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Sunshine, Tanlines, and Gasparilla

Sometime over 6 months ago, I planned on heading to Tampa for the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic. This was in the midst of a large grant writing project that was to go in in January… that is now going in in April. I had also decided Siesta Key was the place to be for some rest and relaxation before the race. So I booked the flight, booked the rooms, registered for the race and the weekend was set.

I got in Wednesday. I was doing okay until I wasn’t. I got off the plane and saw Cigar City Brewing immediately and instantly thought back to those layovers that Dustin and I would go there for a beer (or 2) and Cuban sandwich. I could see us there after Puerto Rico 70.3. I remembered what we talked about. I teared up. They were good memories.

I headed to Siesta Key, checked in to my place. Realized I am an awesome hotel picker (aside from that one time for Augusta 70.3) and headed to the room then straight to the beach! Took a little walk and just relaxed. I live like a half mile from the beach now and I rarely do that now. But Siesta Key has beautiful water, even on a bad day.

Katie joined me – I also picked this place because I knew it was pretty close to my friend Katie’s house. We kept it low key that night. Went to a great little coffee place the next morning – Lelu’s. It’s been a while since I had coffee that good! We shopped around for a while and then I needed to get an open water swim in… of course I packed my Roka wetsuit… I brought the sleeved one since I hadn’t worn it yet – Waco 70.3 was canceled and it still had its tags on it! Oops! haha.

Lelu’s
Open Water Swim and Beach Time
The water was perfect! And just the way I like it, with a side of murky!

I headed into Tampa on Friday. Checked into the race. Got the goods and then went for lunch with my parents. My Mom decided to do the Lime Cactus Challenge (15k & 8k)  while I was in for the Pure Gold Challenge (15k & Half Marathon). Dustin would always refer to these as my “dumbass races”. haha. Mom’s friend, Shawn, also came up to run it all – it was good to see her too! 🙂

15k – It was humid which I’m used to; but, we have winter here in Galveston and while most days it is 100% humidity, it was also kind of warm in Tampa. It was weird, I am used to getting a call or text from Dustin saying have a good race, you’ll do great, etc. I knew I wasn’t getting that but I also was thankful my iPhone had that glitch and I had his voicemail from the Houston Half Marathon morning. I listened to it, I cried. People probably thought I was crazy.

I was having a pretty good run (aside from random tears) until I realized I blistered up my feet. This girl hates socks. I have NEVER sweated the way I sweated this weekend (and thank goodness I packed my Aloha bags for the wet clothes). That was around mile 6… at mile 7, I got the push I needed when Caleb (one of Dust and I’s friends) texted me, “Good Luck! You’ve got this” – we had had a little talk the day before about stuff. That came in at the most perfect time though… I pushed through and when I got to the finish Katie and her husband, Jeff were waiting on me. I became so emotional coming into the finishing chute. I ugly cried in Katie’s shoulder and told her how much I miss him but how much I loved them for being there for me. I had 5 blisters to deal with.

I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Half Marathon – Sunday came and it was EARLY. We had a start of 6:00am; that’s 5:00am Texas time. I had moleskinned up my feet that morning & put socks on. Hoping for the best but prepping for the worst. It was HUMID. I knew I should have opted for a different top – cotton on a hot, muggy day is not your friend. I felt a little more at ease starting the half marathon. According to Travis, I had my second fastest 10k since he started coaching me and this was on tired legs. According to my Garmin, I had my fastest mile time since 2016. No clue where that came from but I was happy to hear it!

Oh Hey Meb!

Halfway through, I spotted a couple triathletes and talked to them a little bit. You know, the usual, oh what Ironman’s have you done? To hear them surprised I’d been out there just as much as they had been – ugh. The best surprise on the course wasn’t Meb – I mean that was cool but it was seeing Heidi! I met Heidi in New Orleans when her husband, Scott, was at the same USCG Air Station as Dustin. Dust and her trained for Ironman Florida at the same time and did those long 100 mile rides on the levee together! I had a moment with her and I should have put my glasses back on for our picture! ha. That gave me the last little push to finish it out and call it a day.

I own it, I teared up.

I finished, not the way I planned but none of my training went the way I planned for the past month. I ended my trip with heading to Publix for the Cuban’s to bring home with me. Dust and I would always bring them back with us and freeze them (they do really well). I had planned on bringing a couple back for him but we know that story. At the airport, I went to our spot at Cigar City Brewery. I had my Jai Alai and thought of our good times there. I was texting with one of my friends, Greg, and started tearing up. The bartender asked if I was okay and I told him about Dustin and I’s tradition. And I felt some peace in that.

I know there are good days and probably some not so good days ahead. But I know I am surrounded by the best people in the world. Knowing that Dustin told a couple of our close friends, if anything ever happens, look out for her; they’re doing just that and I love him more for thinking about something like that – no one should but that was his line of work. It’s still very surreal. It’s already been a month since he left ALL of us. I always knew he was special but to know how he left different impressions on each and every person’s life, he has a legacy.

I’m going to continue being raw and vulnerable on this blog. I want you all to know more about him, about us; you know – only the good stuff though. Grief is a strange thing and everyone processes it differently. I’m going to harness the pain and go about it the way I know he would want me to; through training and racing.

Post Puerto Rico 70.3 festivities
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#DUwork

I’d rather die while I’m living then live while I’m dead. – Jimmy Buffett

I don’t even know where to start with this post. Dustin Bernatovich, my rock, my best friend, my person passed away in the early hours of January 28, 2019. He was a good man, a fierce competitor, an American hero, & the love of my life. His Dad talked to me about this Jimmy Buffett quote and Dust lived life just that. Time just wasn’t on our side.

I’ve not slept well. Training has been hit or miss (which would upset him). I’ve looked through pictures. At all of the living we did together over the past 9.5 years. I smile. I laugh. I cry. I remember all the memories and great times. Sometimes he pushed me out of my comfort zone and for that, I’m a better person.

There were certain things we always talked about going to do, or going back to do. This year, is about seeing those things through for US. I look at this as doing what we loved and knowing he’s still my biggest cheerleader so I’m heading out to #DUwork.

Galveston 70.3
I was already registered for this one and I’m sure it’s going to be a tough day for anyone who knew him, but it especially will be for me. This is my first tri of the season and he’s the reason I got into triathlons. I still remember him saying, ‘it’s harder than it looks’ and me just giving him that whatever look.

I’m excited to share the course with so many people who loved him and his spirit. We’re going to celebrate him that day and go out there and give it our all.

Tchoupitoulas Barathon
Because 6 miles, 6 bars, and 6 beers is a good idea in New Orleans in May. It happens to be the same weekend as Crawfishman. We had a blast at this race with our friends. The best part was going back to the house after and watch those who maybe stayed at the first 4 bars too long and had to get their friend’s push them in a buggy from Rouses. Of course we would still be having a beer but so much fun!

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Crawfishman
I’m heading back to Louisiana where I watched him at what was one of my first times spectating a triathlon after we got together. They actually called the race early because of a torrential downpour. I raced it in 2011 with him. I can’t wait to toe the line with some of our favorite Louisianan’s.

crawfishman

Atlantic City 70.3
Dustin was stationed in AC from 2011-2013. I moved up at the end of the school year in 2012 from Mississippi. When this race came about, we talked about going back, several times, to race it. We loved running on the boardwalk, fishing (jetty, beach, & he’d spend time with Jake and his boat after work), a little gambling (he liked his craps), brewing beer, & we were literally everywhere on our beach cruisers! We lived a block of the beach and with this course, I’ll get to run past it 4 times and the jetty’s where we fished 4 times.

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Mardi Gras Marathon
In February, 2020, I’ll head to New Orleans with my Mom. That’s where our life together started in September 2009 at the Balcony Bar. I ran my first marathon, this marathon, in 2011 – with him meeting me around the course on his bike. He was even at medical early on in the race when I was having foot issues. I drank a lot of alcohol that day between the ‘aid’ stations and his pit stops at the bars on his bike – I had to taste what he was drinking! Haha. I can see him now leaning on his aero bars with a cup in his hand smiling at me. I’ve always loved New Orleans and our time there so I’m excited to head back and I’m sure I’ll be picturing him on the course with me.

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Puerto Rico 70.3
Last thing will be Puerto Rico 70.3. It’s no question that we have a love of islands and pretty water. When we went in 2016, I had a terrible race. I had my feelings hurt when everyone we were with left the race while I was still out on the course. When I was coming in, I asked where they all were and when he said they went back to the Air BNB, he saw how sad I got. I hope no one feels disappointment like that. But on the flip side, I hope everyone gets to have a Dustin in their corner who cheers you on even on the crappiest of days. He walked with me in the microwave. He hugged me when I finished. We ended up going off on our own that night and we had a great time. A little sore and sunburnt but it was one for the books.

Anyways, we had talked about how we would like to go back there so when my friend Sabrina asked me if I’d like to go race PR, I said absolutely yes.

So here I go… this weekend I start in Gasparilla with my family and friends in what is sure to be an emotional weekend. I had been fretting a lot about this race because it will be the first time I will not have had a call or text from him before and after the race. Yea, I know he’ll be with me in spirit but it’s just not the same. So over the weekend, for what reason, I do not know, all my deleted voicemails reappeared. In there, there was one I hadn’t even listened to from the Houston Half Marathon race morning. I had called him back so I just deleted it (and I go in an clear out the deleted voicemails, too). I started crying when I heard his voice telling me “good luck, you’re going to do great”.

This year is about making something positive out of something tragic and full of sadness. There are days I struggle because I love and miss him so much but I know this is something we should have been doing… together. There’s a couple other things planned for the year but I’m not releasing those just yet. Don’t put anything off. Go out and live while your living.

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Nervous Energy for Atlantic City 70.3

Here we are. Less than 30 days out and I find myself questioning my training. Questioning my ability to finish. Questioning EVERYTHING. This race won’t just be physically taxing, but also mentally; not because of the race but because of all our memories in Atlantic City.

When Dustin was leaving New Orleans early, he was PCS’ed to Atlantic City with 2 years left. As soon as he found out, I believe it was around October, he asked me to move with him. I was in Missisippi at the time and we were making it work as I had a promotion opportunity and it was only a 5 hour drive. I told him I needed to finish out my school year and then I would be there, in New Jersey.

While we lived there, we saw TRI AC but I never really raced in our time up north and he hit the majors, New York City, New Jersey State, & the Philadelphia Tri. I mostly did half marathon’s while we lived there.

I started thinking last night about how we would always go out on our runs together on the boardwalk. I’m going to run past our old house, past the old entry to the boardwalk. I’ll go past the bench where I will always remember him sitting waiting for me to get done. The beach where we fished and took our dogs. Riding our beach cruisers, me running into a trash can one night (I think that only happened once) coming home from Robert’s Place, or him picking me up from work and I’d ride home on the handlebars of his Villy Custom. We have so many memories, great memories. He was supposed to be with me; we planned on doing this race together.

I know I’ll finish and I know it’ll be a hard day. It isn’t just about the line, it’s about something bigger, it’s about doing something we always said we would do… TOGETHER. He will be there, no doubt; but I assure you, it’s not going to be the same.

This is my first tri this year and it’s largely in part because of my fears. I cried a lot at Gasparilla, and I’m sure I’m about to head down that path again but I also know, because we talked about this, I need to find a way to heal and to move on. Triathlons were a large part of our relationship, our partnership. And so that is my chosen path. So… Atlantic City, I’m coming home.