Trading in My Heels and Make-up for Chlorine and Carbs

Some of you reading this may know my story of getting serious about triathlon, but I thought it would be worth sharing the FULL story according to me. Sit back and relax – this is a long one :).

In order to capture my full journey to where I am today, I’ll need to back up about 10 years – that puts me at graduating high school and starting university.  I had run track and cross-country in high school and ran a marathon when I was 16, so I came out of high school with running as one of my biggest hobbies and passions.  I knew how to swim from swim lessons as a child, and I always rode a bike as a kid, so the basics of triathlon were there. I even wrote a paper in high school called “Trying a Tri,” so the triathlon flame had been lit!

I care deeply about being my best at anything I do, and that was reflected in my academics.  Despite graduating high school with a nearly perfect GPA, I still did not qualify for any sort of default scholarship at the school I wanted to attend the most – Brigham Young University (BYU)  in Provo, Utah.  My parents could not afford to pay for all of my schooling, and they were very clear with me that I would have to figure out a way to pay for all of my schooling and other expenses once I started graduated high school.  I remember my mom telling me about some of our family members who had worked really hard and paid their way through school, and at a school like BYU, I would be able to do the same if I wanted to.

After talking with my mom, I decided on my own that I was going to work my way through school and do whatever it would take to not take on any debt.  I have always enjoyed working hard and earning money, and have had a job since I was 15 years old, so it wasn’t too difficult of a transition for me.

Working two part-time jobs through school, I was accepted into one of the most competitive programs at BYU – the accounting program, with the infamous “Junior Core” that consumed any student who walked into it.  Students were encouraged not to work, and to focus strictly on school, so I cut back my hours slightly at work, but still supported myself and worked throughout the program.  If accepted into the master’s program after the Junior Core, students would receive undergraduate and graduate degrees with only one additional year of schooling and graduate tuition, making the whole experience five years.  I did well enough to be accepted into the master’s program and chose to focus that year on tax accounting.

Graduation day!
Graduation day! I was obviously super thrilled haha.

Graduating 100% debt free with a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree is an accomplishment I am proud of and it is something that has allowed me to do what I am doing now. The self-respect, responsibility, and time-management skills I gained during the process are part of what makes me who I am today, and I would not trade that experience for anything.

During my time at university, I became more and more passionate about running, and more concerned with getting faster.  Triathlon really entered my life when a good friend became involved with the BYU triathlon club and encouraged me to get involved.  In the Fall of 2009 I participated in my first reverse super-sprint triathlon wearing an old swim suit, cotton shorts, and using all borrowed bike gear.  I think I made the top 5 or so, which was better than I was expecting.  I loved the fun of triathlon and combining the swim, bike, and run, but there was just one problem – I didn’t have a bike, and while paying for all my own schooling, I wasn’t too keen on dropping a chunk of cash on a bike just yet.

Proof of my first triathlon! My race face has not changed much :).
Proof of my first triathlon! My race face has not changed much :).

All my hard work in school and in the accounting program at BYU started paying off (literally) when I got an internship with Ernst & Young (EY) in Salt Lake City.  I interned there from January-April of 2010, and got paid “real” money.  Once my internship was over, I went back to my budget spreadsheet and made some calculations to see if I could afford a bike AND pay my last year of graduate tuition.  The spreadsheet never lies, so after seeing that the numbers would work, I went immediately to a local triathlon store and spent the afternoon (seriously, HOURS) there getting everything I would need for triathlon.  Wetsuit, helmet, bike shoes, road bike, tri shorts, the WORKS. Walking out of the bike shop, I felt so excited about all the biking and triathlon I would now be able to freely do.  I participated in 2-3 local triathlons a year from that time on, and I was always able to do pretty well considering my level of experience and no coaching whatsoever.  I would swim just enough to know I would be able to finish the swim, and went heavy on all my cycling and running.

Running during one of my newbie triathlons.
Running during one of my newbie triathlons.

Cycling became one of my favorite things to do, along with running.  There weren’t any girls who I knew at the time who could ride hard enough for my liking, so I found several guys who would invite me to ride along. Being the competitive person that I am, I would try my hardest to beat as many of them to the top of whatever canyon we were climbing that day.  It guaranteed a good workout, and I loved every ride. Climbing the canyons in Utah quickly became my sanctuary – I love the feeling of being away from things and covering so much ground with my own physical power, not to mention the gorgeous scenery Utah offers in the mountains.

This was taken while riding up Millcreek Canyon - a canyon favorite! Pictured is my first ever road bike.
This was taken while riding up Millcreek Canyon – a canyon favorite! Pictured is my first ever road bike.

In April 2011, I graduated from BYU and moved up to Salt Lake City, to start my full-time career with EY.  I found a house that was in an ideal location for cycling and running and was just a 10-15 minute commute to my office.  I lived there with roommates for almost five years, and wouldn’t move until I got married at the end of 2015.  The house was perfect for me.

Found this gem - apparently I would set my bike up to my desk so I could burn some calories and study for the CPA exams. I had to do something to stay awake!
Found this gem – apparently I would set my bike up to my desk so I could burn some calories and study for the CPA exams. I had to do something to stay awake!

After working hard to get through school, I was thrilled to be making money and NOT paying tuition.  Working full-time was a nice change, but it was also extremely exhausting during the first nine months as I was also studying for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exams (four grueling exams requiring a score of 75 to pass, each requiring 60-100+ hours of studying).  My life consisted almost exclusively of running, working, studying, maybe a swim or bike ride, and then more studying until I fell asleep drooling all over my text book.  Then repeat. That’s all I did until all my exams were passed. My social life was non-existent, but I always had my running and exercise.  Running, biking, swimming, and strength training saved my emotional well-being.

I found this picture of my co-workers during busy season. Every night was a late night at the office, so sometimes you had to hit the lobby for the big March Madness game - this was my life :).
I found this picture I took of my co-workers during busy season. Every night was a late night at the office, so sometimes you had to hit the lobby for the big March Madness game – this was my old life :).

Over the course of the next four years, my life settled into running 7 or 8 miles in the morning, working all day, and then maybe a swim or 1-2 hour bike ride in the evening.  Saturdays I usually tried to run at least 10 miles or go on a longer bike ride, or both. When I say I would “swim” I mean once or twice a week and it was about 2000 yards of some workout I made up in my head. Usually a 500 yard warm up, and then 10×100 or 5×200 – the main set rarely breached 1000 yards.  I wasn’t usually focused on training for a specific triathlon, but I liked swimming, and in the winter it was another form of exercise I could do inside. Thinking about it now, I realize I just exercised my way through my desk job.  My main competition during those years were the other women (and of course my guy friends) on STRAVA, and the women I lined up to race half-marathons with. Cycling and running were my main focus and I got stronger each year.

With a couple of my cycling friends after the Snowbird Hill Climb.
With a couple of my cycling friends after the Snowbird Hill Climb.

Towards the end of 2014, I realized how dissatisfied I was with my work life.  Life was generally good; I was dating Matt (now my husband), I had great friends and relationships, I was financially very comfortable, I was getting faster on my bike and in running, but I still did not feel like I was reaching my overall potential.  While I was a high achiever at work and felt satisfaction with that, sitting at a desk and working hard for an upper level manager ahead of me in the ranks wasn’t bringing me true joy.  I felt a deep sense that there were strengths within me that were not being utilized, and it was killing me mentally and emotionally. I felt as though my job was sucking the life out of me. Several months passed by and left me feeling less than jazzed about work, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it.  I was sitting there with a master’s degree in tax accounting, 4 years of experience in public accounting, and a CPA license – certainly I couldn’t just throw all of that away, but I didn’t think changing to another tax job was going to be the fix.

The idea had popped into my head more than once in the years prior that I should get a triathlon coach. I felt like a coach would really help me perform better, especially on the swim (little did I know JUST how much a coach would help me with everything).  I would watch the live stream and NBC special of the Ironman World Championship in Kona every year, and every year I had the thought that I wanted to do that, and an even deeper part of me thought I COULD do that if given the opportunity.  I would also follow the top pros in the sport and would think to myself, “if they’re living their dream and doing what they love, why can’t I?”

While feeling completely lackluster about my accounting job, the thought that I should chase a dream of being a professional triathlete popped into my head (again), and it eventually became my most appealing alternative.

True to my risk-averse accountant-like nature, I was afraid of throwing away what I had worked so hard for, and was afraid of walking towards the unknown, especially the financial unknown.  Going “all-in” with triathlon meant paying for a coach, buying more gear, paying for travel, paying for more races, and on top of the added expenses, I would have to cut my paycheck in half because I couldn’t do the amount of training I would want and need to, and work full-time at EY.  It all seemed a little crazy, but I decided it was going to be my best shot at feeling completely satisfied with my life.

February 2015 was when I made my decision.  I decided the financial consequences of going part-time were worth it, and because I had worked so hard and had no debt, I was able to securely make the change without too much immediate risk.  I first told Matt and he was completely supportive, even without fully understanding exactly what it all would mean for him and for our future.  The next week I walked into my boss’s office and asked to talk.  The first thing he said to me was, “you’re not quitting, are you?” I responded with, “not exactly.”  I told him my feelings about working at EY and explained how I felt like I had a passion in triathlon I needed to pursue, and asked if I could go on a part-time and mostly work-from-home Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA).  My boss was always hugely supportive of my running and anything I wanted out of my career at EY, and he was extremely supportive of me going on an FWA in order to chase my dream.  He told me he could tell I wasn’t as happy at work as I once was, and he wanted me to be happy.  He’s one of the best bosses I have ever had.

At a weekend running event with some friends, co-workers, and my boss!
At a weekend running event with some friends, co-workers, and my boss!

My next step was finding a coach.  I really didn’t know very many people in the triathlon community, but luckily for me, I had met a wonderful gal named Jen Johnson in Washington D.C. about one year before.  We were both in D.C. participating in the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, and we randomly met while out shopping the day before the race.  I was staying with a good friend from BYU with whom Jen went to high school, so when we ran into each other,Jen was introduced as someone who “ran a triathlon training and coaching business with her husband.”  I was immediately intrigued and thought “I seriously should just get a triathlon coach” followed by the thought “no, I shouldn’t spend money on that.”  We became Facebook friends after that, so I spent the next year seeing random posts about her “triathlon coaching business she ran with her husband.”

Actual screen shot of what I sent to Jen :).
Actual screen shot of my message to Jen :).

Having Jen be the only triathlon coach I had ever met, I reached out to her on Facebook. We talked on the phone the next night for an hour (probably mostly me venting about my life), and that’s when I was first REALLY introduced to Balanced Art Multisport (BAM). I told her I was ready to go part-time at work and was ready to dedicate a lot of time to triathlon.  I was somewhat hesitant to come right out and say I thought I could get my pro card, but I think the message was clear that I was making big life changes and wanted to see some great results.

 

The end of an era - one of my best friends and old EY co-worker signed his acceptance letter for his new job, and I had signed my flexible work arrangement agreement this day. ALL SMILES!
The end of an era – one of my best friends and old EY co-worker signed his acceptance letter for his new job, and I had signed my flexible work arrangement agreement the same day. ALL SMILES!

I started with Wes Johnson (Jen’s husband and owner of BAM) as my coach on April 1, 2015, and went officially part-time at work on May 1, 2015.  I had an amazing year with Wes as my coach in 2015 and was able to qualify for my pro card by the end of 2015 (see my results here).  The journey has been one of excitement, learning, and adjusting to the different challenges of heavy training and pushing mental and physical limits, but I find far greater joy in what I’m doing now than I did as a full-time CPA.  I have since left EY and now work even more part-time for a small, local accounting firm, but I feel deep gratitude for the opportunities and experiences I had at EY, for the relationships I built along the way, and for the flexibility they allowed me to have as I first leaped into the world of triathlon.

The Rainiest Race of My Life (So Far) – St. George 70.3 Recap

St. George 70.3 North American Pro Championship was a race that will be remembered uniquely (and differently) by each racer who started it. I say “started” because many athletes unfortunately did not finish (DNF). It’s been hardly a week and I’m learning just how diverse the outcomes really were: for some this was a terrifying race, for most it was a crazy weather experience, for too many it was a DNF, for a few it was their first ever 70.3, and yet for others it was just another day of racing.  The differentiator of this race turned out to be the crazy weather – an unusually frigid and torrential St. George Spring day determined so much about individuals’ results. Hats off to everyone who still lined up to start the race and gave it their best, finish or not.  Also, a huge thank you to all the volunteers who braved the weather with us!

St. George 70.3 was my second race as a pro.  The competition was stacked, and I found myself up against many of the top long course triathletes from around the world.  For this race, I tried alleviating my nerves and anxiety by not putting too much pressure on myself. I tried to just go out there and give my best, accepting what comes of it.  But my desire to perform well worked in spite of that, and I did feel some nerves going into St. George. I knew I did not want to settle for a “newbie pro, middle of the pack” attitude. I’m not here to be that athlete.

Race morning came routinely as it always does.  I got to transition, got all set-up, enjoyed the “pro only” porta potties, got a warm up run in, then went down to the water.  The weather seemed pretty nice so far, and I felt 100% optimistic that the weather would be perfect all morning.  My weather app even said so.

The water felt great and seemed decently calm for a good swim.  The cannon went off and released our wave’s sprint off the start line.  I pushed hard, heart beating plenty fast, and I focused on on feet or at least close to them.  I succeeded at my goal until the first turn buoy, when the water transformed into a choppy mess.  At that point, I found myself mostly alone on the swim, except for one athlete who swam slightly ahead of me for the remainder of the swim.  While alone, I used each buoys as a personal check to see if I was pushing hard enough. I got out of the water and noted my time of around 31 minutes.  Disappointment immediately struck because I knew I am faster, but also acknowledged that the choppy water didn’t help. I so badly want my open water swims to reflect the swims I am capable of in the pool; I’m working on figuring that out. In transition I worked to get over my disappointment and focus on what laid ahead.

Running out of T1.
Running out of T1.

I jumped on my bike and within the first 5 miles I passed a few girls, but kept pushing as hard as I could knowing there were even more ahead.  My coach Wes and my family would be on the bike course around mile 27, so I looked forward to seeing them.  Weather was not an issue at this point.  Sure, it wasn’t bright, sunny, and happy outside, but Mother Nature certainly wasn’t freezing my extremities or otherwise dumping rain.

Rolling past my family and coach.

At mile 27 I saw my family, coach, and of course, my dog.  My coach told me that there was a whole pack of girls just a few minutes up, and instructed me to go get them.  Everyone else cheered.  The only “person” I actually acknowledged was my dog :).  Apparently it’s hard to get attention from me during a race unless you’re an adorable, furry, four-legged variety named Winston.

My mother-in-law bought Winston the "Ironman Training Buddy" bandana. LOVE it.
My mother-in-law bought Winston the “Ironman Training Buddy” bandana. LOVE it.

I nearly cried seeing my family.  I don’t know if these emotions were induced by the importance of my family’s support, or if the grueling reality of the race hit me hard.  Either way, I then thought about how badly I wanted to be doing what I was doing at that very moment.  I thought of how hard I had worked to be there; of the things I had changed and given up in my life in order to be racing pro, and how I was out there trying to earn a name for myself in triathlon where many of the women racing already had done just that.  In that moment, my mental game changed.  I felt an added amount of motivation and desire to actually GO catch the other women.  Don’t get me wrong – I was pushing hard and trying to catch anyone I could, but I the reality check of WHY I was out there took me to the next level.  As I write, it sounds so common sense; but putting yourself through so much physical and mental strain doesn’t always lead to common sense mental practices (just ask my husband).

Later in the bike, the complete DOWNPOUR of rain began.  The rain itself didn’t really bother me, and I didn’t seem to lose too much speed or power due to it, other then taking corners a little more gingerly.  Once I got into Snow Canyon, the rain petered out for a bit.  I rode aero as long as possible through Snow Canyon and was able to pass another female pro.  I took the descent into St. George as aggressively and safely as possible in the rain, and arrived in T2 before I knew it.

And then the rain actually got to me.  Once off the bike, I realized just how frozen my hands and feet had become.  Getting my run shoes and socks on turned out to be a relatively slow and painful process, but I got the job done and went out on the run.

Up we go to start the run!
Up we go to start the run!

I felt great starting the run!  I generally always feel great starting :).  I passed another female within the first mile or so, and my coach was there to let me know she was 11th place.  I felt confident I would be able to hold 11th, but could I pass another? Would anyone else catch me?  I took the first few miles quite conservatively as they were all uphill.  During this time I saw another female pro who had obviously decided to drop out of the race. I was sitting at 10th place and I knew it.  Again I nearly cried  at the thought of  a 10th place finish. (I promise I don’t just cry all the time. I put A LOT into this sport, so it means A LOT to me emotionally).

I felt good throughout the  run.  I dismissed pains in my legs and pushed on the uphills and even harder on the downhills. Before the race, I decided with my coach to walk the aid stations to make sure I got proper calories and water, and to help the legs through the run.  I quickly walked probably 9 of them, and I think that paid off.

With about 4 miles left in the run, there were a couple females who seemed to be fairly close behind me (closer than any other part of the run). Ninth was out of reach; but I would not be losing my 10th place, so I upped my intensity and kept shoulder-checking.  Whoever it was, I pulled ahead and they disappeared.  I cannot express how happy I was to crest the FINAL climb on that run.  Despite feeling great the whole run, running up steep hills is never easy. Being on the homestretch and cruising to the finish line filled me with gratitude.

A beautiful race face :), but visibly happy to be on the downhill!
A beautiful race face :), but visibly happy to be on the downhill!

I finished the race in 10th and was THRILLED!  My coach excitedly greeted me at the finish .  My husband Matt ran over and gave me a hug and HE started crying, so then I really had no choice!  We’re just a bunch of bawl babies over here.  But really, we both invest so much into this crazy dream of mine, so to see success unfold just calls for a good cry sesh, am I right? 🙂

After all was said and done, I finished well and got on my first pro podium (Top 10 at a regional championship means money and podium).  St. George was the confidence booster I needed to get my head where it needs to be.  It’s been a mental shift for me to accept that I actually can become a successful professional triathlete (I always believed I could be, but REALLY accepting it and realizing it is another story).  Having a good day in St. George has helped me believe not just that I CAN be successful, but that I AM successful. I just have to keep working hard and believing :).  Every race is another opportunity to push limits and learn!

Amazing group of ladies I was honored to be in the top 10 with!
Amazing group of ladies I was honored to be in the top 10 with!