Tag Archives: asthma and athletics

Sunny’s Pedal Day 1, Part 2: “Don’t Falafel Your Bike!”

The ride to Pullman was quite simply, a beautiful blast.  We had to resist the urge to go all out in the downwind, knowing that we had more 100 miles days and tough climbs ahead of us.  As an enthusiastic cyclist, this was the most personally encouraging ride I’ve ever been on.  I stuck with the guys in the front, some of whom are members of a local racing team.  I wanted to increase my skills in preparation for an upcoming big cycling event and knew this would be a great opportunity.  For most of my cycling years before the giant shift in my severe asthma, I rode alone.  Mostly because I would inevitably have some asthma trouble and I don’t like to slow others down OR scare them with my breathing issues so I learned to ride solo.  It was a pleasant shift to be able to start riding with others a few years ago and enjoy the camaraderie and occasional competition that comes along with that!  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up with these guys but I was determined to for as long as I could.  They gracious enough to have me along and I walked away from that ride feeling more confident than ever before in my cycling skills and conditioning.  I had never learned proper technique as a roadie versus as a triathlete. Heck, I don’t have proper technique even as a triathlete.  I just ride – ha!  I jumped right in, drafting, pulling, and playing right along.  A long, beautiful paved road is really just a giant playground and we had a blast!  Thanks so much, guys.  I learned so much from you!

with the guysthe guys







The scenery of the Pacific Northwest is beyond words.  I wanted to stop constantly to take pictures but we had a destination to reach and we were on a roll.  The chatter helped pass the time and I was amazed at the skill of the guys around me. They have been racing for years and made it look so easy.  I had to focus all of my energy on the tires ahead of me, keeping close enough to feel the pull, yet far enough away to not cause an accident. That meant I didn’t notice some of the details of things around me along the way like they did. I did my part a couple of times and pulled the group along but I have no gauge for how fast I should go. I was so relieved when my buddy came alongside at one point and said, “That was one helluva pull, girl! We’re gonna make it to Pullman in record time if you pull like that!”  My heartfelt response: “Oh thank you for saying that because I’m DYING!”  Being new to true roadie technique, I’m learning how to set the speed for a pull.  In my attempt to do my part, I obviously I overdid it but I was ecstatic to know I could handle it!

Town Greeter at an old gas station. We assumed he worked here back in the day and is wearing the uniform he wore then. What a sweet soul!

Town Greeter at an old gas station. We assumed he worked here back in the day and is wearing the uniform he wore then. What a sweet soul!

We stopped for lunch in Rosalia and we just can’t resist getting a photo with this guy who happily greeted us, allowed us to take the photo and then warmly wished us well and insisted we be careful. What a sweet soul.

Lunch!  We find our support crew just beyond the chalk signs they left us on the road, and they greeted us with cow bells and cheers as we rolled in. We ate at the small park and rested for a bit.  Great conversation and laughter as we got to know each other better.  I had no idea that entertainment would be provided but the combination of personalities in this group made for quite the comical dynamic.  Nothing like a day of riding bikes and belly laughing!

Shortly after we depart, Cris has a surge of…..well something, and rockets past us and into the distance. Patrick and Moises can’t resist trying to catch him and I know I can’t hold that kind of pace and make it through the next two days as well, so I settle in and take in the scenery.  We meet up again as they stop in LaCrosse and we join forces once again to the finish.

We practically fly through the 96 miles into Pullman in 4 hours and 39 minutes of seat time.  Wow!  Actually it ended up being 98 for us because we took an unexpected detour which ended with a ½ climb at about 18% grade!!!  Geez! We make it to our destination for the night, a home which was generously donated to us while the owners were out of town.  Thank you Morse family!

Speaks for itself!  :-)

Speaks for itself! 🙂

We enjoy a donated meal for the riders at South Fork Public House. So much support and generosity on this trip! Guinness never tastes better than after a day of riding like that.  We’re tired and hungry and around the dinner table, it becomes downright giddy. Everything becomes a play on words and having the predisposition of being easily entertained anyway, I’m practically on the floor with every goofy joke.  Even my meal isn’t safe from jabs; I ordered falafel and was taunted with,  “Don’t falafel your bike!” for the rest of the evening.  I know.  It’s not that funny in black and white and when you weren’t there, but it was hilarious at the time and still makes me laugh as I think about it!

In case you are wondering….YES.  I am the “go-to” person for testing out silly jokes!

A fantastic first day and a prelude to what would be an epic day two.  What an amazing day of riding that would turn out to be.  Stay tuned!

By the way, to my fellow asthmatics:  No rescue inhaler needed.  Not once.  What I want more than ever is for you to know that there IS a better way, that you CAN be as active as you want to be, and you should NEVER give up.  EVER!

biz cards

Sunny’s Pedal, A Sunny Ride for Organ Donation

D for Determined; Vitamin D and Asthma

When I began to progress from short distance running and triathlon events to endurance race distances, I started paying more attention to nutrition, both for the sake of athletic performance as well as overall health. It didn’t occur to me at the time that this may also have a positive impact on controlling my asthma.  You may recall in an earlier post that when I decided to train for my first triathlon, I called my asthma doctor and told him what my intentions were and asked if there was a way to better control my symptoms.  At the time, I was still using my rescue inhaler several times a day.  I was disappointed to hear him say, “no.”  That was it.  Just….no.


So I continued training and using my meds. Ha! I simply went as far as I could, and when I reached what I knew was my limit, I’d stop.  It required more rescue inhaler however, and three months later I received a call from the doctor’s office.  They were concerned about the number of inhalers I was going through. I referenced the call three months earlier, and I made an appointment to see the nurse practitioner.  I was prepared with a big speech about how I didn’t want to have to stop training; that ultimately what I was doing now would help my asthma in the long run if I could just figure out how to do it and not trigger my symptoms; that I didn’t want this disease to control me or force me to stop doing healthy things.  I didn’t have to give the speech.  She proposed a possible solution; Advair.  And it worked!  At least, better than anything else I had used at the time.  Later, I would find that it still wasn’t a complete answer and that underlying any prescription medication regimen, giving our bodies the nutrition they need at the cellular level should come first. But I didn’t know that yet, and at this point, I needed to just be able to exercise. After about a week, I was able to run (okay, jog) without needing my rescue inhaler; for the first time in my life! A part of me was really annoyed that my doctor in that same office had told me just three months before that there was nothing more we could do, and here is this NP who hands me a solution that would allow me to continue.  But I was so elated that I let it be. It had unfortunately become par for the course for me.  I know this hasn’t been every asthmatic’s experience; I’m so glad. I often think that my asthma was so bad that doctors simply ran out of answers.  And yet, one was sitting right under my nose and I didn’t know it.  Apparently they didn’t either.

As I trained and looked into nutrition, a friend referred me to some specific products that were created ‘by athletes, for athletes.’  I went to their website and looked around.  Having no official education for nutrition, I was simply doing what most people do; research on the web, ask friends and doctors. I noted on this website however, that I could have a phone consultation with one of the developers and I decided to give it a try.  I wanted to find out what I really need at a basic nutritional level but I also wanted to ask what, if anything, they knew about asthma and how I could combine these two goals; endurance racing and controlling my asthma.  Until then, they were two different concepts; take my preventative meds and hope they hold out, take my rescue inhaler when needed, exercise when I can.  But I would still have episodes caused either by a cold or environmental factors, and that would take me out of the training game for a while.  I wanted to merge the two if possible; training and controlling asthma.  So I asked Tim if that was possible.  He didn’t skip a beat; he absolutely thought it was.  He suggested that I first get my vitamin D and other blood levels tested.  I had done so through regular physical examinations and my numbers always showed as “low” so I took over-the-counter supplements.  I now understand that many of those contain mostly fillers, which is why they weren’t effective in bringing up my levels.  As part of their product line, these athletes/doctors included an assessment package so I ordered it and had my levels tested.

I learned more on that phone call with Tim than any other conversation I had had previously about basic nutritional needs and how it not only impacted overall health and athletic performance, but how it could also help my asthma by building up my system at the cellular level so that my body’s natural defenses would prevent symptoms long before they manifest. It’s more than short-term relief or long-term control of symptoms.  It’s preventative. I started to look at asthma control in a different way.

I mentioned Vitamin D.  I have had two doctors independent of each other recommend 10,000 IU, and then my own doctor agreed when I asked him what he thought about that.  That’s important to know.  Before I take any new nutritional supplement, I ask a doctor.  It’s like food allergies; one person may be able to eat spinach, which is really good for you.  Another, like my mom, might be allergic to it.  Know your body.  The recommended dosage may be different for me than for someone else.  I learned recently that too much Vitamin D can be harmful for those who have a history of developing kidney stones. Know your body.  When I am in the sun for hours at a time, I reduce my intake to about 6000. During dreary winter months when sunshine is limited here in the Pacific Northwest, I take in 10,000.  (I use a sublingual spray; fast and easy…..I’ll get to that).

So, these people who created nutritional products “by athletes, for athletes;” they caught my attention.  I have had many conversations with their science advisor, Dr. Rick Cohen over the last couple of years.  (I’ll provide the website information at the end of this post — because I can hear your question!).  I learn from him, then cross-reference with my regular general practice doctor, who also treats me for the asthma. Every time so far, he has agreed that what I am proposing is a good idea. He just doesn’t initially discuss it as a treatment for asthma; but he agrees when I bring it up.  I recently started to see a naturopathic doctor for other reasons. At my first appointment, he asked me what supplements I am taking and how much.  I received an A+ for the Vitamin D, Omega 3 and antioxidant intake.  He recommended the addition of Vitamin C at higher levels (again…for me…this higher dosage recommendation isn’t for everyone). But remarkably, he echoed the SAME things that Dr. Cohen and his associates were recommending, which in turn, my doctor agreed was a good idea. That’s more than good enough for me. Getting these nutrients has made a phenomenal impact alone.  Coupled with a healthy, clean diet (yes, I cheat sometimes), has made all the difference in the world.

But enough of my jibber-jabber. Here is what Dr. Cohen has to say specifically about Vitamin D and its impact on asthma.

“Asthma control isn’t always about having your meds on standby and taking them the moment you feel the telltale signs of an impending attack. It’s about having your body’s defenses ready to help fight off an attack on its own, with or without meds.

And one of the most important parts of that defense system is vitamin D.

One new study of 1,024 children with mild to moderate asthma finds that kids who don’t have the right levels of D have a harder time getting the disease under control, even after taking their asthma meds. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120713080022.htm

By one critical measure, the D-deficient kids had less than half of the lung improvements seen in kids with normal levels of D after taking their meds.

The difference was so dramatic that researchers say doctors should test asthmatic kids for vitamin D and continue to monitor their levels — and if those levels ever fall, the kids should be given supplements.

You don’t often hear mainstream doctors and researchers recommending nutritional supplements, so you know this one’s a big deal — and not just in children.

In kids and adults alike, vitamin D plays a key role in overall lung function. Proper D levels may even help keep attacks at bay and lessen their severity when they do strike.

One review of nearly 60 years of research found that low vitamin D levels led to problems with lung function, increased airway reactivity and worse overall asthma control among asthmatics.

In other words, if you want to breathe easier, make sure you get your D — and if you suffer from asthma, be sure to combine increased D levels with other natural treatments such as B vitamins, dietary changes, and homeopathic remedies.

You might never reach the point where you’d feel comfortable leaving your rescue inhaler at home. But if you take the natural approach, you might not need to be rescued nearly as often.”

Rick Cohen, M.D.
Know your body. Find your edge.

For me, that last statement says it all.  It’s what I have been saying throughout this blog; that with this new focus on nutrition at the cellular level, not only do I not have to be rescued very often, but I can train and race for hours….. 17 hours and 23 seconds, even…… and not have to be rescued once.  If that is possible for someone like me, whose asthma has been severe my entire life; to the point that most doctors have given up and had no solutions, I have hope that this can work for others.  It just makes sense.

There are plenty of good products out there.  So much so, that it’s overwhelming when it comes to making a decision. What a great problem to have.  I get most of my supplements through the website noted above; www.core4nutrition.com.  I like it because I can get everything I need (except that I get my Vitamin C elsewhere). They have individual products in addition to comprehensive packages (I use their Core 4), designed to give me Vitamin D, Omegas, antioxidants, etc., and then I adjust it every now and then as necessary; I’ll swap out something that I have enough of with an extra Vitamin D, for example. That’s the sub-lingual spray I use. I love it. And I have to say that for the first time, I am taking an Omega 3 supplement that doesn’t have me burping up fish taste for hours! It’s liquid and tastes like peaches. Not kidding! Side note: I accidentally forgot an Omega 3 liqui-gel capsule in my jeans pocket once. A few hours later, I noticed a very strong, nasty fish smell.  It broke in my pocket!!  Never was able to get that smell out. Can’t bring myself to throw them away but they stink! Perhaps I’ll keep them for fishing.

Vitamin D is just one piece of the puzzle; stay tuned for more. That’s all for this post.  It’s Friday and there is a rafting trip calling my name!

23 Seconds. The Finish Line and So Much More…

I can see the finish line! It looks so small and far away but I can hear the music. My Turtle Posse has scattered and they run out ahead of me and down the sidewalks so they can see me finish. Christine hands me my sign: “Dear Asthma, I WIN!”  My legs feel like lead and my stomach hurts so bad but it’s right there! I’m going to finish and they’re all still there!

My unknown angel on the course has been with me since the 8th street turn. It is still the last unsolved mystery in this journey. Who was this amazing person? Below is the only picture we have of him. Perhaps someone who reads this will know who he is through the blurry quality of the photo and can help me find him so I can tell him thank you. I will accept that he was a guardian angel helping to bring me home, but if I can find him, I’d really like to let him know how much that meant to me.

My Angel Runner taking me to the finish line.

“There it is, honey. It’s right there! But I need you to move faster or you’re not going to make it in time!”  He runs with me to the beginning of the finisher’s chute and then he’s gone. I’m holding up my sign but not for long. I just don’t have the strength to hold it up while I run and I know the clock is ticking. Darn it!  I really wanted to get that message across but I can’t worry about that now.

Mike Reilly and a crew member taking over for my Angel Runner in getting me to the finish line.

The crowd is HUGE and loud. It’s awesome!! I made it. I MADE IT! 

I’m barely jogging but I feel like I’m sprinting down the chute. The crowd is so loud and excited. I glance up at the clock and I see that the 17th hour has been reached and the seconds are ticking by, past the deadline.  But I don’t care.  I really don’t care.  I am about to finish this entire course and that is nothing short of a miracle in my case.

Just feet away from the finish line…

I reach the line. I cross and I’m expecting happy faces and a mob because I know that so many of my friends will be in the finisher corral, including my coach. But when I cross, I see sullen, sunken, sad expressions looking at me in astonishment. I know they’re disappointed. Not in me, but for me.  They are worried that I will be upset. But I am so happy beyond words and I want to say, “No, no, no! Don’t be sad! I’m so happy right now. This Is such a miracle and it’s okay that I’m a few seconds late. It really is. Remember last year? Be happy for me! This is the most amazing achievement ever, please don’t be sad!”  But I can’t speak. They’re kneeling on the ground and I know I’m supposed to have a catcher but that doesn’t happen right away. For a split second I wonder if they aren’t supposed to perform their normal duties after midnight. But then I’m mobbed. One friend after another hugging me, congratulating me, all telling me I’m an Ironman. But they say it with a slight sympathetic head tilt, looking directly into my eyes as if to convince me of the fact.  I need no convincing but I understand why they are worried and I love them for that. I think I am crying but it’s out of glorious exhaustion, not disappointment. I am a little bummed that I didn’t get to use my sign the way I wanted to but it’s okay. They all embrace me.  Connie, Michelle, Derek, and then there is Keats; my coach who helped me get to this place. And behind him is his dad Terry, who also helped bring me home. I know my coworker Corey is there but I’m dazed and don’t remember seeing him.

And then it occurs to me that maybe I don’t get a medal. OH NO! I am beyond words for how ecstatic and grateful I am to be standing here at the end of this unbelievable race, having finished every inch of it and it’s not about the medal. But it is about the medal given what it represents. I say to my friend Michelle, who also happens to be the most amazing volunteer coordinator of these events, “Oooooh. Do I still get a medal?” I know that had to have put her in a tough spot but the words just fell out of my mouth; I couldn’t hold them back as the realization reached my consciousness.

While everything is buzzing behind the line as everyone assesses my physical and emotional condition, we are unaware of the extraordinary thing that is happening on the other side. Something truly beyond words is about to happen.  Michelle approaches me, “I need to take you back out front. Mike Reilly is asking for you. He has a medal for you.”  I’m slightly confused, but can’t really think. How cool is that? She walks me back out, holding me steady. Instinctively I hold up my sign.

There are bright lights and hundreds of people cheering. There is a guy to my right and suddenly he gives me this powerful hug. I see his face for a brief second and I think it’s someone I met from the Ironman Foundation a couple of days before, there to congratulate me on my finish but I’m dazed and don’t really know what’s going on.

I am aware of every emotion that I’m feeling and they all point to happiness to an extreme that I am unable to express in words.

I’ll let this incredible 8.5 minute video which captured it all tell this part of the story, including what was happening on the other side of the line after I finished. You will see a few finishers before me, including those I’ve mentioned (and my friend Paul!).

I found out the next day that someone gave me his medal. My friends did some Nancy Drew sleuthing and found him. Todd Hesse, athlete, adventurist, family man and now my generous medal gifter. I still don’t have the right words to describe my gratitude and how I feel about that gesture. I will let him speak for himself as a guest writer on this blog in the next few days. There is a reason for every single thing that happened that day, including the fact that I was unaware that another athlete gave me his medal. Take a look at that video again and pay attention to the moments that each of us have as individuals after the short medal “ceremony.” Those moments, in my opinion, were necessary for both of us in our separate stories as they merged together in the midst of a shared experience. Had I been aware of what was really happening that sequence would have been interrupted.

Victory lap!

Final finish time, 17:00:23. People still ask me if it bothers me that I finished after the mark. I think the video answers that question nicely but just to be clear, I’ll say it here. I was, I am and I always will be deliriously happy and grateful for everything that happened that day.  It played out exactly as it was supposed to, including the finish time. The time I took on the course alone to celebrate with my friends, 40 seconds, 12 seconds, 10 seconds…..would have more than made up for that time.  I wouldn’t give those 23 seconds back for the world. This journey has been about overcoming the seemingly impossible as much as it has been about love and relationships. All three of my goals were met beyond what I could have planned out for myself: I had a blast, I finished and I raised some awareness for illnesses that place limitations on lives and in my case, some encouragement to asthmatics that they can move beyond this. And because of what happened at the finish line and just after, that third goal is continuing to be realized and I could not be happier about that.  I also have new friends because of a gesture; one athlete recognizing the efforts of another in spite of the fact that she finished after the allotted time under the rules.  Interestingly enough, our separate stories have some commonalities that make it so clear that this was orchestrated perfectly. Race rules, a medal, and a finish like no other fused our stories together in a way that allowed each of us to fulfill something greater than just finishing the race. An instinctual reaction from one, imparting extraordinary sportsmanship, respect and kindness to another, elevated the impact of an already inspiring day to new heights.


After my victory lap with my sign (which I will talk about in a later post), I go back behind the line to more hugs from my friends. I hear people calling my name and I look above me to see my sister, nieces, BIL and my mom.  My friend Tom helps me up on a chair so I can reach my mom. And then my mom and I have an exchange that I’ll cover later; you won’t want to miss that.

There is still more! But I think this is enough to absorb for one entry so I’ll let you take it in before I add some additional details and thoughts.  I will also be posting Todd’s thoughts very soon; I promise it won’t disappoint. He is quite a writer and has his own blog at http://staggerforwardrejoicing.com. For today, I leave you with one final thought, which is a love note that was posted on my Facebook wall:


More to come, including exactly how I was able to get my asthma under control in order to do this, adventures ahead and what I plan to do with all of this.

This is not the finish line.  It is the beginning of so much more. Stay tuned!

Ironman CdA 2012. The Run, Part 2.

Running was new to me just a few years ago.  Severe asthma made it impossible for most of my life.  Now that I was able to run, I encountered a new set of obstacles over and above my difficult bio-mechanics, including GI issues. Common among runners, I sought out advice from everyone I knew, read articles and tried just about every product I could find. My body’s reaction to any nutrition I was using during longer distances or intense running sessions was pretty severe and I would suffer the effects of it for hours after. Seven weeks before Ironman, I changed up my nutrition plan one more time and was overjoyed that it worked!!  No more issues at all. I was so happy to have finally found something that truly worked and would not only get me through Ironman, but would allow me to tolerate longer distances and short, intense training runs.

It worked so well that I completely forgot that I ever had issues in the first place.  But at mile 18 of my Ironman marathon, I was….well….rather violently reminded of the fact.  Again at mile 18.5, and 19, and … (It’s okay to laugh. I laugh about it now too.)  Really, Cathy?  It didn’t occur to you that after 14 hours of intense racing that no matter what you are using for nutrition, you might have a problem, and you really should take Imodium to prevent it? Fine. I accept my new self-imposed fate and consider it a new notch on the adventure belt. I didn’t have time to dwell on it. By now I was looking at my Garmin every minute or so, keeping my pace in check. But now I would have to make a few stops and that could put my finish in serious jeopardy. I had no choice.  Running made it worse so my sporadic jogging for short distances would have to cease.

I start praying and calling on my angels for strength.  I make it another mile down the course and I can’t believe what I’m seeing.  To my left my sister, uncle and nieces are there once again but I look closer and there she is.  MOM! If this blog format would allow me to use larger font, I would. MOM!! I know how physically difficult it was for her to get down there and the fact that she was hobbling towards me was amazing. How do you not stop for that? I walk over to her embrace and she has this huge look of pride in her eyes and she’s so excited to be there. Our time is brief but meaningful and once again, I have a surge of energy. That was so cool.

10 seconds.

I have to move.  I have to stop. I have to move. I have to…..oh jeeeeez!

I head up Bennett Bay Hill, knowing I need to make it to the turn-around by 10:30 and now I’m close.  TOO close. It’s dark now. Very dark and lonely out there.  I am so thankful for the few volunteers who remain. The officials do their best to light the course but there are several stretches where it’s just DARK. I turn on my battery operated LED arm band. They have run out of glow sticks but that’s okay; they drive me crazy. There’s no comfortable way to wear them. Mine is much cooler anyway. I reach the top of the hill; the turn-around is just ahead. I have to make it. It will be close but I think I’ll have about 7 minutes to spare as long as I don’t stop. I see Terry McGonigal in the dark.  “Cathy, is that you?  I have orders from your coach to find you. How are you doing? You know you’re right on the edge…”  It’s so good to see him out there.  “Yes, I know. Having some trouble but I’ll make it. I WILL make it!”  I look up and there is Anna too.  She and Terry didn’t know each other and they now realize that they have both been waiting for the same person.  They keep their distance so as to not break any rules but they walk along the side, encouraging me along.  Terry goes all the way to the turn-around with me and then jumps into his car to go ahead and find another spot to wait for me.  He texts others to let them know he found me.  I know that my friends are able to see where I am online and it makes me nervous, knowing that THEY are probably getting nervous, but at least they know where I am.

I make the turn-around with about 8 minutes to spare. Good. Just don’t stop, Cathy.  You have to try not to stop. Anna is in the car with Joe and the kids.  “Cathy, do you want me to walk with you?” At this point, most of the caboosers have someone walking with or around them and officials are everywhere on the course so we figure this must be okay as long as they keep their distance. “Yes, if you want to!”  I had 6.5 miles to go; she was there the rest of the way.  Another athlete, wearing the new Ironman CdA race kit is nearby as is a young man and we all take turns passing each other, our support folks in tow.  One stops, putting his hands on his knees and rests for a moment.  “We’re gonna make it.  Keep moving.” I say as I pass by.  My stomach hurts so bad and I decide to try a little bit of chicken broth at the next aid station but it’s cold and I have to spit it out.  And then I have to stop again.  NO!! I have no choice but I’m praying that this is the last time or I won’t make it.

Five miles to go.  It is SO dark out here but for the most part you can still see the surface you are running on so it’s okay. Most everyone is gone except for those few volunteers. Thank you! Your mind starts messing with you at this point. I knew people would be at this finish line, but would I make it before they start tearing it down?  I start to wonder for the first time.  I see my sister, nieces and my mom again but this time I can’t stop. They cheer me on.

Four miles to go.  It hurts so bad. I HAVE to make it!  Please, God send me some angels.  I need help here! Anna is doing great; she is talking to me but I can’t respond. Just having her there takes away the anxiety of being alone in the darkness. I want to yell out to those at the finish line: “We’re here!!  Don’t leave! We’ll make it!”  I see Terry again. “I have a message from your coach. He says they are all waiting for you. You can do this. Dig deep!” I dig deep. I go to where my deepest motivation is; that place that gets me so pumped up nothing will stand in my way. I think of a lifetime of sickness and hospital visits; the allergy shots that didn’t work; every detail of my first lung collapse; hours/days/weeks of trying to breathe, just trying to breathe; prednisone – UGH! That evil drug and what it does to your body!; quarantined from the world during bad episodes; wanting to play, explore, climb, swim, bike, run, experience the world, socialize but being forced into isolation and immobility. I see my Little Supporter’s hand written card in my mind’s eye: “I hope you win! I hope you get the Ironman! I hope you have fun all day!”

And then something remarkable happens for the next few miles. I see Janine and Christine on the turn off of CdA Lake Drive. They join Anna and my Turtle Posse begins to form.  They have checked with officials to be sure that it’s okay. I know this had to be a tough decision for my friends. Do we wait at the finish line or do we go find her and bring her in? There is no wrong answer here, but I can tell you after going through this, that from now on even though I know how exciting and inspiring it is to be at the finish line for the final finishers, I will be out on the course pushing them along.  I cannot express how critical all of these people were, including the few volunteers and spectators who stayed behind. After 16+ and in this case nearly 17 hours now of straight exercise, you rely on these people.

I am dazed, yet determined and focused on that finish line. I think about the celebrations throughout this entire day, my friends who have been my solid supporters and the love they have for me as they wait.

I’m listening but can’t respond. I must still have my sense of humor intact because Janine, in yet another display of spectacular photography, takes this photo and sends it out with the caption noted.  I joke but actually, this image is apropos for the moment that it captures, including the blurry quality.

“She’s at mile 24 and still smiling!” Janine Darragh

We reach another turn and Terry is there again. “Cathy, they’re all waiting for you. Come on, now! You’re almost there. Now go get it!” I see Laura….in her workout clothes! She jumps in with The Posse. Her voice is quiet and soothing as she assesses my condition. Two more corners and Julie and her son Lincoln join in. They’re all keeping a distance but they are with me. I think a couple of spectators join in but I’m not sure. I start to jog. “Good job!” Another corner and there is Brian and Nika.  Once again, Brian carries on with his Rocky air punches and skimming the sides of his nose with his thumbs, making everyone laugh. And this really is quite Rocky-esk.  I have a full-on Turtle Posse bringing me home. So cool! I see a chalked note on the street for me and I smile.

A mile and a half to go. I’m looking at my Garmin about every 30 seconds, watching the time and my pace. I look again and……NO!! It dies. IT’S DEAD! I start yelling out, “What time is it? I need the time!” 11:44! No, 11:45! I have 11:47!  Okay, that’s not going to work.  Just keep moving.  I jog. “Good job!”  Someone finds some glow sticks and hands them to me. I put them around my neck thinking they will be out of the way but they are distracting and bounce when I try to jog. But I can’t expend the energy to take them off. So I clutch them in my teeth when I jog.

The last few corners are slight inclines but they might as well be K2 Savage Mountain. I glance behind me and the young kid is close behind. I want to tell him to keep it up but I can’t. Up ahead is the short steep incline onto the 8th street turn. I see someone standing up there calling out, “Ten minuuuuutes! You are NOT going to make it if you walk! You have to move faster!” My friends tell me he spoke into a phone, “I’ve got her. I’m bringing her in.”

I reach the top, he moves to my right side. He is wearing a finisher’s shirt and medal. “I’m going to stay with you to the finish. I want you to listen only to me. I need you to move faster.  You have to try and jog. I know it hurts, sweetheart. This is what you have trained for. This is it. I need you to move faster or you won’t make it.” I jog.  “Good job!” My friends scatter and I don’t see them anymore but I know they are there.  We make it to the library parking lot and I remember seeing Todd W. a few hours before and high-fiving him as he approached his finish line. “Christine, I need my sign!” I’m not calling out because I’m worried about the sign; I know she has it and it will be there. I just need to verbalize it at this moment. All of those thoughts I retrieved a short while ago as I “dug deep” are on my mind. This is my punctuation mark. This is my ONLY way of telling people who don’t know me that they CAN overcome.  It’s my way of communicating silently but loud and clear to asthmatics that they don’t have to let it take control! I want them to know that there IS hope!!

I turn the last corner onto Sherman Avenue. There it is!! I see it!!  It looks much farther away than I thought it would. The young kid blows by me having found some last minute (literally!) push. YES!! GO GET IT!

“There it is, honey. It’s right there! But I need you to move faster or you’re not going to make it in time!”

Ironman CdA 2012. The Run, Part 1.

The bike took much longer than it should have but there is no looking back and I don’t spend any time dwelling on that. I am truly having the time of my life, despite the tire explosion and the slow demise of my turtle cushion. I make quick work of my transition with the help of an amazing volunteer. I rush out to the other side, ready to start my run and I am greeted by screams and applause. I hear my name in several directions and I’m trying to focus and see where it is coming from so I can celebrate with them, but I inevitably miss some. My new colleague Corey catches my attention from within the transition area and lets out a full guttural scream. “CAAATHYYYYYY!!”  He is an 8-time Ironman and will be catching me at the finish line. THE FINISH LINE! I think on that for a moment and it gives me a kick to get my run started.  I would find out later that one of my favorite little fans, who isn’t quite tall enough for me to see him trying to catch my attention over the fence, was waiting with his Ironman action figure to cheer me on. Thank you, little buddy. I’m still having fun and I’m going to win!

My Little Supporter. Look at that sweet face!

I round the corner and see Monika and Cheryl; point and scream! A couple more steps and I see Jessica D. and I have to stop to celebrate. I have known her for years and she has seen me in the midst of some of my bad asthma episodes; not many people have, as I retreat for days/weeks when it happens. She understands the miracle that this is. I stop for a tearfully excited hug. “You’re doing it! You’re doing this, Cathy!”

Only a marathon to go!

10 seconds.

Right next to her I see ANN! I know she has been there all day. She volunteered with me years ago and was there when I started feeling the pull of triathlon.  Jubilant hug. I just can’t pass these up!

8 seconds.

I start up the slight incline that is Lakeside Avenue. I see Paula and Alicia and they snap a few photos as they assess my condition which, despite my back and hip pain, looks like this:

I look to my left and remarkably, Dave, with whom I swim on Wednesday nights, is running right next to me!  He has just finished his first loop of the run and is looking strong. What are the odds?! We run together for a moment, encourage each other, and then I have to let him continue at his pace.

How cool it was to run with my friend for a moment!

My body isn’t letting me run/jog yet so I switch up to a power walk.  I know I don’t have the luxury of slowing down; I must keep up this pace throughout the entire marathon.  In keeping with tradition for longer races, I am now racing the clock.  By the time I reach Sanders Beach a couple of miles out on the course, I’m maintaining a slow but comfortable jog. Towards the end of that road I get a new surge of energy in anticipation of what I know will be quite a reception just ahead. I round 17th and I see them! My theatre friends hang out at this house on the corner every year. They set up a sound system with microphones (because that’s what theatre people do), cheer on runners by name, play fun music and generally entertain the athletes as we press on. Bill and Laura see me and make a huge announcement to the fact.  Laura rushes out to give me a giant hug.  Last year, after I was pulled from the water having surrendered to my illness, they caught up with me as I was picking up my gear. We embraced and Laura sobbed on my shoulder. It was heartfelt, raw emotion and while I couldn’t reciprocate those feelings because I was too sick to do so, I drew so much strength from that embrace. Yet another moment to remember. So this embrace, on this day, as I am out on the last leg of my Ironman journey, is special-of-a-different-caliber. I give the rest of the group a booty shake to their music before continuing on.

10 seconds.

A runner behind me catches up and says, “Thank you for that dance.  I needed that. It just gave me the boost I needed!” Ha! “Glad I could help!”

I reach the party block. There had to have been about 200 very boisterous college-aged folks, beer in hand, loud music playing, and they’re lined up and cheering like it’s the Super Bowl. I feel like a Rockstar as I pass. On Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive, I know my life-long friend Kim will be at the Mardi Gras aid station and Carolyn, whom I haven’t seen since high school will be there too. Every time someone I know shows up to cheer me on, it’s as if their excitement permeates through me, giving me what I need to get through until I see the next person. This is truly a group effort today. My pace is slowing a little but I try not to worry too much. Still, I start praying for strength. I see a number of people strolling casually and chatting as they trudge along, obviously on their second loop of the marathon and on their way home. I envy that they are able to stroll! Several of them comment as I power by.  “That’s quite a pace you have there. How do you still have this much energy?”  “I have to. It’s my first loop!!” I can almost hear them gasp, though they try not to. “You can do it. Keep it up!”

The Dicksons drive by cheering, and again the Angelos, who are all OVER this course today. I see fellow athlete Scott and he’s hurting but only has six miles to go. Go Scott!  Rather unexpectedly, I see Kathryn with her kids in tow. She runs along the trail with a huge grin and she’s giggling while taking pictures. “I’m so proud of you!!  Look at you go! Cathy, this is so exciting!” What a great surprise. Later, I’m told that she scolded her children because they wanted to sit down while waiting. “You will do no such thing! These people have been on this course for over 12 hours now. Show some respect!” Priceless!

I still don’t need my inhaler.

I keep moving but my back and hips are impacting my pace now. At this point, the maneuver to pop by back into alignment isn’t working anymore. I need Brian out here but I’ll have to deal with it. I see Tom and he rushes over to encourage me. He is on a bike and rides along the road out of the way, prodding me forward. “That’s a great pace. Keep that up and you’ll be just fine. You look great!”

For a short distance, I walk next to a lady who is limping. We chat for a bit and then I ask if she has a blister.  She says, “No, I have MS.” WOW! I tell her how amazing and inspirational that is and I urge her to keep moving. We give each other a side-embrace as we walk together, silently celebrating each other’s journey. The advantage of being a cabooser is that you get to learn about people and hear their stories as you push towards your goal. It not only helps pass the time, but it gives you strength on a different level.  You already have an unspoken respect for one another given what you’re each trying to accomplish, but somehow hearing some of their story inspires you to finish your own journey. I don’t know what happened to her and in my exhaustion I was not able to commit her number to memory so that I could look her up later. I’ll never forget her and I’ll always wonder how her day ended. What a courageous journey.

I approach the “theatre house” but only Laura and Julie are out front. “HEY, guys! Cathy Stephens is IN THE HOUSE! Get out here!” And the most entertaining greeting erupts. They all file out from the backyard, having been sipping on happy juice for several hours now, and in true funniest-people-I-know fashion, they rush onto the side of the street, jumping up and down, waving arms, cheering me on in their theatre way. “Cathy, you’re a Rockstar! You go, girl! We’re so proud of you! I know it’s so uncool that I have a cigarette right now, but you’re so awesome! Want a foot massage? Beer?”  They’re all talking over each other (because that’s what theatre people do) and they make me laugh hard. I wave my arms in the air and bid them good-bye as they cheer behind me and I’m good to go for another couple of miles with yet another dose of adrenaline. That was hysterical.

I turn onto 8th street and have a couple of miles to go before the halfway point. I look up to see Janine taking pictures. She’s wearing a sweatshirt, shorts and a backpack full of food and drinks for the day, but runs along the sidewalk next to me anyway. “You are doing awesome! Cathy, you are totally living out your dream right now. I’m so proud of you!”  She snaps these photos of me and I think you’ll agree that she’s likely the best photographer on the planet.

My knee, in what looks to be a very odd stride.

My arm. I must be pointing and screaming.

No idea who this is, but she looks to be moving along nicely.

The Yellow Brick Road?

We round the corner and see Brian and Nika and they have my Pirate Turtle mascot! They cheer and Brian, always the comedian, makes me laugh with his Rocky air punches as I approach the special needs area where Ali and Winter are holding my special needs bag!!  What a welcome sight!!  I grab what I need including my flashing light arm band that I know I’ll need. I give them each a gross sweaty hug (they were so gross and sweaty!).

10 seconds.

The halfway point is a mile away. I’m hoping to make it by 8:30, the cutoff being 9:00pm.  I make it at 8:34pm and I’m okay with that but my pace is gradually slowing. I try not to stress about it. I see Paula, Alicia and Crew again and we high-five as I pass by.

High-fiving the crew.

As I approach Sherman I know that every runner coming towards me now is about to finish their race!! I am so excited for them I want to burst! My perma-smile is back and I applaud as we pass each other. I see Todd W. at the library parking lot and I’m really excited that someone I know is about to finish this thing! We high-five in our matching Hammer shirts and he continues on to his finish line. YES! I see Meghan another mile up the road and she’s about to finish too. YES!  I’m so happy for them and I also know that will be me in about three hours. I make the tour again; theatre friends, Rockstar corner Party House, and head out to Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive. I see the Sovereigns! They are looking for Jeremy and tell me that he has a stress fracture on his foot and is hurting. I see him about a half a mile up the road. He only has 4 miles to go! We embrace and give each other a good dose of encouragement. He’s almost an Ironman for the first time!! We break our embrace and I let him move on towards his victory, a huge lump in my throat.  I am so proud of him!

8 seconds.

One mile at a time, I plod forward. I reach mile 18, back and hips hurting, pace slowing a little more but I will make it!

And then I realize in horror that I have made a critical error.

Ironman CdA 2012. The Bike!

I burst out the door of the warming tent, knowing it took much longer than it should have to transition but it was literally wall-to-wall women in there so I’m pleased to have made it out.  I am so happy right now I feel like my heart may beat right out of my chest.  I assess my asthma. Lungs are full and clear, no wheezing, even after that cold swim. I took my inhaler only as a precaution this morning, as that is standard practice before exercising for asthmatics. But I really didn’t need it and I smile broadly as I am reminded of that miracle.

I stop in front of the sunscreen slather-onners on my way to my bike. My BIKE!  This is my love; cycling.  I don’t have a fast and fancy triathlon bike. I wish I did, but it’s a considerable investment. What I DO have is my beloved steel (yes….STEEL) Serotta road bike which was custom made to fit me (also a considerable investment). And that’s not easy given my funky biomechanics. Still, I will need to stop along the way and ask for assistance from volunteers with popping my back into alignment. Ugh. It’s annoying but comes with the territory for me.

Ready to ride!

I have registered with My Athlete Live and have a tracker (or a stalker if you prefer) so that friends and family can stalk me from the bike on. I told them that if I am stopped on the bike for more than 3 minutes, something may be wrong. I’ll have to make some bathroom stops but I’ll time those to go along with my back adjustments; two or three at the most. Bathroom stops; let’s pause here for a moment. Our parents spent considerable time teaching us how to pee in the potty instead of our pants. If we pee in our pants, it is called an “accident” and it’s not recognized as a good thing. It’s a common occurrence for kids to pee themselves because they are playing and don’t want to stop the fun. And then they have the “accident.” So relatively speaking, a great deal of effort goes into learning not to pee yourself and as an adult it is generally frowned upon if you do. And then a select group of us grow up to become athletes and as part of our training, although not quite as overt, we are encouraged to pee ourselves so that we don’t have to stop. In the interest of being a “real” triathlete, I have tried. I have! I have had many a long ride out there with no “aid station” in sight. But my body just won’t do it while in motion. I may add this to my official training schedule in the future, in case of emergencies. But for this race, I’ll have to resort to actually using the potty.

I mount my bike, round the first corner, and my friend Ann takes this photo and puts it up as an update that I’m on the bike…..and clearly having a blast.

“In true Cathy style she rode off on her bike and is still riding strong.” Christine Mackleit, photo by Ann Teberg

It’s still early so the streets are packed with enthusiastic spectators. I continue with my point and scream tour up Lakeside Avenue towards Higgens Point.  The entire time, I’m thinking to myself, “You’re HERE, Cathy. You’re doing this! You are living this dream right NOW!” I am thoroughly in the moment and enjoying this journey. I make it back to Lakeside and a number of my friends are lining the street. I can’t see them all as I’m riding by but I wave back, round the corner and head out to the big loop out Highway 95.

It’s harder going out than coming back and the wind has kicked up. I try not to let my adrenaline push me too hard too fast. I remember everyone’s advice on that. I figure if I finish the bike in 7:30 or less, that gives me a decent cushion and saves my legs enough for the marathon. Racing at turtle pace means that you are not really focused on passing others or finishing before dark.  It means that you focus on having as much of a cushion as possible before cutoff times. If all goes well, I will finish early in the last hour. But that means that if anything goes wrong, it could be a nail-biter.

Right now, I’m on track. As I make my way towards the turn-around on the first loop, I see the Angelos! So awesome to have people out on the bike course cheering you on.  Matt and Lindsey hold up their signs for me, Joe drives the jeep and Anna, a fellow proud turtle triathlete and hair braider extraordinaire, jumps out to take pictures.  Shortly after, I see my uncle out there too! I point and scream and continue on. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes to have people on course cheering for you. It’s a long and lonely day out there, especially for caboosers. On this first loop, the course is still packed with riders. That won’t be the case on the second loop so I take in the camaraderie while I can. I cruise through the first bike aid stations, not really needing anything but, wow. Those volunteers are amazing. Upbeat, smiling, offering you anything you need. It adds so much to the day and as the excitement continues to build, I realize at about mile 50 that I still have a perma-smile on my face.

My stomach does somersaults as I near downtown. Not just because the crowd will be there to give us a new dose of adrenaline, but because I know I’ll easily make the halfway cutoff time and that my coach will be right there to witness it. He runs the bike course and I can’t wait to point and scream as I fly by.  Before I get there, I spot my sister and nieces. BIG smiles as I pass them. I know what it’s like to wait for hours for someone, and then once you see them, it’s almost too late as they speed by on their bike.

I approach mile 56 and see my coach. I call out to him and he shouts some words of encouragement.  The crowd is huge downtown and I have fun with them. I have a nice cushion and I’m passing through the crowded streets of cheering spectators. As I approach mile 57, I hear a not-so-welcome noise and it’s in time with my cadence. I jump off the bike. Front tire looks fine. Back tire; holy…whaaa? The tire is coming off and the tube underneath is bulging. As I gape at it in disbelief (how could this be?), it explodes, loudly. %^&*^#!!! I don’t know what it is about me and longer races but I get a flat almost every time. At least it doesn’t throw me off anymore. I inspect the tire. It looks sound, but I’m not 100% sure. It was a very loud pop. A nearby volunteer hears it, rushes over and makes a phone call to beckon tech support to my location. Awesome!!  I don’t know why she had that magic number but I was so grateful. I don’t know how long it will take for them to arrive but I decide it’s necessary to wait and be sure about that tire. He arrives and tells me to pack everything up and he’ll take care of the rest. I take further advantage of the situation and ask him if he wouldn’t mind helping me pop my back into alignment. “Sure, if you don’t mind helping me with mine!” Ha!

I’m back on my way but have lost time. I think about 14 minutes of my turtle cushion. I’m so glad I had it to lose. However, if past experience is accurate, winds will be picking up on the course.  I have no choice but to start really pushing it, which may compromise my legs for the marathon but if I can’t make it off the bike in time, the marathon doesn’t matter.  I know I’ll have to make at least one more stop, maybe two, before the turn-around or my back won’t make it. I decide to stretch that out as long as possible and try to limit it to one, if that.  I know people who are watching online know that something happened. But I’m still feeling fantastic, lungs are clear and I’m still having a great time, still in slight disbelief that this is happening.

Living the dream!

The cutoff time for the final turn-around just after mile 90 is at 4pm. I know I’ll make it, but with maybe only 10-15 minutes to spare depending on the winds. I end up having to make two stops for my back along the way but I try to make quick work of it.  At one of them, they make me feel like I’m stopping at the Ritz Carlton. They were amazing!  As I’m heading up one of the steeper hills, I look over and see not only my Uncle Charley and cousin Ryley, but Grandma is with them!!  My 92 year old grandma made it out to the course. Awesome!! I point and scream as I trudge along. I see the Angelos again and they all push me along.

A fellow athlete asks me what the cutoff time is as I pass her.  It’s on all of our minds.  It’s getting intense. The winds have indeed kicked up. I make it with only 8 minutes to spare and am so happy to make that turn! But as I start heading back, I reach the point where as I glance at my watch, I know that the those riding towards me aren’t going to make it in time. My heart hurts for each of them. We’ve been passing each other for a few hours now, encouraging one another to keep it up. I decide to simply give them a very deliberate nod as we pass each other.  A head-up-straight nod; not the sympathetic head tilt.  They already know, and their hearts are broken. They just need a straight up nod that says, “I so respect you.”

I continue on with the rest of the back-of-packers. One gal was racing for Team DetermiNation as my cousin did in January. We prod each other along that last long hill and congratulate each other at the top. As I approach town again, I know I’ll finish at or about 5:15pm, a mere 15 minutes before the cutoff. I have all but lost my cushion but I make it and as I turn that final corner, I know that I’ll also finish this race, although it will continue to be close.  My heart is absolutely bursting with joy. I cannot, nor do I want to contain it!

Final turn!!

“And she finished her ride!” Christine Mackleit

On to the run, and that most amazing finish line…

For My Fellow Asthma Sufferers

I want to take a short break from this story about how I have overcome a life of limitations due to severe asthma to let you know that I WILL be sharing more about how I am able to do this. I have shared some so please read through my blog, there is much more. Part of my drive for this blog is to help others who have this illness. I have nearly lost my life several times over the years and spent countless days in the hospital or just isolated from the world.

By the way, I will not be recommending that you cease your current prescription meds. Rather, that the regimen I now use is supplemental to prescription meds.  I still take my Advair (which allowed me to start running in the first place – I just don’t need as much anymore but I communicate closely with my doctor about how much to use now). However, I have found that I rarely need the prescription meds anymore and the new type of treatment I receive for colds/sinus infections and environmental factors is effective, complete and has no side effects except health. Further, that the focus on whole body wellness and making sure that at a cellular level, I am getting the nutrients that we all need, and in particular those that asthma sufferers in general tend to need in abundance, has made the difference that allows me to live almost as if I don’t have asthma;  at least most of the time.  I’ll go into more detail but as a preview, here is what I am making sure my body gets daily:

Ample amounts of Vitamins C and D (for me, 10,000 mg and 10,000 IU respectively)
; 3000 mg of quality Omega 3s (my doctor advises that the DHA and EPA content must add up to at least 1000 mg), appropriate amounts of quality antioxidants, a good probiotic to keep the system clean, and I have eliminated most dairy from my diet.  Not all…..I’ll still have cheese on my pizza! I’ll break this down, send you to some research and let you hear from some doctors in later entries, including some exciting research that demonstrates the significant impact that the right nutrients have asthma and other illnesses that are characterized by or at least have some element of chronic inflammation .   I will then talk about what I do when I get a cold which is a major trigger for most asthmatics.  It’s truly amazing.

I will be reverting back to previous experiences so as to paint a clear picture of how severe my illness has been in the past.  Partly so that other asthma sufferers know that they are not alone.  Dialogue and sharing experiences can be an extremely comforting tool.  I hope that my fellow asthma sufferers can see that some rather simple changes made such an enormous impact on my illness and my life, and perhaps it will give them hope.

I ran 10 miles this morning (not run-walk-run) and didn’t have to use my inhaler once. Here’s to a life without limits!