Update and Race Announcement

Ironman / Update

ONE MORE TIME

 

 “Breathe…and everything changes.” – Seane Corn

 

As many of you know, for several years, I have been dealing with many health issues. As a result, I have had racing seasons that did not go anywhere “close to plan” because of being sick, exhausted, and completely taxed. After seeing 18 different specialists and having multiple tests, scans, stress tests…you name it, I was diagnosed with Exercise Induced Laryngeal Obstruction in October 2017.

Once we discovered what was causing all my symptoms, Jeff and I were determined to figure out how to overcome it! I met with the doctor who diagnosed me (multiple times) and learned a new breathing pattern. The doctor was convinced this new technique would help alleviate some of my pain and discomfort. I did end up learning the breathing pattern and tried to implement it at two different Ironman’s (both overseas). The results were…terrible!

I was starting to believe the numerous doctors who continued to tell me, “You will never race at an elite level again.”  I was truly devastated. I couldn’t help feeling broken physically and mentally.

I took a tremendous amount of time completely off from training. During which time I started working with Aaron Knighton (a Physical Therapist out of Altitude Physical Therapy) who had me working purely on learning how to breathe through my diaphragm. What should seem to be a simple task…took a daunting 5 months!

During the summer of 2018, I was starting to feel like I could do light training again. At the last minute I entered 70.3 Boulder to test my fitness and see how I was progressing. My biggest takeaway from 70.3 Boulder was that building back up was a long road and I still had a long way to go!

As fate would have it, discovering the power of the breath opened a door I would have never thought I would be drawn towards. Jeff’s work, Sounds True, was developing a Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. Jeff off-handily mentioned it in one of our conversations. Upon hearing this news it felt like divine intervention! Jeff was quickly taken back when I immediately started “fire-hosing” questions about the program. Jeff said, “Danielle, why are you so interested? You have never meditated in your life, and now you want to become a teacher?” He had a great point but something inside of me knew I had to be a part of this program! Jeff went on to explain…the prerequisites to this two-year program was a 3-month Power of Awareness course and the whammy…a 10-Day Vipassana retreat.  I did some research and quickly discovered that a 10-Day Vipassana retreat was no joke! It was 10 hours a day of meditation. There was no talking allowed, no dinner except one piece of fruit and tea (for first time students). Meals consisted of eating whatever was prepared for you (i.e. you could not bring anything with you to eat). There were strict no reading, writing, journaling, cellphones or Internet rules. Finally, no medicine to help with pain relief (i.e. Advil or Tylenol). And yes, this was for 10 days straight!!!

I figured if I was going to survive just two days, I needed to start to meditate. This was interesting because I had never meditated before. I agreed to meditate every day for at least 5 minutes but aiming to get 30 minutes/day for 6 months before attending my first Goenka Vipassana retreat in Chicago, December 2018.

It was a very profound experience! The first 3-4 days we spent 10 hours/day focusing strictly on our breath (specifically trying to feel our breath on our upper lip and feeling the cold air coming in our nostrils and warmer air exiting our nostrils).

What I never expected was to have the same horrific pain and sensations I was feeling in my back and shoulders while riding my bike, resurface in an almost identical fashion on my meditation mat. The pain literally took my breath away at points and I had no idea how I was ever going to make it through all 10 days.

There was one exception to the no talking rule. You are permitted during a specific time block after lunch to speak with your teacher. I scheduled a meeting in the middle of day three. Our teacher was a very soft-spoken woman, with short, white, curly hair, in what looked like her early 80’s. She was cloaked in white robes and wrapped in a white shawl. She could sit cross-legged on a pile of pillows by the hours with not even the slightest movements to adjust.  She welcomed me into her private room.  As I sat down, I could feel her presence of peace and grace. She smiled so softly and listened full-heartedly to me. I explained how the pain I was experiencing while sitting hours on end was excruciating and I did not think I could continue in such pain. I also noted how out of the 50 participants attending this particular retreat, 47 of them were using back jacks at this point. A back jack is a small chair that looks like a folding chair without legs and sits on the ground. These provide the meditator with back support. Without a back jack you ideally sit fully erect to give your back the best posture to prevent injury and pain. However, 25 hours in, my back muscles were so fatigued I would have good posture for maybe 10 minutes at the start of a new meditation period and then I started to sink into my cushion and my back would round as my pelvis slid forward and my core disengaged for the remainder of the meditation period which lasted anywhere from 1 hour to 2.5 hours. My intention of my meeting with my teacher was to get a back jack so I could finally have some relief and slouch into a chair.

She nodded her head as I spoke and then when I finished she sat silently looking at me. After what felt like a long time, she said, “Danielle, I think you need to be less reactive.” “Less reactive?!?,” I thought, “I am in SOOO MUCH PAIN!”

She continued, “I believe you can do this.” I looked at her and nodded as I could feel my eyes starting to water up. This meant I still had approximately 75 hours of sitting to do with no pain relief in sight. The thought overwhelmed me. I couldn’t even talk to my best friend/husband about it! However, what also kept repeating in my thoughts were her parting words, “Danielle, I believe you can do this.”

As the days passed, the meditation sessions got more intense with 3 one-hour sessions a day where you are not allowed to move to adjust your position. Once you got situated in your meditation posture you were encouraged to remain there just like a Buddha statue for the remainder of the hour. Sounds easy, except for the fact if you have ever sat for a period of time in one position without moving you know it is inevitable you will have an itch, or tingling, or numbness, or discomfort, or pain at some point. As these sensations arise you are suppose to become the “witnesser” of the sensations in your body. Instead of reacting to them, you are advised to continue breathing and notice how the sensations will inevitably change. Bring your attention to the center of the sensation and truly notice how this too will pass, morph, and become different with time. Seane Corn phrases it beautifully, “Breathe… and everything changes!”

The pain in my back and shoulders was still extremely painful but I was developing a healthier relationship to it. Instead of (at the first sign of discomfort) tensing up and getting upset that it was back, I started to become more investigative about the pain. As I did so, I noticed I was giving it the space and attention it needed so my body would soften around the discomfort or pain. I was really amazed at the realization that when you pay close attention you can actually feel the subtlest of shifts in the sensation. As the days passed, I could feel an unwinding of my body’s tissues. Slowly, my body was becoming more relaxed and supple. After each meditation period, my back would have cracks and pops up and down my entire spine, as if I had seen several chiropractors every day. At night, I was so exhausted my head hit the pillow and I was fast asleep with crazy, vivid, lucid dreams.

Day ten was the most profound for me. As I sat in our second to last meditation session I could feel almost an electric shock buzzing down my throat. It was extremely intense. I was so startled, thinking, “What in the world was that?” I decided to start investigating and could feel an opening in my throat that I have not felt in a long time. My body became extremely heavy as if I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I sat for almost an hour longer then the prescribed meditation period, investigating, and trying to not judge the sensations I was experiencing.  This experience, really made me aware that the body has an inner intelligence and an innate need to be felt, heard, experienced, and lived in! All too often, we spend our lives in our thoughts and emotions and miss the profound experience of noticing how all our thoughts, feelings and emotions have a direct correlation to the sensations in the body as well.

By being in both the mind and body at the same time we become more present in the here and now and tap into what it means to be fully alive.  Or so eloquently praised by Pema Chodron:

“We are in the present moment when our minds and bodies are in the same place at the same time.”

The retreat taught me many valuable lessons but some of the biggest were the following: 

 

  • Everything is constantly changing
  • Suffering occurs when we resist what is actually present. This can happen when we are grasping for more or having aversion to what is.
  • Be less reactive
  • The body has an innate intelligence that when heard, felt and fully experienced, opens the doors to becoming more present.
  • Danielle, you can do this!

 

When I returned from the Vipassana retreat I had to make a decision. Did I want to put in the effort one more time to prepare for an Ironman to see if I could truly overcome Exercise Induced Laryngeal Obstruction and compete at an elite level again? Or to say goodbye to the sport I love. Before the retreat I would have said there was no way I was going to give it another try. After the valuable lessons I learned however, there was a glimmer of hope that, perhaps, it was possible.

I started officially training for Ironman Boulder January 1st, 2019. Depending on how my training was progressing determined whether I was going to be able to compete on my father’s birthday, on my hometown racecourse, Ironman Boulder, June 9th. 

This time my training looks a little different. In the mornings I spend 45-60 minutes meditating. My goal this year is to listen to my body and be more aware of what is happening. I wish I could say after the Vipassana my pain and discomfort (especially on the bike) had vanished but that is just not the case. However, learning the technique of becoming the witnesser and to be less reactive has certainly allowed me to have a healthier relationship to the pain.

I also started coaching several athletes and led a 12-week wind-trainer series. It was coaching these inspiring athletes that truly brought the joy of biking back for me.

It is been an extremely long road to get to the point that I feel I am finally in a place to race again. I am so excited to announce I will be toeing the line of Ironman Boulder on my dad’s birthday.

I will be racing this race for my dad, Dan Kehoe, who has been one of my biggest supporters all my life and has had a huge influence on my life.  He taught his children to never quit and give 110% at everything you do.  I will also be racing for my Aunt Sheilagh, who was also my God Mother, who just recently passed away from (FTD)-Frontoemporal Degeneration- it is the most common form of dementia for people under the age of 60. She was such a beautiful woman inside and out, with a huge heart for her family!  We love and miss you so much!

I want to especially thank my absolutely phenomenal sponsors who have been through this long journey with me and have supported me every step of the way. Thank you so much First Endurance, Wheat Ridge Cyclery, Rocket Science Sports, Blueseventy, and Stages Cycling. I also am so appreciative and thankful to have Aaron Knighton as part of my team, you have been a huge part of my comeback!

Finally, I want to thank God for the greatest blessing in my life, the love of my life, Jeff Mack!

Jeff, thank you for truly being with me through the ups and downs and showing me the person I want to become more like. I love you so much!

Danielle
Danielle Mack is professional Triathlete residing in Boulder, Colorado. She found her passion for triathlons at a young age. However, it wasn’t until she turned sixteen did she really start training strictly for triathlons. Through various paths God has lead her through the years including Xterra’s and Adventure Racing she discovered her ultimate love, long course triathlons, especially Ironman’s!

Leave a Reply