race recap #5: 112 miles of mediocre, but forward, progress…

For as cocky and confident as I am in the water, I know that once we hit dry land, all of those hard core bikers who can barely swim go whizzing past me like I’m not even moving. It’s true. I’ve done studies. Lots of them.

Sometimes people tell me they are jealous of my mad swimming capabilities. And I just laugh because, well, I am crazy jealous of their mad biking abilities. It makes wayyyyy more sense to be badass at biking than swimming. It’s a much longer event in any triathlon and you can really make up a lot of time really quickly. Ironman is no different from any other triathlon I’ve done.

If I had a dollar for every time a biker passed me and said, “hey, nice swim,” I’d be able to buy a new tri bike to make me go faster. Seriously though, all I can hear in my head is “hey, nice swim… (too bad you’re not a faster biker!)! True story.

So. If there is one thing I have learned from triathlons, it is to swim like heck. And then, be humble (once out of the water…).

The bike is where I’ve struggled the most. And it is also where I have the least experience. I’ve been swimming my whole life and running pretty much since my high school volleyball coach made our whole team sign up for a 5K run (which was just about the longest 3 miles of my life). So whereas I’d swam 2.4 miles nearly a year ago and run 2 marathons previously (and countless half marathons), I only rode 112 miles once. Just a few weeks ago.

One of the issues is my lack of skill/ability/confidence on hills. I spent this year training to go UP but never would say I’m an amazing climber. Just ok. Let’s face it, I trained to go UP, which was hard enough. I didn’t train hard to go up FAST and there is a difference.

And going downhill, it takes me some time to build up the confidence on each and every different descent. I rarely descend in the aero bars – I like to have the brakes nearby. I’m terrified of crashing my bike. And those skinny road tires can be squirrely. So I’m a chickenshit compared to many others who will just tuck and go, screaming down the hill at 50+ mph.

Suffice it to say, I have a lot of room to grow as a biker.

Leading up to the big day, I fully anticipated a looooooooong day of biking. My reasonable guesstimate had me spending between 8 to 8 and a half hours on the bike to travel the 112 miles.

Now, before you go and do the math, you are correct… that is incredibly slow. In my defense, there are a few hills to conquer. Here’s the elevation profile from my test ride a few weeks before the race:

IMCDA bike elevation garmin 06.01.2013

IMCDA bike elevation garmin 06.01.2013

Getting out of the water, I felt good. Being out early always makes me feel a little urgent. Frantic. Quick, get out of transition, get out in front of people. Get riding. (So you can hurry up and be passed? I know, right? It has never made any sense to me either.)

The first leg of the bike course runs through town and out along the lake. It’s beautiful and mostly flat and fast and there are a lot of people around – spectators and other bikers. Then, all too soon, you leave town heading south on Highway 95 – away from all of the people and up into the hills.

I realized two things pretty quickly. First, I noticed that my aero bottle was no longer velcroed in at all and was jiggling out of its holder with every bump. I held it in, kept moving and tried to decide what to do. The obvious answer is STOP… but this was not necessarily the course of action I was going to pursue immediately until I realized that my Garmin was tracking speed and time, but not distance. That was what made me decide to pull over and stop.

I fixed my bottle (good news, now I didn’t have to hold it for the next 109 miles…like that was even a feasible option) and fiddled with my bike computer and the little piece that is on my bike spoke to no avail. I jumped back on, not wanting to waste too much more time (look at all of those people passing me! though right now I AM actually standing still) and chose instead to scroll through my Garmin options on the tiny little screen whilst 1) travelling 18-25+ mph, 2) avoiding near certain collisions with other bikers going 24-34+ mph 3) trying to avoid hitting any spectators foolishly trying to cross the street in front of bikes moving that fast, and 4) trying to remember which menu screen would take me to the place where I could check and reset my satellites, etc.

I know. It was a perfectly logical way to go. Multitasking on a bike. Probably as bad or worse than texting and driving. I know.

Fortunately, I avoided catastrophe. But unfortunately, my Garmin appeared to be having sympathy pains attached to my hubby’s watch, which, as you might recall, suffered a busted screen and come to find out later, made it through the swim only to die about 1:45 into the bike.

No major hurdle for me…my watch still told me how long I’d been out, what time of day it was and how fast I was travelling and there were aid stations every 10 miles. It was only an inconvenience – we’d been training on the course since April and I knew pretty much how long it would take me to get from point A to point B.

I had a quick and easy first 56 mile loop. Much faster than I had ever done it, which was both fantastic and troubling news. Everything I had read going into the race said to take it out easy on the bike. Everyone I talked to said that scorching your bike would never pay off and you would blow up on the run.

I was trying to stay positive and in fact, I was loving how quickly I was moving along the course – this was fun! But in the back of my mind, I had a more than slight concern that I was going to seriously blow up… maybe on that last 2 mile hill at mile 100. If not then I would definitely blow up on my run. Trouble.

As you might know, during an endurance event like Ironman, your body needs replenishing but can only digest between 200-300 calories an hour. Get behind and you pay for it when you run out of gas. And you can’t make up for it – take in more than you can digest and you’ll likely end up with GI issues that can haunt you. Nutrition and fueling can definitely make or break you on race day.

Aid stations were reliably every 10 miles and were fully stocked with wonderful, helpful, cheerful volunteers, water bottles, bottles of Ironman Perform (like Gatorade), Bonk Breakers, Chomps, Gus, bananas and of course, porta-potties. At each one, volunteers were stretched out in a line, yelling out what goodies they had. You slowed, pointed to the volunteer who had what you wanted and made eye contact, and snatched the goods on your way past. You could also ditch empty bottles and trash at any aid station (it was an automatic DQ if you purposefully ditched trash anywhere but an aid station).

I had 9 coworkers who had also signed up to do the race and my first pit stop was around mile 30, where I saw the friendly faces of some of my other nonracing coworkers who were volunteering.  Looking back, I think this is where hubby first caught up and passed me.

The stretch along Hwy 95 is hilly with a 2 mile uphill as you leave town and then mostly rolling mostly uphill until the turnaround. I have done enough training rides along this stretch to know that along with the slightly rolling mostly uphill of this section, you often get some headwinds to go with it to make it a little extra miserable. But we were lucky and the winds were quiet.

Honestly, my first loop was uneventful. Each aid station had phenomenal energy and there was enough bike traffic and chatter to keep you distracted. Course officials were patrolling to make sure no one was illegally drafting or blocking but I think their primary concern was with the people vying for cash prizes (in other words, not me!).

Once you hit the turnaround point to head north back into town about 4o miles into the 1st loop, it’s a fast 16 miles back into town. All of those rolling uphills turn into mostly rolling downhills. And the good news is that even though I’m not the fastest, most confident downhiller, I’ve been riding those downhills for long enough to be confident enough to cruise down them. I think I hit 40 mph or pretty darn close on one of them. But there were bigger people cruising right past me. Gravity.

After you cruised through downtown, back on the flats again, you headed out to pick up your special needs bag, which held cheeseburger #2 for me. Mile 65 was a happy one – more than halfway AND time to restock with new and exciting foods. And I got to see some familiar faces. I’ve worked with the volunteer captain for the bike special needs bag, Mike, on other non-Ironman things and before the race he told me where he’d be and had offered to throw my cheeseburger on the grill and warm it up. I didn’t take him up on it as I didn’t want to get “cold” or maybe more importantly, decide to order out for some fries and a milkshake and never get back on the bike. But I did stop long enough to restock my Perpeteum powder and reapply sunscreen on  my arms and shoulders and stretch my neck and back.

Leaving town again, you could feel the energy leaving the athletes. Everyone knew what was ahead. Hills. No fans. Just the quietness of our minds. It got quieter and quieter until about mile 80. You could literally feel the ginormous black hole that was swallowing entire athletes whole.

“I’m never going to make it back into town.”

“Holy geez, why would anyone sign up for this?”

“How am I going to make it another 42 miles AND back up that last big hill?”

Fortunately, I had friends and coworkers at the aid station at mile 90 and I knew that the turnaround was within reach. I stopped for a quick high-five and another porta-potty break. When I was racking my bike, I realized with excitement that my hubby’s bike was on the rack right where I had put mine! Hooray!

But that was quickly replaced with a sense of uneasiness as it sunk in that he is a faster biker than me and something must not be going well for me to have caught him. Uh-oh…no bueno.

I saw him coming out of the porta-potty and he waited for me as I just had a quick tinkle. We rode together-ish, back and forth for a few miles, but he put some distance between us as we hit the downhills.

Mile 100 hit and we all start climbing again. Of course by now, the sun is shining full bore. No breeze. Just bikers. Climbing.

Last hill before town so I’m feeling pretty good. Just 2 miles and then it’s all downhill. Training on the course was definitely an advantage and one of the major reasons hubby and I chose to do this course over, say, Ironman Canada, which is later in the year and would have given us much more time to train in the nice weather. I was probably the only person smiling on that hill and I’m only smiling because I had already ridden the entire 112 miles of the course this year and I knew, I just KNEW that if I had made it this far, I would make it up this one last stinkin’ hill for the last time.

High spirits.

That is, till I catch up to my hubby, a third of the way up the hill. He’s cramping and jumping off his bike to stretch his leg. Poop.

I can’t stop or else I will never get going again so I blow him a kiss, cross my fingers the cramp goes away and keep churning my legs. I counted to 100. Five times. One count every other leg. One count every third leg. Again, every leg. One. Two. Three. Four. Five… Ninety-nine. One-Hundred. One. Two. Three. Four.Thirty-seven. Thirty-eight. Seventy-one. Over and over and over again. Just to get my brain off the hill and off of worrying about hubby. At least until the top of the hill…

I make it and turn around to find that my hubby had jumped back on his bike again and had staved off the cramps at least long enough to make it up the hill. Talking with him for a few miles, I learn his nutrition had been a wreck since his watch died less than 2 hours into the bike. He had trained with the watch set to beep every 20 and 40 minutes, reminding him to eat and drink. Without a watch, he was floundering from the get-go, trying to gauge distance and time without a watch. He will tell you that he got some funny looks – in a world of Type A athletes who are trying to control every piece of the race day they can to have a successful finish, he was probably one of maybe 2 or 3 athletes who didn’t have a watch. I’m sure they were wondering what his deal was…

Anyway, we decide about 5 miles out to start the run together and go from there. It was no our initial plan to stay together but it seemed to make sense to keep each other company for a while. So down the hills into town.

As we come into transition, our family and friends are cheering for him – it’s like a homecoming parade. It was actually really comical. They weren’t expecting to see me right behind him so he’s soaking it all in and I’m like, “Hey guys, I’m here too!” Eventually they saw me…

I had anticipated finishing the bike in 8:00-8:30.

I finished the bike around 7:20, a full 40-1:10 faster than I ever thought I would. True it’s still nothing to write home about in the world of biking (I averaged about 15.3 mph over the entire course), but I was feeling darn pretty good about my day as I headed into my last transition.

race day preparations…

Ten days to go. Yes, that is ten. Just ten. 1-0. A measly little week and a half. Almost single digits now, folks. Yikes.

Yesterday, on a “short” two hour bike ride I saw the first signs of Ironman route prep on my bike ride:

first signs of Ironman

Oh my. It’s almost game time!

it’s just $50 more…

Once upon a time, I was standing in the kitchen, declaring to my hubby my decision to do a half-Ironman. It was a somewhat random decision and a little out of the blue, so not surprisingly, Hubby asked “Why?” To which I confidently responded, “Well, I know I can swim. And I know I can run. And any fool can ride a bike!

That was then. But now?

Turns out, NOT every fool can bike. SIGH. Almost every fool can bike… I appear to be the grand exception.

Ok, maybe I’m not a completely awful biker but that is how it feels a lot of days. More days than not an individual who I’ve deemed NOT worthy of passing me for one reason or another goes whizzing, I mean WHIZZING past me with what appears to be virtually ZERO effort. Let’s agree that: a) there is a good, valid reason they’re faster than me, like the fact that they’ve probably put a lot of time and effort (and $$) into biking and therefore deserve to be faster and b) I’m not a great biker, probably because I haven’t put in as much into it as the speedy bugger that just passed me. 

Here’s the thing about biking that I’ve discovered. Unlike running, which you can do with really pretty minimal equipment, and swimming, which is almost purely technique-driven, biking is hugely gear-driven in my opinion and way more so than the other 2 sports involved in Ironman.

Weight, rolling weight, cadence, road vs-tri bikes, racing wheels, threads-per-inch, carbon frames and super fantastic components and accessories just to name a few things… All of these things can add up to have an effect on race day. And each of them is “Just $50 more…”. (Actually many of them are just $100 more or $200 more, but I digress.)

If you’re me, you learn about them 5 or 6 weeks before race day.You know, when you’re spazzing out about making cut-off times and freaking out about trying to figure out all of the logistical stuff and squeezing in a couple of last looooong bike rides and its too late to do much about a lot of them.

Cool gadgets. Aero bar hammocks? Whoa, what’s that? (I’m sure I need one…)

The latest and greatest tri shorts? Spandex colorful enough that your family and friends can find you in the crowd of athletes (and flattering enough that you’d dare drape yourself in skin-tight fabric from your neck to knees for the duration of the day (12-17 hours?) when thousands of athletes better looking and in better shape than you and thousands of spectators will see you and judge you based on how well you are pulling off said spandex…). And more importantly, comfortable enough that it’s tolerable for that long?

Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Cha-ching.

There are stats that will show you just how expensive completing an Ironman is. And I’ll admit I was pretty skeptical of the numbers. The popular figure seems to be $10,000. That seemed like an exaggeration at the time but I may be changing my tune.

But here we are, just 29 days from race day and new gear seems to be appearing at our house – if we don’t pick it up in the store, it magically arrives at our doorstep almost daily (oh, e-commerce, how I love and loathe you…). Cases of energy gels for training. Protein powder. New running shoes. Drink mixes. Water bottles. Shorts. New tires for race day. Neoprene cap and swim booties, just in case the water is freezing.

Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Cha-ching.

Another bike fit to fine tune a few last minute things (Cha-ching)…which leads to a new bike seat or two to make the aero position tolerable (Cha-ching, cha-ching). You may even be as (un)lucky as me and have to try a bunch of different seats to find the one that will work.

Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Cha-ching.

I haven’t kept track of our spending for Ironman. I guess if I were to add anything to that $10,000 figure it would be to say that I think a lot of the spending is front and back-loaded. Gear to get you up and going. And then all the last minute stuff you discover you “need”.

And that’s where we’re at. Broke, exhausted, grumpy, tired of energy gels and surrounded by a mess of FedEx boxes. There are a lot of things we’ve decided to pass on (like $300 on renting race day wheels to save 10-15 minutes).  But hopefully there are also a lot of things that we’ve “invested” in that besides draining our accounts will hopefully also more and more ready for race day. Here’s hoping…

It’s like this – only my bank account does NOT say 1-0-0-0-0-0-oh so you can’t help but  feel broke when you get home!

riding in the wind…again…

Practice 70.3 today… more on how the whole day went. But let me start with this – it was WINDY! I know, you can hardly believe it, it’s not like I’ve EVER complained about how very windy this spring has been.

Today, I was asking for it. We set up our test run in farmland, on the prairie. It’s not rocket science. If you ride in farmland, it will be windy. It’s the prairie. What did you expect?

riding through farmland on a windy day...

I’ve realized that whenever I ride in the blowing, howling wind, I always sing this song stuck in my head. And I feel a little like this cranky old lady too (and sadly, I’m probably only moving very slightly faster than her…):

And today was no different, in fact I think I saw Auntie Em fly past me on her rocking chair while I was riding:

Thankfully, I think I’m getting a tad more comfortable holding a squirelly bike straight(ish) in the gusts and hopefully that will be the silver lining from all this wind training. I have to hope something will come from it!

you know you’re training for Ironman Coeur d’Alene when…

More than a few things that have occurred to me during training that have made me chuckle over the past few months so I thought I’d share a few I’ve written down.

  • In your car’s cup holders, you have a water bottle (recently emptied or recently filled) and energy gels – GUs and Hammer Gels…and a spare granola bar or Clif bar in your glove compartment. Just in case.
  • And also, you have these things in your purse. And your gym bag.
  • Your tri team says “Hey everyone, its 47 degrees in the lake… let’s go swimming!” (WHAT?! No thank you!)
  • It is 32 degrees outside and snowing sideways. Your friends are cozied up in bed or reading a book and drinking coffee and you are halfway through your 60 mile bike ride.
  • Same as above, only 25 mph winds, or driving rain….
  • The 1st thing your friends ask you when they see you is “How is the training going?” Because a) they are excited for you; b) they never see you and c) they don’t know what else it is you do these days. And frankly, you don’t either.
  • You come home to packages on your doorstep and the contents? Ironman Perform drink mix, Perpeteum drink mix, 60 energy gels, and new running shorts.
  • You’re hungry. All of the time.
  • You know for a fact that if you swim early in the day and run or bike after work, you will sweat chlorine. Profusely.
  • Your laundry piles up three times as fast as you used to and you only have time to do it about a third as often as you used to. You do the math.
  • You’re praying that the race day water is at least 62 degrees. (Normal people recognize that swimming 2.4 miles in water this temperature is still too freakin’ cold.)
  • You can eat, drink and blow your nose on the run and the bike (and you have to remind yourself not to do the latter when you’re relegated to the indoors).
  • It’s super annoying when people talk to you like a sprint triathlon is the same as an Ironman.
  • Spring training doesn’t mean baseball, hot dogs and sunshine. It means windbreakers, rain jackets, and beanies and gloves on the bike. And dark ominous clouds and threatening raindrops on the horizon.

Eight weeks to go! How do you know you’re training? 🙂

IMCDA image

the weather gods must hate me…

Springtime in the Pacific Northwest is an awful and horribly unpredictable time to be trying to train for an Ironman.

Each weekend, as training progresses, there is a longer and longer ride staring up at me from that piece of paper on the counter. And each weekend, there is a terrible weather forecast staring at me from the computer screen. Bad on Friday, bad on Saturday and worse on Sunday. Substantial chance of rain, slight to middling chance of snow, windy as all get-out, a very good chance of you getting wet on the bike ride and 100% chance of freezing your bum off on your bike.

There are some who say that training in poor weather makes us stronger. And to an extent, I would agree.

But there are times when I cannot take any more. These are those times.

Each weekend that I have a horrible, awful, no good, very bad ride, I think it can’t get any worse. Two weekends ago, I had a 4 hour ride to squeeze in and the option between a bad weather forecast on Satruday and an even colder, wetter, nastier forecast for Sunday. So I took my chances with Saturday and found myself riding for hours in blowing gusting 25 mph winds  with snow, rain and hail to boot. My feet were frozen after 50 minutes. After 2 hours, I wondered at what point I should be concerned. At 2 1/2 hours, I stopped in a outhouse for shelter to warm up my feet. At 3 hours and fifteen minutes I had to stop in another outhouse to re-warm up my purplish, reddish feet. At 4 hours and fifteen minutes, I was relieved to see the “finish line” but I couldn’t show it because my face was frozen in a perma-scowl due to the blowing rain and snow (and the tears and snot running down my face probably didn’t help).

Last weekend, we had sun. But the wind was possible worse than the week before – strong and constant. At one point, I realized that I should’ve easily been cruising down the hill, but instead I was cranking away as hard as I could to go TWELVE MILES PER HOUR. DOWNHILL. That’s how windy it was. Not cool. Not cool.

Mentally, these rides are taxing too! I’m worried I have a limited amount of mental toughness and that I’m going to use it all up on getting through these dumb ol’ training rides…

I had high hopes for this weekend, but once again we have projected sunshine and nice weather until Friday, with WIND projected again for this Saturday and Sunday.

I’m not sure what I did to offend the weather gods, but I sure hope race day brings nicer weather. Because right now, more than anything, I just want to ride in calm, pleasant weather. Especially on race day. I need to find a sacrificial lamb or groundhog or something to appease them before then… anyone got the inside track on what the weather gods prefer? Squirrel? Deer? Gold? Anything?

on confidence builders…

We all need them. Confidence builders. Building blocks for our egos to stand upon. Things to make us climb over our doubts when they persist. Kick them to the curb. Tell them stupid, good for nuthin’ what-ifs and mebbe I can’ts and what-if-i-can’ts to go find a home somewhere else.

You know, I’ve been doubting a bit lately. I think it is a natural stage of training, I guess. You’re on a path that you hope leads you to success – the finish line in this case – a 24 week journey in which everything and anything could go wrong. It’s natural to think that, maybe, perhaps, you’re not doing quite enough. But week by week, workout by workout, you build your strength and endurance and your mental strength and stamina alongside it.

Last weekend, I passed one minor hurdle and gave myself another ego building block: I took a short bike ride up the first hill of the Ironman CdA course. It was only a 17 mile ride, but it was enough to know I made it up the first long hill. And that was good. Good to know I can do it. Good to know my indoor training rides and (thus far) relatively short outdoor rides have done enough  to make it that far at least once.

Now I know that 16 miles is hardly anything when you think the entire course is 112 miles. It’s peanuts, really. But I did feel better. And I think its important to remember and record these things – to celebrate the little things – especially in times of doubt!

This weekend, I was able to add more building blocks for my feeble mental game to stand upon and they couldn’t have come at a better time. Hubby and I were able to ride 52 miles on Sunday – the bulk of which was on the actual course. So now we’ve seen ALL the hills on the course and we’ve been at the top of them. And I was able to do that just 18 hours or so after I ran 10 miles. Again, that may not seem like much. But I ran 12 tonight and it was easier than I anticipated.

So right now? Right now I feel pretty good about things. And I think I’m gonna try to stay on top of that positivity wave just as long as I can make it last!

Top ‘o’ the hill!

Bring on Week 13!

being chased by a lion…

Earlier this week, as I do so many times in a week, I was doing a bike ride after work. On the trainer. Indoors. Booooo.

To help pass the time (and give me some change in ‘scenery’), I had the TV set to Animal Planet or Discovery Channel or something along those lines and a funny thing happened. I realized that every time they showed a chase scene with a predator chasing their prey, I sped up. Not intentionally, but it happened. The best I can figure is that 1) the music usually was a little more driving (due to the urgency of the situation) and 2) I was trying to get away from the lion, ahhhhhhh! Conveniently, it mixed up my sprint workout nicely.

Next time you’re stuck in your basement on the trainer, check it out. Be the warthog and RUN PUMBA, RUN!

spring is in your…nose?

Hello springtime! My wish for Phil to declare winter to be over came true, at least by the looks of things. When temperatures hit the high 40s and low 50s and snow and ice has melted off the trails and roadways, folks round here declare it the start of outdoor biking season.

Round here, that officially happened over this past weekend. That’s right. All of us poor schmucks who have been relegated to indoor trainers and spin classes since November hit the roads (covered head to toe in the warmest gear we could find from beanies and ear warmers to gloves and wind breakers jackets and tights and toe warmers) to dodge the gravel and sand left on the roads by the plows and again feel the (cold) wind on our faces and blowing through our hair. But oh! To be going somewhere after months of pedaling in place!

early spring biking

One cautionary note on riding outdoors – the bugs have also realized spring is coming. They’re not out in droves yet, but enough so that when you sniff (cause it’s cold and your nose is running), you’ll likely catch at least one in your schnozz, maybe more.

Happy springtime everyone!

(PS – I know, now that’s I’ve said all of this, we’ll get snow and cold again and for that, I’m sorry!)

rooting for Phil…

Oh no.

Week 3 and I’m already tired of biking on the trainer.

Tonight’s workout was a power interval workout. Merely an hour-long workout yet even with a warmup and intervals to break it up, the last 15 minutes sure did drag by.

I’m going to spend the next few weeks rooting for the groundhog – Punxsutawney Phil – for an early spring. If I ever needed it, it’s this year…

C'mon Phil, we need you to do the right thing!(photo from: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/02/02/133427240/punxsutawney-phil-says-spring-is-coming)

little ol’ phil…

C’mon Phil, we need you to do the right thing! Do you take bribes…?

 

Photo credit: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/02/02/133427240/punxsutawney-phil-says-spring-is-coming