Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Snowshoe Worlds: Bravery, not Perfection

My goals for 2019 are lofty. They are challenging and require grit. But I believe I can have everything I want as long as I hang in there.
Hang in there.
The longest.

Be Brave. Be Gritty. And Always Give It One More Try.

The 2019 Snowshoe World Championship was set in the breathtaking village of Val di Non.  The spectacular 8k course provided beautiful glimpses of the Dolomites and the Maddalene Mountains.

I arrived in Italy with great fitness but also carried some fatigue from a long season of racing in 4 different countries. The last 2 months had been particular exciting as I raced in 3 different arenas including a half Ironman in California, 3 new-to-me cyclocross races and now the Snowshoe World Champs in Italy.  I was feeling extremely fit and proud of my ability to compete over varied terrain.

I traveled to Italy with my friend Sarah Canney and her husband as well as the other members of the 2019 National Team.  Overall it was a fantastic trip full of the best things Italy has to offer. We indulged in espresso, red wine, croissants and explored the churches and sanctuaries in the surrounding villages.  We visited Venice, Verona, Fondo, Cavareno, and Innsbruck - phew!

My workouts leading up to race day were subpar but I how could I complain as I was running in Italy with views of the Dolimites! Feeling mentally strong also gave me confidence my legs would come around on race day.

Friday night was the Opening Ceremonies complete with a parade and fireworks. The race organization did a fantastic job and the entire night was so exciting I couldn't wait to toe the start line.  24 countries were represented and the race had a magnificent 2300 athletes!

Sarah Canney, Emily Renner and I decided to jog to the start race morning. It was a 30-degree blue bird day - life was good! We chatted about race strategy and our race agendas for 2019. Emily's big goal is to get the Olympic Qualifying Standard in the marathon and Sarah is gunning for a sub 1:30 at the Washington Road race -  and I have a strong feeling they are both going to nail those goals!

We finished our warm up, lined up and before I knew it the gun went off. My plan was to track Michelle Hummel (2018 World Champion and 3x National Champion) from the start. I ended up running with Michelle ( New Mexico) and Simonette ( France ) for 3 miles until they started to pull away.  The leggies were not feeling great but I made a promise to dig deep, be brave and bury myself. This was the last race for awhile and I wanted to feel that delicious pain of digging deep.

Simonette ( France) is in sight but about 2 minutes up on me. I had some work to do if I was going to catch her.

At around 3 mile mark I bridged the gap to Simonette. This took confidence as I was teetering on the edge and we still had a lot of racing to do.  I quickly learned that Simonette is a fighter and as soon as I ran up on her shoulder she surged ahead again.  The last 2 miles was a game of back and forth. I was stronger on the uphills and Simonette on the downhills. As much as I was hurting this was everything I dreamed of. I live for a gutsy back and forth race and I was gifted this in Italy.
The race for 4th

1500m to the finish and the start of the uphill 
Simonette was so strong and never gave up an inch

With 800m to go Simonette gaped me by 30 seconds which consequently nearly broke me.
Breathing like a horse and with lactic acid flooding my body I almost settled for 5th. Simonette was surging hard and the finish line was right around the corner.

"5th at the World Champs is good" I told myself as I gasped for air.

And then Simonette glanced behind her.

She was hurting as much as me. 

I put my head down, pumped my arms and GAVE IT ONE MORE TRY.

4th place with about 5 seconds to spare!

4th at 2019 Snowshoe World Champs!

Team USA scored a 2nd place!

Proud of this one, but seriously, NO MORE 4th in 2019!

My good friend Nacho ( Spain ) 4th overall for Males!

Grazie Infinite to all my sponsors/partners/team for allowing me to chase my racing dreams around the world!
Tom Raffio/Delta Dental
Kurt Perham
Velocio Apparal
Rudy Project
Infinit Nutrition
Juice Performer
Trigger Pin
Runner's Alley
MC Cycle and Sport
Dion SnowShoes

Oh Italy, I will be BACK!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Indian Wells 70.3: NOT FOURTH

"I will not get 4th today."

I was either going to turn myself inside-out to finish on the podium, or I was going to turn myself inside-out and crawl across the finish line.  If you have been following along - this is the story of my professional Ironman career.

Also, if you follow along on social media you probably know how it ended at Indian Wells 70.3: 6th place. A race I am extremely proud of for many reasons.

2017 was a tough year for me. I battled through ( un-diagnosed ) stage 4 adrenal fatigue all the while trying to balance work as a Physical Therapist, coaching, and personal training.  I feel so lucky to have found Dr. Laura Jones who, without question, helped me dig my way out of this massive hole.  With a few necessary dietary tweaks and then 4 MONTHS of complete rest I started 2018 healthy but unsure if Amber-the-athlete would every return in full force.

At the beginning of the season I wrote down a few athletic goals: 1.) Podium in a 70.3; 2.) Qualify for the Snowshoe National Team; 3) consistently run sub 1:27 off the bike

These goals are important because I knew in my heart of hearts if I could podium and run fast I WAS BACK.

photo cred: @higgybabyphotography

As the season unfolded some awesome events took place. I came 6th in Barcelona70.3, I qualified for the 2018 National Snowhoe Team and I battled to a 5th (and SPRINT FINISH) at Mont Tremblant 70.3 with a sub 1:28 run split.

I told Ry Guy after Tremblant 70.3 that I KNEW I was healthy. I survived a sprint finish after 70 miles of racing - and I WON.


This motivated the hell out of me and kept me on track to achieve goal number 1: Podium at a 70.3  Which I did at Dun Laoghaire 70.3 over a brutal, cold, hilly, windy course.

Dun Laoghaire: 50 degrees water :)


But the thing is you can't pick the month that opportunity knocks.  In November, I picked up a few new athletes, started a new business project, and frankly, felt overwhelmed.  I went into Indian Wells 70.3 super fit but I also was bringing 6 athletes and I was also 100% committed to ensuring they all had a good race.

With the extra stress ( good stress, but still stress!) would my goal be attainable?  The few days leading up to the race predicted 55 degrees water - YES!!  I needed something to shake up the flat 70.3 course.  I thrive on hilly bike courses and ice-cream headache cold swims.

Side note: the venue at Indian Wells is STUNNING. Race it in 2019.

50m pool and 75 degree weather 
 Indian Wells 70.3

THE START: It was cold.  I got off the line fast and thought: Its effin FREEZING.  And then I smiled.  Just what I wanted. I landed in the chase back, stayed there the entire swim and sprinted out of transition ( after nearly toppling over due to a bout of cold-induced vertigo) in 8th.  Perfect, I thought.


Flat courses aren't where I thrive because I am small and need some hills to shake the quadzillas but I was hell-bent on hammering the 56 miles for no other reason than it was the last 56 mile bike race of 2018!

And remember, I was either going to turn myself inside-out to finish on the podium, or I was going to turn myself inside-out and crawl across the finish line.

2nd best 56 mile NP Average 

The pro ladies at the front where hammering and I was trying my best to chase hard.

Thank you, PRO LADIES, for literally making me swear out loud. 

And for those of you reading that think a 70.3 race is an aerobic, boring ride - YOU WRONG!!  I set a 20 min threshold record and recorded some of my highest 1 min threshold numbers.   

And like always, I was thankful to GET OFF THE BIKE. I was in 7th. One spot OUT OF THE MONEY.

Let's do this, Amber.

Chasing hard for the last money spot

The run course at Indian Wells is INSANE. It's on a golf course with short, spikey hills and sharp twisty turns. SO AWESOME.  I kept my eye on 6th position until I finally passed with 3 miles to go and never looked back.


Somehow I found more energy to sprint into the finish and thought: I am coming after you 2019.  Starting first with Snowshoe Nationals on Januar 6th, 2019!

A HUGE thanks to my sponsors and team:
Kurt Perham
Delta Dental
Velocio Apparel
Infinit Nutrition
Runner's Alley
Juice Performer
Rudy Project
Trigger Pin

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Rut 50K: Own The Result

The Rut 50K spit me out on the other side loving life, a little bruised and battered and, most importantly, with a few new tricks up my sleeve. The lessons learned from that epic mountain race were plentiful. And if I had to pick the most important lesson it would be: Own The Result.

I came 21st  female on the day. Twenty females were stronger than me over the rugged 31-mile sky race. Period.  I fought hard, I dug deep, and I crossed the line in 21st position.  Does that define me as an athlete? No. But it is important to give credit where credit is due and 20 strong females out-raced me on that day in some of the most beautiful and technical mountains I have ever had the pleasure of traversing. 


I have raced 65+ long course events: 21 full Ironman evens,  42 half Ironman events, multi day cycling races, snowshoe races and a few ultramarathons.   I've had results I am so proud of and I have had the chance to battle it out with my competitors and myself for championships, podiums and many, many 4th place finishes.  (The importance, irony and frustration of the 4th place finish will be saved for another blog - don't you worry!)

An amusing fact is I have yet to have the "perfect" race  so I stopped searching for the perfect race.  I won Ironman Lake Placid 2014 - a race that saw me hustle 3 times to the port-a-potty in the last 15K. My strength as an athlete is I value the 'sufferfests' and tuck away the learning lessons. 

To me, the best athletes cramp, crash, bobble nutrition, toe the line slightly under-cooked or with a little niggle and still come out on top. The best athletes will always #suckitupbuttercup 


-The Rut 50K humbled me, shaped me, made me cry and laugh hysterically.
-It taught me that racing fast down hill takes a tremendous amount of eccentric training.
-It takes a lot of deep breathing and carefully placed footsteps to traverse an extremely steep and technical ridge line without peeing yourself.
-It is nearly impossible to eat your planned nutrition when heart rate is maxed and you're running in the clouds. 
-I now know that the muscle fatigue induced over the last 10K of a 50K race is exponential but racing side by side ( for the first 13 miles) with your best friend ( Ryan ) is absolutely priceless. 

I want to say THANK YOU to the The Rut for mentally tearing me down and physically tearing nearly every available lower leg muscle fiber.  Thank you for gifting me a hefty dose of altitude sickness, scaring the sh!t out of me on your stunning and terrifying ridge line. I raced my heart out, I owned the result and I am coming for you in 2019!


Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Luck of the Irish

Turns out if you want to make your own luck, you have to be open to where life might take you, trust your instincts, and go for it. #BeBrave.

After a heartbreaking decision to pull out of Ironman Lake Placid - because of health reasons and fear that I was not ready to race hard AND recover from a full Ironman- I set my heart on Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.

I knew I was in for a grand adventure when I arrived in Dun Laoghaire and the Irish sea was thrashing the coast line, the wind was howling, the rain was blowing sideways and one of the locals cheerfully said: "You're Lucky! This is the best summer we've had since 1954!"

I learned quite quickly that Ireland is stunningly beautiful and green for a reason. It rains. A lot.  But the locals are full of character and cheer - is it the Guinness? Turns out, if you want the Luck of the Irish you have to be open to where life might take you, trust your instincts, and GO FOR IT.

Let's all start a 70 mile race in the red zone!! ;)

The swim was a brisk 57 degrees in the Irish Sea. 

Checked 'swim in the Irish Sea' off the bucket list. 

I also checked 'made the lead pack" off the bucket list! YASSSSS.  I need to give credit to my Concord, NH swim crew for that achievement ( Aryn, Dustin, Jon - LOVE YOU).

The Sea itself was unforgivably choppy and COLD.  I am usually quite confident in the swim but I had to keep reminding myself to breath and keep a rhythm because there were some scary moments in that chop!

I was thrilled to exit the swim with the world champ Em Pallet and with just one female ahead of us.  Time to attack the bike - my favorite.

If you haven't raced in Europe - you should.  It's breathtakingly beautiful, rugged, extreme, hilly -  everything I want in a race.  

Plenty of  steep and prolonged climbing!

Climbing Sally Gap with Tine Deckers in sight!

Moments before descending Sally Gap

Stellar view of Guinness Lake in the Wicklow National Forest

The bike was dreamy! Ferociously hilly and challenging in every way.  As I crested some of the climbs I thought for sure the cross winds would blow me into Guinness Lake. And as I descended into fog, wind and rain I thought for sure I was going to have a race-ending crash into a long-leggy-necky ( Irish Sheep).  
But fear is my opponent, right? No one is faster or better than me - only less afraid? (At least that's what I kept repeating to myself.)  I came off the bike in 3rd with another potential nail-biting scenario with 4th, 5th and 6th all within 20 seconds.    

Missing Ry guy and his cheers but the Irish crowds were fantastic. ( Again, is it the Guinness!?)

Because of the strong winds and rain on the bike I started the run significantly under-hydrated due to missing a few aid stations on the bike.  The goal of the first 3 miles of the run were to get some fluid back in the body - a body that was desperately trying to hold onto 3rd. After 3 miles of chugging Infinit, coke and water I started to feel like I could finally push. 

Competition holds the promise to bring out the very best in us.
At mile 6 I knew I could not let up 1-inch if I wanted a spot on that podium. 4th place was running very strong and  just 50 seconds behind me.

But every turn around I smiled at her and encouraged her, because, I needed her. I needed her to run strong to push me.

In competition we are never alone. We are all struggling for the same things.  We should seek OUR absolute best with the help of each other.

In order to achieve my goals I need you to challenge me.

Lot's of love to the STRONG FEMALES in my life because you inspire me, you drive me, you set my SOUL ON FIRE. Here is a promise to race my heart out and not quit when it gets difficult because that is where the magic happens.

So much pain that last 5K for the PODIUM!

I am more than thrilled to podium in Europe but even more thrilled that my body is almost back to 100%.

I have taken a few days rest and now it's back to the GRIND as the The Rut 50K in Big Sky Montana is just a week away!

HUGE HUGS to my sponsors:
Tom Raffio and Delta Dental
Velocio Apparel
Infinit Nutrition
Juice Performer
Runner's Alley
Rudy Project
MC Cycle and Sport
Massive thanks to the boss/coach Kurt Perham for the coaching guidance over the past 7 years!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Mont Tremblant 70.3 - Fries covered in gravy covered in cheese

I have raced all over the world and Mont Tremblant is one of my favorite race venues on the planet.  And it's not just because I get fries covered in gravy covered in cheese at the finish.

It's because the race magic at Mont Tremblant is real. The race organization knows how to put on a show and make you feel special. Everything from fighter jets soaring overhead to signal the start of the race to the red carpet you sprint over through transitions. The race venue is beautiful the people are beautiful and the experience is magical. And you get fries covered in gravy covered in cheese at the finish.

Special thanks to Delta Dental for supporting my crazy dreams. I love to work hard and dream big and its so special to have support of a company that believes in me and dreams bigger than me!


THE SWIM - 27:30 ( 1:15/yard)

The fighter jets soared, the gun went off and I got off the line fast! I actually said in my head, "Damn that went well." For 3 blissful minutes I was on the feet of super swimmer Rachel McBride who was on the feet of Meredith Kessler who was on the feet of Jen Spieldenner (3 of the best swimmers in the world/sport).  Shortly after this I deviated left (or they deviated right) either way I was now in the chase pack.  The question is this: with lats like these why can I never hold the front pack?  All feedback is welcome.

THE BIKE -2:30 (21.9 mph)

One benefit of completing 60 Ironman events is I have  experienced ALL. OF. THE. THINGS: intense fatigue, superhuman powers which is then usually followed up by cramping quads, severe nausea, bliss, delusions of grandeur, heartbreak, ecstasy, lothing, ravenousness which is then usually followed up by, once again, severe nausea.

Not every one of those races went well and I've learned a lot from my previous bonks/blowups/sufferfests.  I make a point to make a bad race a learning lesson and I have latched onto some physical and mental tricks when the legs/body refuses to cooperate.  For instance, during the initial 60 minutes of the race my legs would not come around.  First on my list of tricks is reverting to the tried and true bullying technique.  This simple trick involves me verbally harassing my quads.  If the bullying technique falls through I ditch my power meter data and make a point to thank all of the family/friends/sponsors that support me every 5 or so miles. And if that doesn't work I pull out the dependable Donkey card which will be detailed in a moment.

Mont Tremblant does a fabulous job in regards to televising the race.  The TV crew on motorcycles zipped by me at around 25 miles ( just as I was contemplating the donkey move) and stopped for a moment to film. I know the entire race staff at Mont Tremblant so I smiled and waved and they smiled and waved back.  I'm not sure if this was the race magic or my legs just decided to play along but this smiley interaction gave me some gumption. It also coincided with me spotting a few ladies up the road.  I knew this was the moment to pull the move and I decided to do a strong 15 minute surge to try and catch them. Fifteen minutes of above threshold power had me catching and passing the females and moving myself into 5th position and making a big gap on 6-10th. Donkey move #1 of the day pays off!

The RUN - 1:25 ( 6:29/mile)

Right out of the gate my legs were on board. Turnover felt fast, breathing felt in control and I was on the hunt.  The run legs don't always come around so fast so I tried to enjoy the feeling! I looked down and I was holding 6:20's which I thought was perfect for the first 3 miles.  Ry guy was awesome out on course and I couldn't have asked for a better sherpa/support team.

Ry guy brought his road bike so he could navigate the run course better and it seemed as though he was cheering and giving me splits all over the course.  Two mile into the run he screamed that there were 5 girls chasing hard and all were with in 90 seconds. GULP. Talk about a nail bitter.

I was constantly having to think positive and believe I was running faster if not just as fast as the ladies behind me.  When your breathing is labored and your quads are screaming, positive thoughts can be few and far between.  One of my mantras I always recite is: full effort is full victory. This is straight out of my homeboy Ghandi's mouth.  This mantra will come back to help me in a big way at mile 10.

At 10 miles I REALLY started to suffer complete with nausea and the beginnings of quad cramps.  But that is why I train so hard and remember to push even when I am having "off days" in training. In endurance sports it is crucial to teach yourself to suffer. And no one can help you with that. The art of suffering/appreciation for suffering/love of suffering ( whatever you want to call it ) comes from the HEART. 

At mile 10, I was having a hard time keeping any nutrition down and my turnover was slowing. This is when the 6th placed female ran up beside me.  We were now running stride for stride, both breathing hard, focused, hurting.   Ryan was on the sidelines cheering and telling me to be strong and keep charging.

And here is where I made the risky move to run the 10th mile like it was my last mile. I told myself I would run as fast as I could until mile 11 and if it broke me, oh well, at least I gave it my all.  I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes for a second and just went for it. Valerie held my pace change for 5 minutes. Stride for stride, breathing, focused, hurting.  With a little less than 3K to go Valerie surged again.  I pleaded with myself, "Hang on! Dig deep! One step at a time. Keep pushing!"

Suddenly I realized I had a half a step on her and then 2 strides an then I was back in the lead! But I immediately started worrying. Is this fast enough to hold her off? Was my surge going to come back to bite me. Stop thinking! Just run!

I pushed up the hills and threw myself down the hills. Ry was cheering like crazy and with 1 mile to go I see 4th position 15 seconds up the road!  Everything was a blur as I flew up the last hill spurred by the awesome crowd cheering like crazy.   I had 4th place running 10 seconds ahead and 6th place 5 seconds behind me. A 3-way SPRINT to the finish.

And as painful as it was - this kind of racing is what I live for!  And with that finish I successfully qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.  I am honored and excited and I will make the decision to head to South Africa for World's after IRONMAN LAKE PLACID :)


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Lessons Learned in Spain

Barcelona 70.3 would be my first Ironman race back after the extended recovery/get chunky/rest break. After I resumed training I made sure to do 'just enough' and to 'always save some in the tank' to avoid running myself into the ground again.  The 'always save some in the tank' was extremely hard for me.  Truth be told I like all aspects of training but I LOVE to train hard.  The intense sessions are the ones that excite me and energize me.

I believe if you want to grow/get faster/be stronger/crush goals - you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Actually, you need to get comfortable being WICKED uncomfortable.  And being 'wicked uncomfortable' in this phase of my life meant NOT racing for strava segments every damn ride, sleeping in past 5:30am and not always racing the guys at swim practice.   

In retrospect, abiding to the 'do just enough' principle was great for my recovery but really terrible for my mindset.  Hard training gives me race courage and I wasn't feeling especially courageous going into Barcelona 70.3 -  But the motto has always been BE BRAVE.  Feeling scared and being brave ESPECIALLY when it's difficult is when all the magic happens.

Lesson 1: "This is a wonderful day. I have never seen it before" Deidre and I flew into Barcelona and took an hour long bus trip up to the beautiful coastal town of Calella.  I could feel the magic of the European city as we hiked our luggage and bikes through the tiny streets of Calella to our hotel.  We took a dip a in the Mediterranean Sea which was a convenient 2 min walk from our hotel and I felt immensely grateful for  the places sport has taken me.  We did a quick check over the luggage - everything arrived including the super fast VELOCIO SPEEDSUITS powered by DELTA DENTAL. Phew.

Lesson 2: "Never Trust Anyone Who Doesn't Drink Doffee" It should be noted that every day started with espresso. What is the appropriate number of espresso/capuccinos/americanos while in Europe? Turns out the answer is N+1.  Jet lag should have been setting in but my workouts were going great. Espresso anyone?

Lesson 3: "If you love life, life will love you right back" One piece of advice when traveling and racing is EMBRACE the culture.  I always make a point of eating the local foods and taking the local mode of transportation. Sport is really fantastic but this is lift after all - LIVE IT.   Embracing the culture in Spain looked like copious amounts of cheese, chocolate, baguettes, espresso and of course basket bikes. 

RACE DAY: "The scariest moment is always just before you start."

The swim start was no joke. Here I am in the middle of the pack about to enter a 1.2 mile water battle. For one reason or another it was an extremely aggressive swim but we were racing in the beautiful Mediterranean Sea so I couldn't help but smile ( and convince myself I was swimming fast).  I exited the water around 6th and started to CHASE.

I wish I had pictures of the bike course because the Catalonian Mountains were no joke. The climbs lasted 45 minutes and the descents were UNREAL.  I have never spent so much time out of my aerobars than I have on this course.  It was deliciously climb-y and beyond beautiful. 

The legs were feeling snappy and I was ready to hunt some ladies down when around mile 10 on the bike I dropped my chain which proceeded to get stuck between the frame and the little ring. DOH.  After 7 minutes of yanking the darn thing as hard as I could I finally dislodged it.  I spent the next few moments ordering myself to stay calm and to avoid over-pacing to make up for lost time.  But my rational brain lost this battle which ended in me putting my head down and chasing as hard as I could until I was nearly cross-eyed. You would think after 60 Ironman races ( yep, 60!) I would learn to be less reactive but once a spaz, always a spaz.

I made it onto the run course in 9th and put my head down to do some serious work. The first few miles felt great. And then it got HOT. Really hot.  I convinced myself that all the other girls were suffering more than me and focused on turnover, ice down the jersey and water on the head.  Five miles into the race I had passed 2 ladies and could see 6th place female a few minutes up the road.  The energy from the crazy Spanish crowds spurred me on and with 1/2 mile left I overtook the 6th position for the last spot on the podium and some prize money.  It felt great to be able to push the body hard again and to take an epic trip with my sister.


Deidre and I have been talking about this adventure non-stop since returning.  The beautiful country, the beautiful people, the delicious wine. 

Lesson 4: The best wines are the ones we drink with sisters.