Grace in Adversity

May 17, 2010

whitneyI participated in the inaugural Ironman St. George on May 1st.  I registered for this race almost a year ago, and had been nervous about it ever since.  It is a VERY, VERY hilly course, and I am not a climber by nature.  I trained like crazy, and on May 1st I knew that I was ready to race. 

The swim was fantastic.  I was still on the shore, making my way to the water, when the cannon went off.  It ended up being a blessing.  I was able to find open water quickly, and didn’t get the crap beat out of me!  I felt strong.  All the work I’ had been doing on my stroke with Mickey Murad over the past few months paid off.  I had my best swim ever, and made it out of the water with a PR and feeling great.

The changing tent was packed with shivering women.  The water was cold, and it had taken it’s toll.  There were no volunteers able to help me (there are usually plenty), so I had to get changed on my own.  Harder than it sounds with numb and frozen hands, but I did it.  I ran through the bike lot, grabbed Big O, and hopped on.

I love being on my bike, and I had a blast once I started riding.  My legs felt great.  I had to keep reminding myself to slow down- that it was going to be a long day and if I was patient now it would pay off later.  The course was beautiful, and the volunteers and spectators were everywhere cheering.  I made it through the first loop feeling FANTASTIC.  I had done the math in my head, and knew that even if I slowed down on the second loop, I would make the bike cut off with over a half an hour to spare.  I KNEW that all the hill work I’d done over the past 4 months was really paying off.  Coming down the long decent at almost 50mph, I was elated!

At the bottom of the hills everyone had to slow down for a sharp right hand turn.  The corner was absolutely packed with spectators.  I feathered my brakes to make the turn.  Then- BAM!  My rear tire blew.

No problem.  I had plenty of time, and I can change tires pretty dang fast.  So I did.  No problem.

Roch Frey, who is a friend as well as the race director, just happened to be standing on the corner.  As I was getting back on the bike, he cheered me on.  Everything was fine. 

I had barely clipped in when- BAM!  It blew again.

Roch ran over and said I probably had a pinch flat.  I didn’t think that was the case, but since I had tried to change it really fast it was possible.  He went through the tire, and couldn’t find anything.  We looked at the tube- big hole.  We looked at the other tube- big hole in the same spot.  We looked through the tire again.  Still couldn’t find the problem.  Roch started bending and moving the tire around and found it.  The tread and the side of the tire had separated about an inch.  The tire was unridable.

Roch called tech support to get a new tire.  She wasn’t too far away, but he said we could try to boot it to get me past the checkpoint.  I didn’t have a boot, so he pulled a $20 out of his wallet to use.  He had his assistant run back to the truck to get a pump.  When he got back, Roch pumped the tire up to 70 psi.  There really was no way this tire was going to hold.

He called tech again.  She was only about a mile away.  He told me to hang on.

The spectators were great.  There were a ton of folks watching all of this happen, and they were all rooting for me.  One woman offered me her chair while I waited.  Several others offered me food.  Everyone was so, so nice.  I looked at my clock and saw it was getting late.  I asked someone if I could use their phone to call my husband, Rob.  She kindly let me, and I was able to let him know I was fine, and not to worry.

A few minutes later, Roch ran back over.  He told me tech support was having to stop to help other people, so I needed to get across the timing mat or I wouldn’t make the cut off.  He made sure I understood the tire was not going to hold- that I just needed to get across the mat.  He said to go slowly, and he would send tech support to find me.

The crowd cheered as I took off.  I was trying really, really hard not to cry.  At this point, I realized that I was in serious trouble.  I started doing the math in my head.  It didn’t look good.  The next cut off point was at the top of  the course.  I was going to have to average 15 mph up some serious inclines to make it happen.

I rolled on slowly, being careful not to go over any big bumps.  After a while tech support pulled up on her scooter.  She was great.  She told me I had a “guardian angel” and that Roch had been calling her repeatedly to come help me.  She looked at the tire and agreed that it was unridable.  She got another tire out of her supplies and changed it.  She wished me luck as I started riding again.

I was mad.  I pushed as hard as I could.  I was out of my saddle on every climb.  I did my very best, but it wasn’t enough.  I couldn’t make the cut off.

I’ve never had to pull out of a race before, and I have to say it sucks.  It sucks to have your chip taken away.  It sucks to have to hand your bike to someone.  It really, really sucks to have to be driven past other riders who are still on the course.  It just straight up sucks.

I can say with almost complete certainty that I was going to finish.  I was ready.  My legs felt great.  My nutrition was going perfectly.  If I hadn’t lost so much time, I would have easily made the cut offs.  I would have finished.

The good news is that I didn’t crash.  I didn’t bonk.  I feel fine.  I’m just really, really disappointed.

I have so many amazing friends who have been calling, texting, emailing, and posting on my Facebook page words of encouragement.  I am a very lucky girl.  Thank you all so, so much. 

I’m doing Ironman Arizona again this November.  AND I’m doing St. George again next May.  It’s not over.

— Whitney Despain
San Diego, California

Amy’s Going to Kona!

April 6, 2010

It was Saturday, February 27th, exactly four weeks prior to race day. I did my routine core workout that morning and then headed to Masters swim. Something was seriously not right. As the swim workout went on, I started feeling more and more pain in my ribs on the left side. By the end of the workout, I got out of the pool moving in slow motion and hunched over in significant pain. This was clearly not a “good” kind of sore.

I went to see my awesome physical therapist Gino that Monday. He advised me to see a D.O. and have x-rays taken. It could be a dislocated rib. Wednesday’s appointment with the D.O. revealed no dislocated rib but instead strained intercostals likely caused by too much rotation with one of my core exercises. The swim workout afterwards likely tipped those muscles over the edge.

Amy Larson Velo BellaMy first question: will I be able to race on March 27th? The doc said time would tell. These muscles are not easy to heal, as they are stretched every time your lungs expand (which explained why it was painful when I took a deep breath… much for speed work of any kind!). He advised me to stay out of the pool initially, as swimming would stretch and aggravate those muscles. Biking and running should be okay, but he cautioned me to not train intensely and get my heart rate up too high, as this would also aggravate the muscles if I was breathing too hard.

I was seriously bummed. My husband Andy was, and continues to be, a saint. I was not fun to be around with such limitations so close to a race. I kept up with physical therapy twice a week and acupuncture 1-2 times a week. The healing was very slow. It was two weeks before I was back in the pool for easy, aerobic swims. Biking and running felt like they were trailing off, as I was not able to train at the pace I knew I was capable of given the limited range of motion and limited lung expansion.

It was a week before the race, and I made the decision with the support of my physical therapist, acupuncturist, bike mechanic (who is a fantastic athlete himself), and Coach Whitney to go ahead and participate, knowing that if I felt any pain during the race, I needed to pull way back. After all, Oceanside was not an “A” race for me. It was merely preparation for the “A” race on June 27th: Ironman Coeur d’Alene – my first full Ironman.

Race day: It’s 12:15 a.m. – 2 ½ hours before the alarm was going to go off, and there was no way I was going to fall back asleep. Race nerves! Unlike other mornings, I felt no pain or tenderness in my rib area when getting up. Adrenaline is a powerful thing! My husband Andy and I (and my mom who was there to cheer us on – what a trooper!) left the house at 3:45 a.m. as planned and arrived up in Oceanside in plenty of time to rack our bikes and set up our transition area.

It was great to see SO many Bellas so early in the day! Yvette ran up to me with her bright and magnetic smile to give me a hug. She was one of many Bellas who was there to volunteer. Before we lined up in our waves, I saw Bellas Audrey, Jackie, Jodi, Sandra, Shannon, Teri, TracyAnn, and Whitney. We all exchanged hugs and good luck wishes. There is a huge feeling of camaraderie and comfort when surrounded by your Bella sisters.

6:30 a.m.: Time to line up for our wave start. DeeAnn, TracyAnn, and I were all standing near each other in the queue. Again, comfort in being around Bellas as the start time gets closer and closer!

7:17 a.m.: Our wave starts! This year I aged up to the 40-44 age group since I will turn the big 4-0 in December. To my surprise and delight, the 59-degree water did not feel as cold as it had in our practice swims the two weekends prior. Thank you, adrenaline!

The 1.2 mile swim itself was thankfully uneventful for me. A few kicks and shoves, but nothing that took me out, so to speak. My goal was to swim steady and strong. I’m not so sure about the strong part, but it was steady. I was constantly checking in to see if I had any discomfort in the rib area, and I was grateful there was none. My promised my coach and my family that I would listen to my body and respond accordingly.

Out of the water, and time for the long run in T1 (transition 1 – swim to bike) to the bike racks. There was a great volunteer who was kind enough to strip my wetsuit off of me which was an unexpected and welcome surprise! I had a heck of a time getting my helmet buckled. I think I wasted at least 30 seconds there. I just could not get my act together and even took off my helmet to check the strap and put it back on. So frustrating when the seconds are ticking away! Finally, the helmet was buckled and I was on my way on the 56-mile bike course.

The first part of the course is relatively flat, so a lot of folks tend to push the pace a bit too hard and then suffer around mile 35 when the first of three BIG climbs come into the picture. I felt pretty darn good and rode accordingly. I was riding with the same people for much of the first part of the bike course. They would pass me, then I would pass them, and so it went, back and forth. I don’t try to keep track of where I am in relation to others in my age group. My focus is to race my own race, especially today when I had no idea what I would be capable of given the injury and disjointed training I had had for the previous four weeks.

As the ride went on, I noticed I was not fatiguing and was feeling better than I anticipated. Still no pain in my ribs, and no limitations with my breathing. The last eight or so miles of the course offered up a nice tail wind which was a welcome surprise after experiencing some strong head and cross winds prior to that. I came into T2 (transition 2 – bike to run) feeling strong and had a great T2 thanks to Bella DeeAnn who has taught me how to dismount my bike with my shoes left in the pedals. Good stuff!

Time for the run. The run is typically my best of the three legs, but my running had suffered with the rib injury, so I didn’t know what to expect. My goal was to find a pace that I could sustain for the duration of the 13.1 mile run to give me an even-split….or better yet, pick it up a bit towards the end for a negative split.

The run course was PACKED with folks cheering on the participants. What a boost to hear “Go Bella!” and “Go Amy!” so often along the way. I’m not so good about acknowledging all the cheering in the moment, but believe me, I hear it and it is powerful! Not only were there Bellas cheering on Bellas, there were Bellas’ families cheering on Bellas. While Lynn was out there racing, her husband Anthony and son Dakota were there to cheer us on, and Anthony took some great Bella photos. Raja in true Bella spirit was also out there on the run course with her camera and shouting out to her Bella sisters.

It was getting hotter and hotter as the run went on. I heard it reached a high of 78 degrees that day – unusually warm for the end of March in Oceanside. The first lap of the run I had Train’s song “Soul Sister” running through my head over and over, and that kept me going. The song reminds me of a dear friend and my soul sister Christine. As a heartfelt aside: Christine has an incredible daughter Tehya who was born with the most severe form of spina bifida and has overcome incredible odds with a heart of gold and an iron will to live her life to the fullest. It is in Tehya’s honor that Andy and I swim/bike/run. (You can read more about Tehya and her non-profit organization at Christine, Tony (Christine’s husband and Tehya’s dad), Tehya, and Tehya’s best friend Kajsa were all there that day cheering us on.

The run reached a point for me where “Soul Sister” somehow was replaced by counting. For some reason, I just started counting from one to one hundred and then started over. I did this for probably about the last 5 miles of the run. I was checking my Garmin every now and then, noticing that I was continuing to hold my pace. I was not sure at any point where I was in terms of my placing. Every participant has their age marked on their left calf, so if you wanted to keep track of your placement, you could. Not long after I made the final turnaround with about 3 miles to go, my friend Julie who was approaching the turnaround yelled to me, “You’re going to Kona!” I was shocked to hear her say this. I told myself that Julie could be right, but for all I knew there could be someone ahead of me, and/or there could be someone right on my tail about to pass me. I kept myself focused and calm by working on keeping my pace (which was getting harder and harder, as I was getting tired by this point).

When I crossed the finish line, I was ever so slightly dizzy, so Bella Becky was right there to escort me to the medical tent so I could elevate my legs and stretch a bit. It was such a treat to have a Bella be the first one to greet me at the finish line! By the way, I have no shame about going to the medical tent. I was glad to know that my blood pressure was 110/60, pulse was 90, temperature was 98 degrees. Perfect! I felt significantly better than I had compared to the previous half-Iron distance races I had done.

I then went to wait in line for a massage. Wow – was that a treat! There were two masseuses per table. One worked on the upper body, one worked on the lower body. After 20 minutes of that luxury, I went over to the food tent where Bella Amara was volunteering outside, dancing and congratulating the participants, and welcoming them to the food tent. Again, such a treat to see a Bella everywhere you turn!

I worked my way to the back of this tent where results were posted. Once I could see my name, I had to ask someone to translate for me what the results meant. I could not believe what I was seeing. I placed first in my age group! My friend Julie then saw me and gave me a huge hug and congratulations. Her athleticism and sportsmanship is truly amazing and inspiring. She is going to rock the Ironman course on May 1 in St. George, as is Whitney!

At this point, I was so excited I could not stand still. I just started RUNNING. I had to get back to my transition area to find out where my mom in the was amidst the crowds and let her know! I was shocked that I was in a full-on run at this point. When I arrived at the transition area, I was thrilled to see Bellas BJ, Karen, and LaDawn who were all transition area volunteers. They were there to hear my great news. I’m so grateful for the excitement they shared with me.

By placing first in my age group (to my complete surprise), I earned a coveted spot to compete in the Ironman World Championships in Kona this October 9th. Travel plans are underway….

All the Bellas who participated that day had a phenomenal day. For some, it was their first triathlon at this distance. For others, it was their first time on this particular course. Some of us were back again to see how we would fare this year against all of the unknowns that present themselves on race day – weather, your own body and mind, other participants, etc. The Bellas not only represented, they rocked! Congrats to all the Bella Oceanside 70.3 2010 finishers: Audrey, Chris D., DeeAnn, Jackie, Jodi, Lynn S., Sandra, Shannon, Teri, TracyAnn, and Whitney.

A special thanks again to all the Bellas who volunteered: Amara, Anna, Becky, BJ, Carol, Heather, Karen, LaDawn, Yvette, and any others who I know I heard but may not have seen. Finally, I want to give a VERY special thanks to Whitney who has not only been a phenomenal coach for me, she also exemplifies what it means to be a Bella and leads the San Diego group with passion, enthusiasm, and tireless dedication.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say it: I’m truly honored and proud to be part of such an inspiring, supportive, upbeat, and enthusiastic group of women. Bellas really do ROCK!!!

—Amy Larson
San Diego, California

San Diego Bellas Rock California 70.3

April 6, 2010

Whitney DeSpain Velo BellaThere was a GREAT Bella showing at the California 70.3 on March 27th. Our San Diego girls cleaned up at this half Ironman, with Amy Larson winning her age group and securing a coveted spot to the World Championships in Kona this fall. DeeAnn Smith, Jodi Hays and Lynn Scozzari all placed top 20 in packed age groups. Theresa Espinosa and Chris Desrochers both had fantastic races, completing the notoriously difficult bike leg in well under 3 hours.

Jackie Bickford and Shannon Faseler proved that everything is more fun with friends, crossing the finish line together. In spite of a rough day, Whitney DeSpain kept a smile on her face and finished with style.

This was Audrey Strojny, Sandra Fairchild and TracyAnn Perry’s FIRST 70.3, but all three ladies raced like pros, keeping up great paces for the last leg!

Lots of Bellas also showed up to volunteer or to cheer! Amara, Anna, Becky, BJ, Carol, Christine, Gwyn, Heather, Karen, and LaDawn helped make everyone’s day that much more enjoyable.

It was a FANTASTIC start to the triathlon season in Southern California. Go Bellas!!!

Video Star Whitney at Ironman Arizona

November 24, 2009

Ironman Arizona

Velo Bella-Ellsworth triathlete Whitney Despain recently competed in the Arizona Ironman. A friend captured the day’s adventures on video. Head over to youtube and check out all the fun and suffering!

Eyes-Wide Open

June 16, 2009

By Raja Lahti-McMahon
San Diego, California

raja velo bellaSo it’s now nearly the end of April and my indeed season eyes-wide opener was back in March. The Superseal Olympic Distance triathlon is run in conjunction with the Superfrog Long Course triathlon. My husband had signed up for the long course – so a few of us thought we’d have fun with the early season race and do a relay. Not exactly a training race.. but one to just bring out some strengths and have fun. After all.. there was also prize money to be had…

So, Stacy Dietrich signed us up – Velo Bellas & Fella. Nick “The Dolphin” Abramson would swim the double loop beach entry/run swim course. His stellar 53 min Ironman Canada swim says it all. He has gills. I would do the bike. A 56 mile time trial of pure bella bellisma. The skin was going on, the aero helmet & the disk coming out to play. Of course Stacy did tell me I had to bike a sub 2:20 or she wasn’t going to do the run…. ’cause of course she would have to run a sub 1:45 half marathon… in deep sand.

Then… she found out she was prego. As ridiculously excited as I am that one of my best buds is having offspring… it now left a whole in our plan. So.. 2 weeks before the showdown I signed up for the full olympic distance Superseal.

My swim had been behind par due to an annoying shoulder injury, so I would only hope for the best I could do for the day. My biking has been feeling good. After the great Velo Bella cycling camp in January up in San Luis Obispo I felt like I could push it harder & longer than I had before. My run is coming along. I’m not a fabulous runner, so learning to suffer has been, well.. painful!

Last year’s race was cold, windy with ridiculous swells. This year, it was calm and overcast. I’d been told it was a fun race so I just figured I’d enjoy the adventure. Race reports are nice.. but the best part of the reports are the crazy thoughts that go through one’s mind when wondering why they paid money to feel like a bag of poo.

So, I survived the swim. Not horrible. “Could have been worse” I thought. Of course, friend Neily Mathias racing for (also wife of coach Peter Clode), finished the swim over 6 minutes in front of me. I’ve love to tell ya I was swimming backwards with my hands tied behind my back – but reality strikes… I’m no fish. No gills. In fact, when I take my goggles off, it ooks like I’ve been hit by a train. Positively the nastiest site for a Bella to behold. I’ve included a visual for posterity. Now.. Where’s my bike??!?

superseal_bikeI had a good ride, but I must say, I liked my bike clock & my watch split better…. not sure where the 2 minutes went.. but both clocks posted a 1:07 n’change bike split. My official split 1:09:12. Needless to say, any sub 1:10 split at this time of year is a decent split. In any case, it felt pretty solid, so no real complaints.

I hadn’t done much in the way of brick training this year. For non-tri-geeks, that’s a workout where you bike, run, bike, run until your legs are mush. If aliens had landed during a brick workout.. I can only imagine they’d go home because clearly we’re a self torturing species. But when you hit sand on the run.. you’re wishing you did more bricks. I opted instead to go off-road and run on top of the ice plant. Not something I’ve tried before… and not sure I’d recommend it either…

I’ve got just over a half mile to go, and I get run down. Shannon Harris pulls up along side of me and she’s looking good. Good rhythm & pace and she’s outpacing me big time. “Please tell me you’re in a different age group” I said in whatever voice I had left. “33”. “Oh shit”. It went something like that.
I must say, Shannon gets the best sportsmanship award. She voluntarily carried me to the finish. She kept up her pace and I just tried to speed up to hang with her. “Let’s work together” she said. That kind of sportsmanship – For a split second I wanted her to beat me. She deserved it.

Then I realized I was in fact racing.. and if she was going to out run me, she’d have to do it to the line. A little tactics came into action. If I could draft off her run, in the chute maybe I could out sprint her to the finish. I wasn’t going to out run her. Not today at least. We rounded the nearly 180 degree turn with about 200 meters to go neck and neck. As the lane bottle-necked, I inadvertently bumped into the flying elbow of a man reaching for the finish as well. She went to his right, me to his left, nearly tripping over a land cone. And let’s just say 3’s a crowd. I hit it and hoped I had enough in the tank to fuel it to the end. I put 2 seconds on her. Once we crossed the finish line we congratulated each other on a good race. We finished 1st & 2nd. She just oozes Bella vibes.

So just as there are rock stars like Shannon Harris, there are also rotten bastards. After crossing the finish line another 10 seconds or so back, this man who I inadvertently bumped elbows while entering the chute, rams into me as I’m standing there drinking some needed water. “Dude, the race is over” I said. A lady walked up to me with her child and asked, “did he just do that on purpose?!?” Yes maam, he did.

I think the entire point of this race report is about sportsmanship. It’s ok to be competitive, to challenge each other. Nobody is out here to “get you”. It’s your own race. As refreshing as it was to race with someone like Shannon, it was also as upsetting to know that there are jerks out there that feel they are more deserving than others by instigating physical contact. Not nice. He goes on the Bella poo list.

Race to the best you can do that day. I had a decent race, but it wasn’t spectacular. I’m not a pro. I have a job that consumes more time than I’d like to admit. I have a husband and friends. I got a bit lucky all the really fast girls were not in my age group. Sometimes it’s a bit of talent. Sometimes a bit of tactics. Sometimes a bit of luck. It is however all about who shows up on that day to race. Yourself included. Race to have fun, to accomplish something, to improve yourself. Otherwise, don’t race. Nobody likes the attitude. After all.. you paid money to be here.. so you’d better get your monies worth of enjoyment.

In the meantime, train hard and race to have fun!

Happy Riding!