to ask to be taken back out to where I had quit in the water. I wanted to start again. I wanted to be anywhere but there.

Here is the thing when you come in behind a jet-ski people want to check on you, they want to make sure you are safe, they want to ask you questions. While I had heard the speech earlier to listen to the race personnel and if something happened to let them help, all I wanted was for the world to stop spinning so I could figure out what was happening and the place to do this was not beside the finish line that I was not going to cross. I told them I was good, no need for medical care. They pointed me towards the warming tent or medical tent if I did find myself in need of them. My mother looked at me with worry but comfort that I was safe.

Patrick was there and even though he will tell you I stubbornly did not listen to him either, the only thing I wanted was to be next to him; there I knew I was safe. I was fighting tears- tears over this failure, tears over feeling I failed those I was representing today, tears from failure to be able to push down this pain. I didn’t want to cry here, I wanted to yell at myself. Patrick convinced me to go to the warming tent and lie down on the warming mat. I was there with the mat warming around me, a shower cap warming my head, and a warming blanket over me. I should have felt good warming up. I should have been happy to be safe. But I wanted to run away. Each finisher who came in I wanted to hide from out of embarrassment and my own frustration. After only a short time I was done, I could not take being there any longer. I was not able to lie there any longer without sobbing and I didn’t want to do that, not here, not over myself.

Patrick walked with me to the truck to get changed and then back to the beach. My dad kayaked up and when he looked at me it was like I was five years old again. He hugged me, repeating that I was okay and he was glad I was safe.

We packed up and with few words between the four of us we went to the after event. As my family went in I took a moment to sit in the truck and cry. First I cried about my failure. I let that fear of failure sink in, the realization that it had happened flooded over me. I replayed every moment in my mind, where it went wrong, why it went wrong, how it should have or could have been. Then I got mad at myself. Not for failing but for my change in perspective. My failing to complete the last 1.5 miles did not change why I was there, it did not change the fundraising we completed, and it did not change my pride in representing a group who gives to the families of fallen warriors. I sat there and cried over all of it. Then I took a deep breath and went inside.

Again I still did not want to talk to anyone. I still wanted to disappear. I felt ashamed and embarrassed to be standing in this space with others who didn’t fail; others who made it across the finish line. We went home that day again with few words. For me I needed the one thing that could not happen right then I needed time to think.

Over the next few days I just tried to forget about the water, but it would come flooding back to my mind, replaying over and over. This was my happy place and now all I could think about was being pulled from it. I am still not sure what caused what or why it happened in that moment on that day- other than to say failure happens. Maybe the side pain and cramping was from the cold or a lack of nutrition or from my stomach attempting to leave the body union. Maybe I should have trained longer in the full wetsuit. Maybe I needed more time in colder water. Perhaps I was caught up in negative self-talk that just manifested itself in the real world in that moment. Maybe it was all or none or all, I don’t know.

Here is what I do know. Failure sucks… but it does not define me. It does not define my passion. It does not define my grit. It does not define my love. It does not define my family. It does not define my life. It simply defines the moment. A moment that will be met with stubborn determination.

I will swim again. I will find the finish line again. And someday when I least suspect it I will meet failure again, but I don’t fear that day. I don’t need to fear failure because what has never failed in my life was standing on that shore that day with compassion, love, and support that held me steady and stopped the world for me for just a moment allowing me to catch my breath. In that moment I was surrounded by purpose and by those who love me unconditionally. This is what I learned in this failure- when you fall of the edge, when you stop in the middle of the bay, when failure greets you, if you look around there is love and there is no reason to ever fear when there is love.

And my favorite quote of failure:
The phoenix must burn to emerge. - Janet Finch

The Phoenix will be back...

If you can, please help us support the Navy SEAL Foundation.

Teresa is actively raising money for the Navy Seal Foundation.  For more information please read this: Supporting the Navy Seal Foundation- Frogman Swim 

We've been blogging for a while now. If you enjoyed this one, you may enjoy others. Look though the Blog Archive on the right, for more of our experiences and random thoughts. 
Thank you for your ongoing support of our adventures.  

Please feel free to share our blog.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

100 Days, 100 Miles

When you think about it 100 miles over the course of 100 days it really might not seem significant, after all during this journey we ran a few 5Ks, a 15K, and took on a challenge of running 48 miles over 48 hours.  These 100 miles are different, though they were at times blended in with the many other miles of our lives. These were different miles because they were grounded in intention and with purpose.

In my home as the days become shorter and the weather cooler a sinking feeling starts to bring its battle to our front door, one of us battles with seasonal depression and the other one battles with trying not to react to the symptoms of their partner’s condition; leading us both to a front row seat on an emotional rollercoaster. This has been an ongoing “ride” in our lives for many years. Some years are better than others. I think this is mostly dependent on the number of sunny and warmer days in the season that year and on calling it what it is when it happens. It seems to help with us to just yell, “F You Depression” and recognize that the sun not being awake at 6am is enough to topple the day in to a tailspin but tomorrow might be better. This doesn’t mean we always win the battle just because we acknowledge it or because we talk about it with each other. Sometimes at the end of the day the effects of this depression leaves us both beaten and battered and sleeping with our backs to each other, saying “good night” only out of ritual habit not in a form of best wishes for slumber.

I fear the cold dark days leading up to 21 December, the shortest daylight day of the year. I worry if there will be cold snaps or rain. I watch the weather and try to predict our moods. I sit and hope and wait for the daylight. This year I decided to handle it differently. I would not sit idle. I decided to make a challenge to intentionally move. Now this may seem strange if you read our other blogs about swimming and running and biking and movement, but this was different. There would be no off days, no excuses to not get it done, no hiding under the blankets. I decided it needed to be a challenge that was minimal and guaranteed success. No matter what happened in our day this one thing would be a checkbox for completion. Easy Peasy!!!

On 23 September 2017, we started our 100 miles 100 days challenge; this would put us finishing the challenge on New Year’s Eve (past the days of shortening daylight). It seemed silly at first since the week before we ran 8.5 miles and two days before we ran 4 miles. But this was not about “those” miles. This was about this mile, just this one. Well it ended up being 4 miles that September day, but the box for one mile completed was checked. Now there is something you have to understand about this challenge, we had talked about it a week or so earlier and agreed “sure we will do it”. But when the first day came to do the mile we were actually already not in great moods. I remember bits and pieces as to why our moods were foul (it really isn’t important) but I mostly remember thinking, “Good grief, maybe this is just stupid and I should call it off now.” But like many arguments amongst couples this one passed leading to “normal” moods.

Unexpectedly these 100 miles would turn into a weird learning journey for me (I guess a lot of things end up this way for me), about us (even after 14 years of marriage and a lifetime of knowing each other), and about a place in this world. Yep, I was not expecting this to be the case on day 1 and maybe not even on day 100. It might just be now in thinking about all the parts and pieces and moments that I found this knowledge, who knows. Simple things happened in those miles.

In the beginning Patrick hated my counting system. I would proclaim “only 87 more days to go!!!” He in turn would look at me like I was telling him how much further till we reach Jupiter, some irrelevant number in the universe. This was the first thing, not usual daily stuff, I remember talking about on one of our 1 miles. I asked him why it bothered him. He told me it seemed too far away and like we had been doing this for months already with nothing gained. Makes sense. So the next day as we finished our 1 mile I proclaimed, “14 days completed!!” To which he laughed, we laughed. Two weeks in and we had gone from disgruntle, to normal, to laughing, and I am sure 1 million emotions in between, not all “at” each other but just the rollercoaster of life with a quickly setting sun announcing its departure as just another challenge.

During this challenge I struggled at times, the couch seemed more comforting than the road after a long day at work. I struggled with why I wanted to do this challenge. I struggled with other things I needed to be so devoted to in my life. I struggled with not over thinking it (a constant struggle for me). It was only a mile, never meant to change me or the world or me in the world. It was only a mile, just meant to be something to give me a checkbox, guaranteed. Simple. These struggles though came into my mind during these miles, more often than they ever did in other unintentional miles. Maybe it was because many of these miles were spent just being in the moment with my husband. Not in the out of breath, chasing way we spend other miles together. These miles were often about us pulling each other out the door, pulling each other away from that stale darkness that seemed there and gone at the same time this year.

We traveled during this challenge time (in fact we were away from home the day we started) which as I look back those times make me laugh a little. Asking a friend if we could walk past the restaurant we were planning to have breakfast at and then loop around the park because we needed 1 consecutive mile. Oh yeah this is after she had just told us she was pregnant and sometimes tired. Then there was planning miles in Ohio, in changing conditions that Florida people are not prepared for this early in the season. This too made me laugh as we ran the river in shorts and perhaps a long sleeve shirt but the locals wore base layers and gloves and hats and covered their faces. We may not have been expecting the cold but that didn’t mean we could not be tough and handle the cold. We even had a mile at my alma mater in Charlotte, walking through memories we had there while seeing that the world is ever changing.

We raced our normal and not-so-normal weekend races during this challenge time, counting one of these miles as the 1 mile for the day. During this time we raced our first SwimRun event in North Carolina. Tethered together up and down a mountain, we were surprisingly laughing and joking though we could not feel our feet or hands after the icy water. We raced a Hot Chocolate 15K on the streets of Columbus, Ohio (Go Buckeyes!). We raced a two day, three race event, containing a 10K, 5K, and half marathon. We completed a self-supported triathlon since a hurricane canceled the actual event day. Then we decided at nearly the end of the year to complete a 48 hour challenge totaling 48 miles and little “recovery” sleep (another blog to come). During these days, Patrick pushed himself to new personal records and pushed me out of my comfort zone pace at times, encouraging me at times, staying beside me at times, and being free to run at times. All these moments adding their 1 mile to the goal.

I don’t remember what day the mile stopped being an inconvenience and just stared “being”.
Maybe this feeling came and went during the challenge. What I do remember is feeling more connected to myself. A grounded feeling, where you aren’t grounded by worldly pressure to one spot but instead you are grounded to where you want to be, feeling the world willingly. During these miles ideas about the next journeys in my life started to have a place to exists, this can’t happen in front of a television or trying to hit a new 100 yard goal in the pool or on a spin bike watching your heart rate rise. It at least wasn’t happen for me during those times. I know the ideas and goals I had in those miles will not all happen, not all of these plans will take shape. But I also know that one small checkbox can help the doubt and uncertainty go away. The sun will still set, I can’t rope it and make it stay longer, but I can move in the darkness.
On 31 December, after missing sleep for two days, we, together, took on the final mile for a challenge started 100 days prior (a time that seemed so much closer than it had when we had 199 days to go). It was wet and cold that morning. It was honestly the worse conditions we had in 100 days! But this was it one more intentional checkbox. A mark that for me in that moment symbolized commitment I felt I had lost, dedication I felt I was lacking, and faith in myself that had been a challenge to find recently. As we walked, incidentally four miles (just as we had started this 1 mile challenge), I realized we may have bumps and bruises from this battle with the daylight but we walked out together.

This year I think our house was a little brighter despite the fading sun. The symptoms of frustration, doubt in ability, lack of motivation, irritation, restlessness, were all quieted in those miles. Bad days slipped away with just a check mark in a box. Not because it was the fasted mile or the best form, but because it was a mile intended for no one else and no other purpose than to be a simple mile.   

100 intentional miles on 100 intentional days.

If you can, please help us support the Navy SEAL Foundation.

Teresa is actively raising money for the Navy Seal Foundation.  For more information please read this: Supporting the Navy Seal Foundation- Frogman Swim 

We've been blogging for a while now. If you enjoyed this one, you may enjoy others. Look though the Blog Archive on the right, for more of our experiences and random thoughts. 
Thank you for your ongoing support of our adventures.  

Please feel free to share our blog.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Mellow Mushroom Spirit Night for Navy Seal Foundation - Jan. 9!

Tuesday, Jan 9th  
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Mellow Mushroom of Pensacola
5175 Bayou Blvd
Dine-In or Take-Out
This is our FINAL fundraiser for Navy SEAL Foundation and Tampa Bay Frogman Swim! Bring in the invitation/flyer and 15% of your Mellow Mushroom bill (excluding tax and tip) goes to Navy Seal Foundation!

Teresa and I will be there all night greeting everyone, answering questions, and providing information. Your support is appreciated! Come by, say hello, and EAT!

If you cannot attend and would like to contribute, please do here:

Below is the Invitation / Flyer. Print it; Share it; BRING IT!

About the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim: 
Teresa is raising money for the Navy SEAL Foundation via the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim.

On January 21, 2018, a group of swimmers will honor fallen military heroes and those heroes’ families as they brave conditions and swim across Tampa Bay.

All proceeds from the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim are used to provide injury assistance to Navy Seals and tragedy assistance for families who have lost loved ones in training or combat.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Adventures in SwimRunNC- Race Report (and more)

In April the 140.6 Patrick and I were set to race in October was cancelled. A few things came of this-- disappointment and opportunity. Sure we were no longer going to be racing across Delaware but little did we know what exploits were ahead of us. I went looking for something "fun" and "different". A friend had mentioned SwimRun events to us previously. A quick google search lead me to SwimRun NC. I don't recall which race we were driving home from as I sat in the passenger seat and inputted an application to the race.
We waited, we started to run more trails but not overly focused in this area, as we were not sure if we would be racing fall trails. We waited some more, learning to swim with each other in a line or side by side. We waited a little longer, to the point that I figured there would be no new adventure this fall. Then while I was showering one morning Patrick came in the bathroom asking if I knew. Knew what? That we were in if we wanted the spot. A team had dropped and we had a spot to race SwimRun NC. There are no other words to express my thoughts, while I stood there smiling with excitement all I could express was "Oh SHIT!!!!" With an ecstatic heart and worried mind I paid our entry fee and signed our names to the 2017 roster.  
Since at this point we had weeks to train we increased our trail running but since the 20 mile swim I had been slacking on swimming Plus every time I wanted to swim the wind was whipping up waves or the jellyfish were in attack mode, so bailing on swims became too easy. Race day was quickly approaching- I knew it had to be getting close based on the scrapes and bruises I had from falling during woods training runs.
Starting out
There were a few things we already knew- the terrain would not be Florida sand and hills, we knew we would be in NC foothills, going up a mountain on rocks; we knew the water would not be our warm salt assisted water, we knew it would be cold but fresh; we knew the weather would be a major factor, but this factor was just another day for us Floridians.
We packed up our short cut wetsuits, rope, pressure bandage, shoes, swim paddles and buoy, and courage and headed north to the mountains.
As we drove the leaves began to change and so did the weather report. The rains were setting up for after the race as a front brought colder temperatures. No worries, this was after the race. We made the final drive into the mountains and the day brought another change in weather, the rains would happen the night before and morning of the race and the dropping temperatures would happen as we raced. Well, this was suppose to be an adventure, right?
The prerace meeting was encouraging-- look for the yellow and pokadot ribbons and have fun. I do have to say we were a little worried with the conversations of Ironman achievements going on between most of the athletes that not everyone was there to have fun. But we have never been at a race for the benefit of others or to show off our accomplishment list; we were here for the love of the sport and to try something new. Better than the "let's have fun" message was the other bonus for racing- letters written by elementary school students wishing the athlete luck!! Our author even hoped we would bring home the trophy. Only in our hearts!!
Race morning alarms woke us to find it raining outside. We geared up in swimsuits and sweatpants and loaded the remaining gear. I ate my yogurt as Patrick drove up the winding mountain roads, covered in rain and leaves.  At the start site the air temp was in the mid 50's, not bad. The problem was more so that the winds were picking up and the front was pushing in. We chatted with other athletes as we wiggled into wetsuits and stuffed supplies in sleeves. We readied ourselves at the start line and after a few inaudible words (because we were int eh back of the pack) and a quick kiss, the horn sounded and the pack let loose.
 The first stage was four miles up the mountain (with a few downhills). During this trek we would encounter the waterfalls and some climbing opportunities. The one problem we ran into was with all the groups starting at the same time there was a bit of a logjam as people were single-file up the rocks. This was a beautiful start to the race and our first time getting our feet wet in the cold streams running down the mountainside.

The top found us looking out over the lake. The push up the mountain had turned out wetsuits into personal saunas. One would think, "Oh this water is going to feel great." Well the answer is yes and no, both said immediately and at the same time. The water was in the lower 50's. Our warm bodies were instantly cooled, this quick temperature drop made it a challenge to catch my breath for the first few strokes.
So there are no buoys (except at the out) in SwimRun. We were navigating blind with matters made worse by fogging goggles. As the cold water rushed out suits we fell into a rhythm. Patrick stopped to clear his goggles a few times and then spotted off me as we moved through the lake. About 2/3rd of the way through we started to see trees in the lake. Let me tell you when you are swimming along seeing nothing and all of a sudden there is a freaking tree under you it is a little freaky!!! And for a Gulf swimmer every algae plumb or piece of grass was for sure a jellyfish!!!
We stood up in the muck and made our way to dry land. We ran for a short period and then back in the water for a quick swim. Then we went down the damn and back to the lake entry point, again we went around. This time the cold water was making my hands become pins and needles. There was no warming up between plunges. Patrick again watched me to his right and we fell into sync with each other. The lake trees didn't surprise me this second time around, but their eerie presents gives way to the realization that the cold is real in the lake, freezing items with their summer coverings.
This time down the hillside to the dam there were few around us, we were racing the clock to not get stopped short of the mountain climb. For this reason we zipped past the volunteers offering fluids and food, grabbing only what was right in front of us, and leaped over the race mat to start our climb. The hike up Moore's Wall to Moore's Knob (here after known as "the TOP") is a climb of just less than 2 miles. Seems reasonable, except it is comprised of 642 "trail" stairs. See trail stairs are different than normal stairs. If I tell you there are 642 steps, you think "Oh I love the stair master" or"I walk up the stairs each day to work". But trail steps are a different beast. They are uneven in height and length. They are spread out and then close together. They are covered is a light slime from the rain and slippery with mud and small gravel. They don't give at all when your hamstrings cramp from the cold and you miss a centimeter of height you needed to clear the step. As the trees were beginning to thin we could feel the winds increase, noticing now more than before that the temperature was dropping. Clapping, we started to hear clapping! A volunteer stood there cheering us to the top. He was a beautiful site. A little more of a climb and we were there at the top looking over the edge. Even though we were only halfway this was our trophy moment. We stood and watched the hawks fly below us over the tree tops painted with autumn colors. I pushed to the edge as far as Patrick would let me go, after all I was tied to him and there was no net!! The mist and clouds swirled around us and the wind blow the cold air against our faces. Int hat moment the burn faded and the beauty of all that surrounding us filled us with warmth. The TOP the glorious TOP. But as it has been said what goes up, must go down.
It was a fleeting moment of warmth. Now the downhill portion began, knowing that at the bottom of the hill we would be greeted again by the cold waters of the mountain lake. The terrain was rocky giving way to roots. Knowing we were halfway we spent much of the downhill laughing at the "trouble" I managed to get us into and telling stories of other times we went looking for waterfalls or exploring wooded trails.We spent much of our time just the two of us, we would pass a team here and there, offering "hellos" and "we got this" remarks. We were good alone in the woods.
The trees this time parted to a view of the lake. Swim gear on we dove in. The water rushing into our wetsuits, cooling us and then beginning the hypothermia process again. Somehow this time I had gotten onto the wrong side of Patrick. It was awkward on his left, but my brain could not figure out how to stop an get to the other side of him. Finally he popped up and told me to get over. FIXED!!! We quickly fell into our rhythm. Patrick began to push hard and was pulling away a little; I knew he was in the zone, trying to forget about the cold and push his body to not shiver in the water. My body cooled faster this time and I could feel my hypothermia symptoms of hip pain and my hands pushing against the swim paddles in an attempt to become claws. We popped up at the out again, gathering ourselves. We ran on feet so cold they felt as if we were walking on pebbles in our shoes. Again across the smaller swim and down the damn. This time Patrick informed me that the hypothermia was making him able to see better!!! Yep in that moment I realized between the swims he was not putting back on his glasses. Hew as going down the muddiest, slipperiest, most unsafe section of the course blind, and in front of me!!! I assured him that clarity was not a normal symptom of hypothermia; it was more so his brain shutting down and not caring about clarity! What could we do but laugh!!
We made it back for the last lake loop. Paddles on and buoys set between our legs we dove back in. By now the air temperature was starting to drop to where our cold arms could feel the cool or the air against the "warmth" of the water. This time Patrick was a little slower out of the water, trying to step carefully onto land. He wasn't use to being so skinny and cold (lol)!!! The little crossing was fast and soon we found ourselves back down the damn. We stopped at the clocking check point to be sure to be marked.
Here one of the race directors, Jan, asked us how we were feeling and rubbed Patrick's arms to help get blood flowing. All the while telling us to untether. Wait, untether? No our team made the choice to be sure we were close enough and to stay tethered through the event. Jan looked at us in a way that I am not sure if it was disbelief in us having survived making it down the mountain or in questioning again this "sacrificial lamb" race team even being on the race course! Jan helped us untether, because regardless of the looks intent it was clear he was going to "help us out". Now to be honest we came close to reconnecting on the other side of the road, since hell we made it this far!! Again we laughed down the mountain.
I say we laughed but the cold was taking a toll on me and the
downhill was not helping. My hip was tight and painful, making each step feel like a needle going into my bone. To add to the problem my diaphragm was cramped limiting my ability to stand up right or breathe. So there are two things you want to be able to do while racing- make forward motion and breathe! I was failing at both. I had thought a few times during this event that pulling off the course and calling it a day would be an option. This is not normally my mind set in a race but I was hurting, more than in most race. I was slowing our team from forward motion having to slow from the pain then try again and again. I knew I wasn't an easy teammate to be "tied" to in that moment but in the moment I was ready to cry, Patrick turned to me, "We got this" and smiled. I laughed. I was so far from "getting this"in that moment. My body felt like it was failing me; I was angry at myself for not being able to push harder; I was frustrated that I had the thought of giving up; I was scared of disappointing Patrick. I looked around and in the woods, as the leaves danced in the wind above us, I could not have felt more loved.
We found a few more volunteers and then saw what we had been waiting for, the entrance into the river. Yes, we had been begging to freeze again because it would be the last time. For me this meant little pressure on my hip and chest. It meant being in my element where I felt comfortable even in the cold. I was in a place I knew I could control.
We entered the river with smiles and foggy goggles (again). As we moved down the river we hit a deep spot where the current was flowing fast, we were on our way. Well, we were until I saw a ripple, hit a rock on the edge and then turned to yell "ROCK" at Patrick just as he pulled a Little Mermaid move, ramping up on the rock with a few choice words! He unbeached (unrocked?) himself and we headed down the shallow river again. Given that Patrick could not see the ripples indicating rocks, I kept yelling, "10 yards, 5 yards, ROCKS!" Oh the fun. We made the turn and saw the exit, moving towards the side and stepping over the last few large rocks, we made it back to land. Up about 20 steps and a 50 yards run to the finish line. Hand in hand we crossed. Patrick bent over after the finish, laughing with his hand on his knees. All I could do was to hug him, smiling, knowing what he just overcame because I had this idea one day. We were soon joined by Herbert with a smile asking, "Was it great?" Yes. Yes, it was great.
All smiles and love
Unpacking at Home :)
Once we had gathered ourselves (very quickly) we made our way to the Jeep to get out of the cold wet clothes. Frozen hands do not make it easy to get a wetsuit off. We heated up the Jeep just to blow warm air out on us. Yep that's right here is the visual- Two people, cold, shivering, laughing, trying to not get stickers in their feet, changing clothes at the back of a Jeep, at some point half stuck in a wetsuit, with the doors open to warm the outside air!!!
The air temperature dropped from mid 50's to mid 40's, the winds picked up, the water temperature around 54 degrees; there were 90 teams on the mountain that morning, 83 teams finishing; over 14 miles of running, almost 2 miles of swimming, and over 2000 feet of climb; but all I remember are the laughs.
Next year....

Bonus awesomeness with entry fees the group purchased a fire suppression vehicle to help control forest fires.  

Photos (the clearly professional and amamzing ones) thanks to Brian Fancher, Richard Hill, and Brian Lefevre. Thank you gentlemen for the beautiful representation of the day.

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