Tuesday, June 16, 2015

10 Lessons from RAAM That Helped Me Become a Mom

Every June, I get both excited and totally engrossed with the Race Across America. I love following along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the RAAM site, Tractalis, and any other way I have to track the race. The stories of exhaustion, suffering, and triumph get me every time. People throw everything into this race. It is an incredible event, and I am lucky enough to have finished it twice in the team category.

Once on an 8 person team, Team Shepherd, in 2012.



And then on a two person team, Power, Pedals, and Ponytails in 2013 with Dani Grabol.


Soon after the 2013 race, George and I decide to start a family. Apparently, the universe decided that we should jump right into family life, because we have two beautiful identical twin boys, Quintin and Candler.


Though they may seem unrelated, I learned so much from my RAAM finishes that helped me transition to being a mother of twin boys.  Here are my lessons!

1. Surround Yourself with a Great Team

In RAAM, your crew is everything. They keep you safe when you are descending the Rocky Mountains in the dark. They tell you stories to keep you awake in the middle of the night. They support you physically and emotionally. They are the soul of the race. RAAM taught me to trust other people with the things most important to me. I had to learn how to let go of some of the control that I used believe that I had. Even when it was hard, I had to allow the crew to do their job and help us get to the finish line.


You can't really see the exhaustion in this picture, but these people got us to Annapolis.


This kind of trust is hard to learn. We want to do things ourselves. Our egos are begging us to take back control. In the end, it is the team around us that makes us strong.

When we had the boys, I barely survived. (Here is the story if you are interested). They were placed in the NICU, not because they were sick, but because I was. From the moment they were born, I had to allow other people to help me. I had heard over and over that motherhood is easier if you accept help. The "if" was not available to me. I HAD to accept it.

Since then, I have become a believer in the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." George is totally hands-on, my parents and in-laws are deeply involved, and I have welcomed help from all corners of my life.

2. Ambitious Goals Make You Work Harder

In 2013, Dani and I worked with Dr. Stan Beecham, a sports psychologist. He asked us what our goals were for RAAM. Initially, I wanted to have more conservative goals. Dr. Beecham told me that conservative goals don't get you up in the morning. They don't push you in your last set of a workout. Ambitious goals push you. They make you stronger and they make you work harder. So we left his house with the agreement that we were going to try to break the 2-person female record. That was the center of our training and our racing. We all knew that was the goal, and we pushed to make it happen.

And we did it.

When I was pregnant with the twins, I knew I wanted to breastfeed them. Anyone who has gone down this path can attest that this is no small task. It is complicated further by babies who are born 5 weeks early, and a mother who is 3 floors away from them in the hospital. This was a goal that I knew would take everything I had, even without those issues. So, while I was in the ICU, I asked for a pump and a lactation consultant. I was still receiving blood transfusions, but I was pumping for my babies. The ICU nurses suggested that I focus on recovering and living. In reality, that's what I was doing. putting my focus out of that scary place and onto my ambitious goal was part of how I made it out of there.

Here I am snuggling my boys in the NICU with the pic line still in my neck.

It took a month, tons of pumping, nursing, working with lactation consultants, donor milk, shields, help from friends, marathon cluster feeding hours, and very little sleep, but we did it. It was no small task, but after all that effort, it felt good for it to work for us. 

3. You Really Can Survive on One R.E.M. Cylce of Sleep

In RAAM you don't sleep a lot. You can't really. There is no time. I found in both of my RAAM experiences that you can keep pedaling with very little sleep. You might not be the best at math or in the best mood, but you can, and you will survive with very little sleep.


When the boys were born, we didn't sleep a lot. At one point, I woke up moderately refreshed after 90 minutes. I vividly remember thinking to myself, "You've done this before, Kacie! This is like RAAM!" It really did help me to know that I might not be my best self without a ton of sleep, but I could still make it.


4. Even If You Don't Want to Eat and Drink, You Should Anyway

I get sick when I am above 9000 feet. It's just how it is. I throw up, and it's awful. I knew this from hiking in the Andes. I knew it from RAAM 2012. It still didn't mean that I didn't throw up in the Rockies in 2013. Apparently my body thinks it needs to purge itself when we get above a certain elevation, and the last thing I want to do is eat. Unfortunately, you can't pedal for long without eating and drinking. My crew had to do some serious convincing to get food and liquids in me in that stretch. George even took me on a "date" where we had "drinks" and "dinner" (aka gatorade and cantaloupe) to try to get some calories and liquids in.



In what came as a surprise to no one, I got very sick during pregnancy. "Morning sickness" lasted all day. It lasted every day throughout most of my pregnancy. However, all of the research on multiples points to higher caloric intake for higher birth weight. In multiple births, you try to gain and gain early (because eventually you don't really have the room to eat enough for the three of you). This was tough since most smells, foods, showers, moving too fast, putting my head in the wrong direction, or my heart rate rising made me throw up. Again, I thought to myself, "I've done this before!" I used my methods of small amounts of food and drink to get through it.

There are no pictures of this miserable time....but our babies were born weighing 7lbs 6oz and 6 lb 3oz at 35 weeks!

5. Constant Forward Motion Is the Hardest, But Most Important Part

I believe that one of the hardest parts of RAAM is the constant movement. The only way to race it is to keep moving forward. But the forward motion is exhausting. You have to keep getting back on the bike, and when you aren't on the bike you are moving forward in the car (as a team of course!). This starts to wear on you partway through. If you learn to embrace it, though, in a zen kind of way, it makes the process easier. Just knowing that this is where you are and forward is where you are going makes the experience just a little easier.


With young babies, the work is constant. They sleep, they eat, they need to be changed. This happens over and over and over again. You can start to feel like you are on a bit of a hamster wheel, and that can wear on you. Again, embracing that this is where you are right now helps. Knowing that there is truly a short period of your life in which you are going to be doing this give me some solace when it gets tough.


6. When You Are About To Break, Things Are About To Get Better

For me, the Rockies were the hardest part of RAAM. I was sick and I didn't feel good. When we went over the mountains, I thought it would never end. Then, I got to take a sleep and eating breaks, and before I knew it we were in Kansas. I know that I might be the only person that enjoys riding across the flat, windswept state of Kansas, but I do. I started to feel human again once we got out of the elevation. I was so happy to be fighting the wind instead of gagging, that I was giddy!



I feel like the babies push you to your edge. You have 5 hard nights putting them to bed, and you start to get nervous when bed time approaches. You started to get worked up and have a little nervous breakdown, and then BAM!  They go right to sleep. Maybe this is one of those "hindsight is 20-20" things, but I swear that it happens to me every time!

7. Take Yourself Seriously

When we were in Oceanside at the start of RAAM in 2013, I started to get nervous a couple of days before. I asked George, "Who do I think I am to do this?" He said to me, "Who the *bleep* do any of these people think they are? That is the beauty of this race! Everyone here is just someone who loves to ride, has worked really hard, and believes they can do it!" That little conversation knocked out the remaining doubt I had in my mind. This goal was ours to achieve.



As a mom, I take my job seriously. I want to provide an enriching environment for my children to grow and learn. We read a ton, spend huge amounts of time outside, go on outings to the zoo and aquarium, and take swimming, art, and music classes. I want them to grow into thoughtful people, and I try as hard as I can to create those experiences for them. I want them to eat well, to be and feel loved and safe, to have rules and expectations, and to learn daily. These are all lofty goals considering the amount of sleep I usually get!


8. But Not Too Seriously

When things got tough on RAAM, you have to remember that it is important, but it IS a bicycle race at heart, and bicycles are fun! A little dancing, some tutus, and a unicorn mask can lift anyone's spirits on the road!


Well timed games of RAAM bingo also make the miles tick away.


Even though being a parent is an incredibly important and difficult job, it is also a chance to enjoy childhood again. Childhood is a blast! Playing with children is the icing on the parenthood cake, and it is important to take those moments and run with them!

And sometimes that means pretending they are Simba in the Lion King opening song.


Or sometimes it means being monkeys and bananas for Halloween.



9. Sometimes, Cuteness Really Helps

In RAAM, we worked hard to get jerseys that really highlighted....our bike paint jobs. And we might have each had our hair washed by Kim halfway through. And our nails certainly looked good at the start of RAAM. Sometimes these things are important.


And if you are putting in the hard work of raising twins, you should certainly stick them in pumpkins.  Because it's cute.


10. Everything Worth Having In Life Is Hard Work

Both of my RAAM finishes were hard hard hard hard work. They tested me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I was drained in Annapolis, but I was so proud to be a part of such an incredible race. In each race, we put ourselves out there and took huge risks. I believe that effort was met with great rewards.


There are a lot of teeth showing in these smiles!


George and I have been on the parenthood journey for over a year now. It is hard work. It turns your world upside down. I love these children so much that sometimes I think my heart will burst. I want to be the very best mother I can possibly be for them. Sometimes, just being the bare minimum takes everything I've got. It is worth it, though. I am proud to be their mother, and I am thankful for the life experiences I had leading up to parenthood that helped me be the best mom I can possibly be.



I hope that everyone on the RAAM course has a safe race! I hope that you learn things in this adventure that will help you in your life journey like I did!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Oh man, it's been a long long time

SO since my last post, there have been a few things going on in my life.

I would really like to start writing a few things in this blog again, but before I get going, I can catch up really quick.

We finished RAAM. We did it in record time. I am SO proud of this.




George and I found out that we are pregnant with identical twin boys who are due in April.



George qualified for Kona again at Ironman Wisconsin and I am so proud of him.



So just a few things have been going on....

Now that I've caught up with the big things, I can work on telling some stories and using my blog again!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Here we go!

Well, this race starts tomorrow. Tomorrow. Not next month. Not next week. Tomorrow.

I have done everything I could do. Dani has done everything she could do. We are ready.

The crew arrived here in Oceanside, and we have had some intense preparations.

Dani and I participated in a press conference:

 
 
Afterwards, we were interviewed on the beach. That was pretty fabulous. You can watch this interview here: http://www.ridefarther.com/index.php/video/riding-the-line/18-media/video/riding-the-line/54-riding-the-line-special-raam-2013-june-12-2014
 
 
 
 
Then, Dani and I were forced to stay in our hotel rooms and rest while the crew worked.
 
Today, we ate some food, and then went through our bike and car inspections. The inspectors were impressed, which meant that it went smoothly!
 
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Then, we had our official race pictures. He were are looking all serious and real:
 
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 And our whole crew:

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We are thankfrul for this group!
 
And then it got silly.
 
 
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After all this fun, we were relegated to our hotel rooms for the afternoon. Then, we were allowed out to go to the mandatory meeting.
 
We wrapped up the day with a team dinner, which was a great and comfortable time to spend together.
 
In the morning, we start this adventure. I love all of the support. Really, when I get in the car after a tough turn on the bike, George hands me my phone. I look at every like, every text, every comment. I appreciate every thought and bit of encouragement.
 
Man, I am lucky to have Dani as my race partner. She has worked incredibly hard, brought fantastic members to the team. She also keeps it light and fun. I hope that when she is feeling down that I can bring her some joy and fun.
 
This morning, I woke up nervous. I looked at George, and fully thinking that I am WAY out of my leauge and said, "Who do I think I am?" Well, I have spent time thinking about it.
 
I am someone that dreams big.
 
I am someone that works very hard.
 
I am someone who is willing to put my pride on the line.
 
I am someone who is surrounded by love and support.
 
I am someone who doens't take no for an answer.
 
I am someone who is prepared.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Our Mini Vacation in California!

So Dani wrote a fansatic, moving, and simply beautiful blog post about her pre-RAAM thoughts. You should read it here.

I am not quite ready to write my version of that blog post yet. Instead, I am writing about my little vacation in Southern California.  At this moment, I am sitting in the hotel room with the instructions to "keep my feet up and drink lots of water," from my crew chief Anne while she and George start picking people up from the airport. Those instructions mark the official end of my play time and the start of actual RAAM prep in California. But, man, we have had some FUN in the last couple of days!

I left off this blog with my nice ride down bike path that makes up the first 8 miles of RAAM. Once I got back from the ride and George from his run, we headed out to this awesome place to eat. I told George I wanted fish tacos, and he delievered:


Fish is the only kind of  meat that I eat, and I really do enjoy some at the beach. We also tend to eat family style when Anne, George, and I eat together. Because of that, I ordered an octopus taco so everyone would try it! Suprising delicous!

After dinner, we went to the beach and watched the sun set over the ocean. I think that a watery sunset might be one of the best parts about being on the West Coast.


The next morning, I got up earlier than Anne and George, walked down the street to Jitters (my favorite coffee shop here!), and spent a few hours reading and sipping a latte. I showed the woman the picture of the chocolate chip muffin with almonds that I had before the start of last year's RAAM, and she promised to make it for me again this year! You better bet I'll be back there to get my muffin!

We went to rent George a bike so that he could ride with me, and we ended up buying the Go Pro we have been talking about for a couple of months. So, I am going to finish RAAM with better pictures then just my phone! I am really excited about it (and calling it my birthday present). I don't really like cameras, but I think it's going to be awesome to film some of my night time decents from the perspective of my handlebars!

Then, mid-morning, the three of us went to go get some omlettes. Then, Anne had a million errands to run, and George and I went to the start of the solo racers. Though our start is not until Saturday, the people who are attempting this race alone (from all over the world) already started.

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There are only 5 women attempting RAAM solo this year. By the time I got to cheering for them, I was so nervous that I could not even stand up anymore. They take a minute to talk to and interview each rider before they start. Watching them, you could FEEL the engery, the nerves, anticipation, and excitement. I actually thought I might throw up by the end of it. What courage they have.

I went over to the expo and bout a couple of souveniers, including this gem of a sticker for my car!



After the exciting start, it was time for some relaxing. My back and legs still felt icky from the drive, so I got a massage at Apothoque spa. Part of my relaxing afternoon also included a haircut with some pink hair dye, and "hair tinsel," which just adds so much to my ponytail!

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Or maybe I just want to look more like Jem. I loved that show when I was a kid. I think this IS my Jem moment!


Now, if I can just find some light up pink earrings.

I DID get my nails painted glittery pink and purple! I told the awesome nail lady that today was not the day for being subtle. This was going to be the little piece of me that was pretty and sparkling when I do not feel that way! I really like having pretty nails when I am racing.

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All in all, it was just an awesome afternoon with Anne! I left that nice salon feeling fresh, clean, and relaxed.
 


Then, George and I went on a ride together. He had rented a bike from a local bike shop, but it is not really all that great. We decided to do about 9 miles har and then easy 9 miles back. It was really fun and helped me shake out some nerves.

After the ride, we went and got some Thai and Sushi. Yum.

This morning, George and I rode down the Coast Highway nice and easy and had a great ride. Then, we went to lunch and had some fresh juice and a great meal.

After that, I was told to go to my room and spend the afternoon resting. Dani is at the airport and I can't wait for her to get here! Ponytails unite!

Photo: Ready to get to Oceanside and be reunited with my ponytail!
 
We start Saturday at noon!Tonight, most of the crew flies in, and they start some serious race prep! Dani and I will be intervied tomorrow at a press conference! You can watch us here:  www.ridefarther.com
 
Don't forget to follow our team's social media!
Twitter: @powerponytails


Monday, June 10, 2013

Made it to California!

As it turns out, training for 2-person RAAM takes a lot of time and hard work. Thus, very little blogging.

But I am here now, I am tapering, and my race doesn't start until Saturday at noon!

Friday was packing day. We rented two of the three vans, Jason installed hitches and racks, and we loaded all of the gear. 

George, Anne, and I hopped in the cars and drove for a couple of hours. We got up Saturday, and drove to New Mexico. Then, we finished the drive on Sunday. I do love a good road trip.
 
And this one had some incredible scenery.

Photo: America, you are beautiful. Stuns me every time I travel across this country.

But by the end, the three of us were very read to see this sign!

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Friday was packing day. We rented two of the three vans, Jason installed hitches and racks, and we loaded all of the gear. 

George, Anne, and I hopped in the cars and drove for a couple of hours. We got up Saturday, and drove to New Mexico. Then, we finished the drive on Sunday.

Now, it's Monday, and my body feels pretty wrecked from the journey. I know I have a few days to rest, ride my bike, get massage, and generally get to feeling my very best for saturday.

Right now, it is time for some relaxing. Today, we went for a walk on the beach.

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I very much feel like this is my chance to relax, and also to get excited about the incredible journey ahead! After our amazing breakfast and beach walk, we headed over to the RAAM start. It was exciting to see some of the solo racers and wish them luck. I have to consider what swag I want to buy at the store still. This town is buzzing with excitement! Even the housekeeper at the hotel wanted to hear all about our team!

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Then, today, I finally got to get back on my bike! My legs felt icky, but that is to be expected right now. I did just do over 33 hours in the car. Ugh.  But, man I was happy to be on my bicycle!

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So now that I am mostly stuck resting in a hotel room (except for excursions to ride, do race related things, and ride my bike), I hope to be able to do some actual posts about the lead up to this incredible race!

Don't forget to follow my team!
www.raam2013.org
www.facebook.com/powerpedalsandponytails
Twitter: @powerponytails