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 recap #4: two-point-four miles of epic open water speediness (aka, killin’ the swim)

This year’s Ironman CdA had a new swim start – called their Swim Smart initiative. You’ve probably seen photos of Ironman’s mass swim starts where there is a mssive wave of people running into the water simultaneously where they then proceed to duke it out, arms, legs, elbows, feet, and fists for a rowdy, aggressive and potentially dangerous 2.4 miles. Some people think this start is most epic. From a spectator’s point of view, I would definitely agree.

But let me tell you, I could not have been more relieved to learn about the revised start. And I say this as one 2318 athletes who started the race and as someone who is NOT afraid of long swims in open, chilly water (most days). And I say this as a strong swimmer who has mixed it up with the boys in numerous race day swim starts and swim drills and mass start practices. But I also say this as one of just 636 females who signed up to compete in IMCDA this year. Just look at these pictures and look at how many pinks caps you see…

green, green, green, green, green, green, pink!

green, green, green, green, green, green, pink!

before the start...

the beach beginning to fill up before the start…

swim start  5

And what do we know about boys? (Besides that they are bigger than me?) Boys are mean and aggressive. To each other, yes, certainly. No guy I know likes to be beat.

Now, put a pink cap on and go swim with the boys. They’re fine with it, really. They’ll play nice – they want to pat you on the head and console you that the swim is not going to be that scary and the water isn’t that dark and you’ll be just fine. Cute little girl. That is until you start swimming past them.

What do guys hate more than being beat? Being beat by a girl.

My swim time of 1 hour 10 minutes is not good enough to beat the pros, not even close. But it does put me in front of 75% of all the competitors.

And that means I beat A LOT of guys, some of whom got downright nasty when they realized it was a girl passing them. Grabbing, pulling and generally trying to swim over me. Some of it was probably an accident – absolutely, it comes with the territory of open water swims. But I have a hunch there were more than a few non-accidents. A handful of times, I did have to be more aggressive and take wider strokes to literally push people off of me.

The worst of it was in the first half of the first loop.

Anyway, I should back up. The new swim start went smoothly – no one knew quite what to expect, only that athletes were to “self-seed” like in a marathon. So each person would have 17 hours from the time they crossed into the water to finish the race. Volunteers held signs – 60 minutes, 1:00-1:15, 1:15-1:30, 1:31-1:45, etc.

self seeding

self seeding

Hubby and I had agreed to start the swim together and thought we’d seed ourselves at the front of the 1:15-1:30 mark. We had both swam the Coeur d’Alene Crossing last August, a 2.4 mile swim across the lake so we had a good idea of what our times might be. We figured I might be just a smidge faster than 1:15 and he might be around 1:20 so this seemed like a good plan.

Not knowing what to expect from the swim conditions and crowds, I had honestly told myself that as long as I was on the bike by 9 a.m. I would be “fine” (i.e. I would still probably make the cut offs throughout the rest of the day). For those of you who don’t know, the swim cut off for the 2.4 miles is 2 hours and 20 minutes. We were both confident that, excluding any extenuating circumstances (like getting hard-core kicked in the face and needing stitches or drowning), we’d be comfortably under that mark.

Mike Reilly

Mike Reilly gives some last minute instructions and words of encouragement. (Or possibly he’s just telling this guy next to him how to get to the restrooms…)

I found hubby on the beach near the warm up area and he had some pretty bad news (already). Someone had stepped on his watch and he hadn’t realized it until he got to the beach. The screen was cracked and neither of us thought it would make it through the swim, let alone the rest of the day. He didn’t feel like he had enough time to swim upstream to drop it off at his bike (at this point transition was closed anyways), so he was just going to have to keep his fingers crossed it would survive the swim and keep functioning throughout the day. (This was on top of the fact that he was competing with a broken wrist – an injury he had picked up just 16 days before race day when he took a tumble off his bike during a taper ride.) The watch issue would prove to be a really major complication and hurdle for him throughout the day (but more on that later).

We each took our turns “warming up”. The worst part of open water swims for me is often that initial shock of getting into the cold water and I find myself spending the first 500-600 yards slowing down my breathing and adjusting to the cold, especially as it hits the back of my neck. So my warm ups, including for IMCDA really only consist of putting my face and neck in the water and floating face down in the water for a minute, focusing on keeping my breath outwards slow and steady and calm. After I got out, we had a few minutes to hold hands and stand, in silence, surrounded by hundreds of others dressed in black neoprene wetsuits, inching up towards the start line as the people in front of us crossed the starting line and entered the water.

I was surprised at how calm I was – again, I think it had a lot to do with the revised start. I mean, just look how peaceful it looks.

the calm before the storm

the calm (wayyy) before the storm

crowds at swim start 2

When we got close, we kissed each other and wished each other good luck. And for some reason, my eyes welled up with tears. I’m really not even sure why. It was just one of many somewhat overwhelming moments where I realized how much we’d been through and sacrificed and put ourselves through to get to that point and perhaps realized that **it was about to get real and maybe also had a feeling about how much we both might endure throughout the next 13 or 14 or 15 or 16 or (hopefully not) 17 hours. I looked at hubby and he seemed a little overwhelmed too. I wiped the stray tears from my eyes (so as not to fog my goggles!), gave him another kiss and we were off!

swim start - under the arch and over the timing mat

swim start – under the arch and over the timing mat

I fought the crowds for the first half of the first loop and had some close encounters with fists, elbows and people trying to swim over me or pull me down. Right before we started, I heard Mike Reilly, the announcer, say that the left and right sides seemed crowded but the middle looked pretty open, so I decided to stay somewhere in the middle. I tried to stay wide on the turns as those get sloppy in any race.

ows2

After the 2nd turn, heading back into the beach, I noticed the sun was out and traffic seemed to clear up a bit so it was cruising time. I’ve already spilled the beans about my time – I was out of the water and running across the halfway timing mat on the beach just under 35 minutes with a dozen or so people. I heard my name as I passed over the mat and dove back into the fray for round 2.

The first part of the second lap was clear, but then all of a sudden we hit of all of the 1:45ers and 2:00+ers who had gotten in the water behind us. A few times, there was just a wall of people and no clear path through. I took more than one little detour  just to get around the slower crowds of people.

swimmers as far as the eye can see...

swimmers stretched out as far as the eye can see…

At the start of my 2nd lap, I also realized that my neck was burning, chafing on my right side. I cursed the stupid pocket sized bodyglide and tried to breathe mostly on the left (I’m an ambi-breather, haha, is that a term?!) to try to keep it from getting worse, but I had a good sized wetsuit burn-owwee by the time I was done with the swim.

Other than that, my second loop was just a tiny bit slower, just over 36 minutes for a total of just shy of 1 hour 11 minutes.I ran up onto the beach, through the arch and over the timing chip.

tick tock tick tock...

tick tock tick tock…

Wetsuit strippers are awesome. You take your top half off and lay down and they do the rest and pull you up and hand you your wetsuit and send you on your way in a matter of seconds.

The rest of the transition was pretty smooth, thanks in part to the dry run we had done when we dropped off bags and in part thanks to the volunteers.  I found the change tent and ventured in. It was still fairly quiet, not too crowded yet and people seemed in good spirits. No crazy negative war stories. So I found a chair easily and a volunteer came right over to help me with whatever I needed. I was pretty low maintenance though. I opted to leave my jacket and sleeves behind, so all I needed was some chamois cream, my socks and bike shoes, my race bib, and my helmet and sunglasses and I was on my way in what felt like a jiffy (but was really more like 9 minutes…)!

As I ran towards my bike, I could hear the people along the transition fence cheering but it is so hard to distinguish whether it’s people you know or not until a familiar voice yells your name!

With that, I jumped on  (ok, gingerly and cautiously mounted) my bike (I have been known to be a little too over-eager with this part only to get tangled up and nearly eat it right in front of all of those fans – trust me, it’s way more embarrassing to do that than to take an extra 30 seconds to gracefully avoid any unnecessary close calls with the pavement) and had only a mild sense of trepidation for the next 112 miles…

IMG_6081

70.3 #2 recap…

We have had a crazy couple of weeks, hence my unintended absence from here…apologies.

Immediately after the Olympic tri, we headed out for a long backpacking trip. The backpacking trip tied into ‘taper week’ – does hiking with a 40 pound pack up to 13 miles a day count as tapering? Funny, it didn’t feel like I was training. At least not the race-specific training that I’d been so focused on for the past 19 weeks. But it’s not like I was sitting on a beach, reading. And I will fully admit that it was nice to do something that was active that wasn’t swimming, biking or running. The change of scenery was good too. Plus,it’s always nice to be out in the middle of nowhere where no one can reach you by cell phone or email or even the pony express.

We got back into town and had enough time to do a few last minute things – purchase last minute gear, last minute fuel and race day food, check in for the race, drive the bike course. 70.3 race day was yesterday for both hubby and me.

First, I will say this – from the get-go, I wasn’t entirely impressed with the race. It didn’t strike me as being very well organized and I didn’t get the impression that it was going to be very well supported. The shirt we got for doing the race was a baby blue sweatshirt, which my hubby was none too thrilled about… I will never understand why race directors don’t default to more gender-neutral shirts. As the race day progressed, I found more reasons to be unimpressed. For example, there were bathrooms and portapotties at the start. But throughout the course, options were woefully slim – just 1 portapotty on the bike (56 miles) and 1 portapotty on the run (13.1 miles). A learning experience, I suppose – we wanted to save a little money by doing a non-WTC, non-Ironman brand event, which I think in many cases is fine especially if the race is well-established and there are a decent number of athletes participating. However, this was a good example of  getting what you pay for…

Anyway, enough venting and on to the actual race:

The swim was alright – nothing too notable here. The turnaround was not the halfway point, it was earlier, so the second half really seemed to drag. The waters were real murky and there were FORESTS of milfoil growing… every once in a while, some would catch my hand or ankle and kind of make me recoil a bit, but knowing what was touching me helped the jumpiness.  A little. But I was in and out without incidence.

women’s wave start at the 70.3

By the time we jumped on the bike, it was probably 80 degrees and climbing. Too hot too early. I knew temperature was going to be an issue and combined with my lack of faith in the level of race support, I was pretty concerned with having enough water to survive, let alone thrive. We’d heard that we should plan to carry at least 90 minutes worth. To ease my concern, we purchased extra bottle holders so that we could each carry multiple water bottles. We sent out with 2-21 oz bottles + 1 24 oz aero bar bottle – 1 bottle loaded with frozen Hammer Perpetuem (a 3 hour bottle) and one of the water bottles was frozen the night before as well. The aero bottle was loaded with ice only the morning of the race and filled at the first aid station 12 miles into the bike.

It was a long, hot, lonely bike course and as I suspected, not well supported. It was good that we had driven the course in advance as they did not have volunteers at each turn – only some of the course turns, so you had to be paying attention. At the turns were there were volunteers stationed, many of them were sitting in their cars, just tiredly waving their hand out the window. Who knows if most of the racers even saw them. I’m usually very appreciative of volunteers and I try to always thank as many as I can, but yesterday I remember thinking at one point, “Really?  I’m out here biking 56 miles in the heat and you can’t even stand outside your car to make sure I go the right way? Just go home.”

I did a good job of hydrating – drank 1/3 of the 3 hour Perpeteum bottle and had Gus / Gels every 45 minutes. I also tried to drink enough water as well. I filled my aero bottle 2x on the course, but also finished with quite a bit. No cramps or fuel issues. Just mental stuff that had a lot to do with the fact that the course was so lonely. I’ll fully confess that I’m not the strongest biker. I have a lot of work to do on that front before Ironman next year. But I also wouldn’t consider myself to be a bad or poor biker necessarily, usually just middle of the pack… At one point in the race, I looked behind me and there was NO ONE. And I looked in front of me: NO ONE. And I thought, “holy crap, I’m going to be the LAST PERSON OFF THE BIKE!” How awful and depressing. It was totally demoralizing. Honestly, I lost some time off of it. I mean, I tried to laugh it off a little, thinking “well, someone’s gotta be the last person”. I tried to use  it as inspiration. But honestly, I didn’t think it should or would be me! I didn’t see anyone for a good 15 or 20 miles, from about mile marker 30 to mile marker 45 or 50 when I FINALLY found the bathroom.

Being concerned about the water situation, I had hydrated-up the day before the race and the morning of the race. So even though I used the restroom before the swim, I had to go again by the time I hit 8 miles on my bike. Oy. I kept my eyes peeled for a portapotty, but none came. Mile after mile, came and went and NO PORTAPOTTY. I considered a pit stop along the side of the road, but it was lined with, well, a road (it was not a closed course), and also private property. I have heard that some triathletes just pee on themselves and wash it off, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do that either. I tried, 30 miles an hour, down a hill, not moving my legs and just trying to focus on peeing… couldn’t do it. I have never been so happy to see a portapotty as I was to see that one after 45 miles of holding all that water! Yikes!

Aside from all of that – being lonely and having to pee SO bad, the bike course was mechanically frustrating for me – I dropped my chain half a dozen times, something that used to happen a lot, but hasn’t happened to me ALL year. It was ridiculous. And SO frustrating. Did I mention that?

The bike is my weakest link, so I was relieved to get off the bike (as I always am) and (finally) see people again! But by this point, it was 92 or 95 or 100 degrees out, depending on who you asked. And almost immediately, you could see the impact the heat was having on people. Fortunately, the one thing the race directors did right was to have an aid station almost every mile along the run. And they were well stocked with water, ice, spots drink, electrolyte tablets, and gels. I’m not sure I would’ve survived without all of the aid stations, honestly. Or at least I would’ve had to have walked the entire thing, which would have stunk. I wasn’t necessarily moving that slowly on the run, but I stopped at every aid station to dump water on my head and back, and refill my water bottle with ice and water which is time consuming over the course of 11 or 12 aid stations. I was able to run 95% of the course, but the heat definitely threw a monkey wrench into all of my plans for beating my previous time, even if by just barely.

At the end of the day, I crossed the finish line running and feeling relatively good. Relieved to be done. The entire ordeal took about 7 minutes longer than last time, but I know that the heat on the run course had everything to do with that. It could have been a lot worse. I was happy to have avoided cramping, bonking, crashing, and DNFing so I’ll chalk it up to a success along the road to the Ironman.

confessions from an olympic tri…

Today was the first Olympic distance triathlon of the season for me (.93 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike and a 10k run) – it’s a little late in the training program (I think technically it was supposed to be last week or the week before to fit ‘perfectly’, but c’est la vie!) I’ve covered the distances in training, obviously, but today was truth time. So, confession time. What did we learn? How did it go?

1) First and foremost, I must confess that I was not really excited about this race. My hubby was also supposed to do the race and he had to work so I was on my own and I was really tempted to bail on the race also. It was a 3+hour drive away and an overnight stay because there was no packet pickup this morning. In some sense of the word, it was a victory for me that I even showed up!

the calm before the storm…

2) The swim was pretty rough, choppy and at times almost violent, which is NOT something I remember from this race last time. I puzzled over this throughout the rest of the race – I think it may have something to do with the fact that I’ve aged up to the next age group. Last time I did the race, I was 29 – in the first wave of the Olympic distance with only the half ironman-ers in front by about 15 minutes. This year, at the ripe old age of 31, I had to wait for everyone in the half-iron group (still well ahead of us, but I did pass a few struggling stragglers towards the end of the .93 miles) AND I had all of my wave PLUS the first wave to fight through. The water was choppy. People were all over the place and there was seemingly no end to watching out for feet, elbows and fists. This is not something that I snobby ex-pool-only swimmer likes to see. Whether being in a different age group made the different or not, I added a couple – 2 or 3- minutes to my swim time from 2010, which I was bummed about because, ironically, I’ve been swimming a heck of a lot more this year than back then. Confession: I was/am(?) a little concerned that I’ve been swimming and somehow gotten s-l-o-w-e-r.

(trying to) swim in the crowd

3) As you may have gathered from #2, I’m a front of the middle pack or maybe back to middle of of the front pack swimmer, depending on the crowd. What’s the confession here? It’s this: the benefit of being good in the water is not really not a benefit at all – you get to hop on your bike early and be passed by people who say well-intentioned but ultimately funny and demoralizing things like “Good swim…” and leave the “too bad you’re not a better biker” hanging in the air. I know, I think so too. I even heard a guy in the water before the start talking about how he never worked on his swim because he just didn’t see it as an advantage. Now now. You may blow by me in a few minutes, but I’ll put money on the fact that I’m probably less frazzled and winded from the first leg. But I digress.

C’mon climbers!

4) Ok, this is maybe the confession that concerns me the most with a 70.3 looming: Sadly, my climbers are not what they should be on the bike. Biking is definitely my weakest link and while I’m slowlybecoming a better biker with time and practice, I find I don’t push myself as hard as I do when I’m running or swimming. I think it has to do with the fact that I associate biking with casual rides around the neighborhood as a kid. You know, relaxed. Carefree. Not grimacing, sweating, legs and lungs burning kind of biking. Nothing quite like race day to make you put the pedal to the metal, really push yourself to try to compete with the fools that are flying past you like you’re standing still (even though your bike computer insists you’re moving at what you feel is a respectable clip). Fortunately for me, today’s course was rolly, but not hilly. Twenty-five miles of really pushing it and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little concerned about how well I’d hold up and how much gas I’d have when I hit the run. Plus, my knees have been hurting on higher cadence rides and I definitely noticed it today when I climbed off. But fortunately once I was on the ground it went away. (Note to self – probably oughta get that straightened out, wouldn’t you say?)

5) I forced myself to eat and fuel all day. Forced is the operative word here. I hate eating in the morning, but I had a banana and a bar and a bunch of water before I swam, three gels on the bike and one on the run. Lots and lots and lots of water. Other than the gross queasy feeling I had before the swim (which could definitely be attributed to the fact that my stomach deemed it too early to be accepting food and also to the fact that I was ready to just get this thing going already), and a brief moment around mile 18 on the bike where my stomach reminded me how hard it is to digest folded over bike handlebars (I spent a few minutes sitting upright), I felt good. Hm. No confession here, I suppose.

6) Last time I did this race, I thought I was going to die of heat exhaustion. I’m not gonna lie – this was really a big concern of mine for this year as well. To combat this, even though I really didn’t want to, I carried a water bottle with me and every water stop (there were 4 or 5, I believe), a cup of water went on my head and neck and I drank or filled my bottle with the other. In between stops, I made sure I was keeping my head cool and drinking a lot. I felt a lot better about the run this year than I did last time, that’s for sure. And I think I was able to shave a few seconds off of my last run time for the course as well.

7) Lastly, triathlons continually remind me to be humble. I try to be supportive, talk it up on the race course and encourage people. But in every race there is someone, maybe a few someones who (in a moment of judgy-ness or jealousy or poor sportsmanship or whatever you want to call it) “have no business being in front of me”. I’m not proud of it. Yet, there they are. And they’re there, in front of you for a reason. Maybe they’ve put in more work. Maybe they’re more determined because they’ve seen more adversity and overcome more so they’re stronger. Maybe this is their life’s dream and for you its simply a training run. Maybe they are there to motivate you to stick with it or kick it in at the end. Still others may be there to remind you to be gracious and thankful for the skills and abilities you have. Or maybe they’re there to remind you to be inspired by the people around you.

Today, around mile 5, maybe closer to 5 1/2, a gentleman who I knew had been with me for a while finally picked up his pace, ran up beside me and said “Hello, how are you doing?” I said “I”m great, beautiful day” or something to that extent. He smiled, commented on what a nice pace I have (he should know, he’d been hanging out in it for a while), and then sped off, beating me to the finish line by more than a handful of seconds. And as he ran off, I noticed the numbers on his calf read: 6-8. Man. Sixty-eight years old and still rockin’. I just smiled and shook my head, I picked up my pace but I wasn’t going to catch him. Mr. 68, you are my hero for the day. You reminded me to smile and be happy with the day and to be inspired by the journey that others are on. I can only hope that 37 years from now I’m still able to do this with a smile on my face.

Race recap: sprint tri #1

6:30 a.m., hubby’s alarm goes off.

6:39ish – hubby’s alarm goes off again. SNOOZE. C’mon!

6:48ish – hubby’s alarm goes off and he rolls out of bed to start getting ready. I roll over and doze off again.

7:00ish – my alarm goes off, and I finally get up. Swimsuit under sweats and a beanie. Sandals, no socks. Old swim team habit.

7:20ish – start loading up all of the gear we’d packed up the night before (so as not to forget anything as I’m wont to do early in the a.m.)

7:27ish – eat a PB&J I had prepared the night before. Force feeding myself is always part of race day. I need to fuel, my stomach, full of nerves and not much of a first thing in the a.m. eater anyways, never agrees with me and my brain’s awareness of the fact that I will need my energy before too long. Thus, the force feeding.

7:35ish – jump in the car…and take off. Surprisingly, no “turn around, I forgot ________!”

7:55ish – arrive at event parking. Hubby glances at temperature gauge (clearly a mistake). It reads 47. Push hubby out of the car into the cold. Quickly close the door as to keep all of the cold air out there. Hunker down in the passenger seat as he makes faces at me… just kidding, I didn’t lock him out of the car in the cold.

8:05ish – bikes off of the car, pump up the tires, port gear to transition area. Wish for a sherpa or a horse or a wagon or something. (Ok, ok, I’m being dramatic. It’s not that far, but still…)

8:12ish – arrive at transition area at the same time as all other athletes. 33 minutes till pre-race meeting, announcements and instructions. Wander through transition looking for the “just right” bike rack to suit our needs. Begin unloading all the gear with fingers crossed that we didn’t forget anything crucial.

8:25ish – Gear’s unpacked, bike’s on the rack. Off to find volunteers with ginormous permanent markers who will write race numbers on your left bicep and your age on your left calf. (More on that later)

8:25ish – On the hunt for a portapotty… preferably a clean one, without any significant lines. Success, relatively quickly. Good news. It’s a quick stop. Bump into someone else I know, she sporting booties. Man, in hindsight that seems like SUCH a good idea… too late now. We exchange well wishes and head back to the transition area.

8:35ish – People are beginning to squirm into their wetsuits. Some people are even in the water. Hmmmm. Maybe time to start thinking about that… then someone stops by to say hi. We chat for a few minutes about – what else – the water temperature and we swap suggestions on how to brace for the cold. Oh heck, there’s no big secret. Ya just gotta get in. Lots of whispering of numbers – all seem to be in the low 50s. Are they talking temperature?! Someone mentions peeing. Sure. A nice temporary warmth.

8:40ish – ok, wetsuit time. I hope it still fits… squirm squirm squirm… there’s no good way to do this. Zip and stretch. No body glide used this time… I don’t remember if I should have used it or not so here’s hoping not!

8:45ish – time for a Gu. Espresso flavored. Wash it down with water. Race director (or maybe it’s just the announcer guy) is talking constantly now. Who knows what he’s saying. I think he’s calling the white caps to the beach to start – hubby’s in the first wave.

8:52ish – walk with hubby down to the water’s edge. He puts on a brave smile, gives me a kiss and jumps in, prepared to meet his maker, from the looks of his face.

9:00 – white caps are off to the races, including hubby. I don’t see him bailing for shore right away so I take that as a good sign. So far so good.

9:09ish, or maybe 9:12ish – Lots of folks in full wetsuits. Plenty of people with booties and neoprene swim caps. And a couple in straight up speedos and nothing else. I see two girls in bikini tops and briefs – certifiably crazy, all of them. I jump into the lake to get ready for my own wave start… Holy $@%#!*$^! New personal goal  for today – break world record for ½ mile swim. Get out as quickly as possible! I already can’t feel my feet and my hands. My chest is constricted and I’m trying so hard not to hyperventilate.

The Swim (.5 miles):
Too soon, I hear “GO!” and we’re off. I quickly find my way towards the outside of the group, desperately trying to control and calm my breathing while avoiding a foot, fist or elbow to the face. The downside to swedish goggles is that if I take a hit to the goggles, I’ll probably need stitches. At least it’ll give me a good excuse to get out of the water early…

Soon I find myself with just 2 pink caps in sight – one right next to me and one just in front of me. We’re quickly catching the silver caps, then the red, and a few hundred yards out from pulling into the beach, some of the white cap stragglers.

Transition 1:
I hear people yelling at me as I’m running out of the water towards the transition-

“Way to go!”, “Watch your step!”, and “#2!” Huh, could I have been the 2nd pink cap out of the water? I realize it may be possible. That means lots of people will be passing me now that we’re on dry land again. Being a fast swimmer isn’t all its cut out to be…

Pulling off my wetsuit  was easy enough. It was the small actions- putting on socks and shoes  – the things that required numb, frozen fingers to work that I had a hard time managing. It was a slow transition for me. Or at least it sure felt that way…

The Bike (14.4 miles):
Here’s where I realized I’ve definitely been training for an endurance distance race. 14.4 miles should be a walk in the park. I came hauling out of the gates, clipped in and quickly chugging along at 20 mph (fast for me). And I soon realize that it’s going to be a long ride if I run out of gas too quickly.

Here’s where you realize just how awful it is to have your age on your left calf… suddenly, everyone’s a target, including you. I was distinctly aware of the fact that the person in front of me for a good part of the bike was 21 – a full ten years younger than me and by gosh, I was out to prove that slightly older (more seasoned and wiser) is better (and definitely faster) than her . And on the flip side, I’m equally brutally aware of the fact that the 56 year old who just passed both me and the 21 year old like we were both standing still is older than the two of us put together. Yes, I will win my age group when I’m that old, I think to myself. You know, I’ll be retired and there won’t be anything else to worry about.

I think I held it pretty close to a 17 mph pace overall (I’m still waiting for the official results to be posted). But let me tell you, am I ever having some serious biking attitude issues. Anyway, since my bike’s been hurtin’ me for the past few weeks,I’ve been avoiding it like the plague. Not a good strategy. And it’s given me SUCH as negative attitude about biking. Yikes. So I finally went out and got a professional bike fit. Moving things around made me realize that the biking I’ve been doing has been on muscle groups ever-so-slightly different than the ones I was using during the race. Eep.

Headwinds a couple of times really made me groan to myself about how awful biking is. See what I mean? And that 21 year old was still just in front of me. I kept pace, knowing I would catch her at the end…

More headwinds, some less than fabulous pavement, but all in all relatively uneventful. I have GOT to fix my attitude! Now, buckle down and take that 21 year old! (You’ll be pleased to know I got her in the last 2 miles and improved my lead over her in the run portion as well, finishing several minutes in from of her.)

Transition 2:
Good, pretty quick. Jacket off, pull-on sleeves on. Quick swig of water and I’m off. Nothing much to say here.

The Run (5k or 3.1 miles):
I quickly realized 1) that I should have fueled more on the bike even though it was just a sprint distance. I could have used the fuel. And 2) my feet literally felt like bricks of ice. This is a strange sensation as you have no idea how your form is, how your foot is striking the pavement…plodding along.

The run is a comfortable place for me. I’ve spent a lot of time training for everything from 5Ks to a marathon, so I know what running feels like to me under all types of conditions and situations. While I’m not particularly fast, I think my experience is a strength for me come race day.

At mile marker 1, I stopped for water. I didn’t feel like I needed it, but I thought I probably hadn’t been drinking enough. I walked a few steps, drank some water, and started running again, only to have an immediate hammie cramp threat that lingered the entire run. This kept me from kicking it up a notch – not wanting to cramp and have to walk at all, I kept my pace quick, but under control.

I didn’t feel my feet until 2.5 miles into the run. They thawed slowly and strangely. But it was like magic when I finally did!

Hubby was at the finish line when I crossed, saw me come down the home stretch. I was happy to see he was smiling and that he didn’t succumb to the monsters of the deep during the swim. In fact, he was 4th in his age group without even trying.

And my final time was good enough for a 1st place age group finish.

All in all, a good race to get under our belts and a confidence booster for us both as we enter Week 13. Now all we have to do is keep training…

on (not really) training for the first race of the year…

I want to race in the spring. This happens to me every year.  I’m actually pretty good about running through the winter – I mean, considering that I live somewhere where winter is typically, well, wintery. Gray, damp, cold, snowy, icy, dreary, and generally icky. So by the time March rolls around, I’m ready. Stir-crazy. Wound up. Tired of the ice and snow and layers upon layers of wind blocking, sweat wicking, beanies and gloves and a cold cold nose. Tired of the treadmill (which in my book are to be used only as an absolute last resort).

I want to race in the spring.

Winter Runner - photo by kirybabe

But here’s the problem. While I run over the winter, I don’t run with purpose over the winter. No. I shouldn’t say that. I have a purpose: it is to stay active, get outside, stay sane and stay in shape. Mostly to stay sane. I should say I don’t train with a purpose over the winter. But then here’s what happens. Spring half marathons call my name. Why half marathons? Frankly I’m not sure. I could do shorter. But I like the distance. Come March, I’m anxious to be at the starting line. Only I haven’t been training with a purpose.

So this year, February rolled around and what happened? I was ready to 13.1. So I pulled up some race websites and found some early to mid-March. Now, some of you may already know that many 13.1 training programs usually recommend 12 weeks of training. And if you already know that, you’ve probably done the math. February? For an early March race? That gave me just 4 weeks to train. Ah. A non-starter. I bumped my target back to early April and cut my training weeks wayyyy back to 8. Maybe not recommended, but I felt anxious to get something on the calendar, something under the 2012 race belt. Ultimately, what an 8 week training plan required me to do was hike up my mileage faster than recommended… with a long run starting at 5 miles and climbing to 10 the week before the race and skipping the recovery weeks that are usually built in where your long run mileage drops – say from an 8 mile long run down to a 10k the next before jumping back to a 9 mile the following week. Again, generally not a good idea. I was a little cocky, it’s true. Been there, done that, know what it takes, got it under control. I wasn’t trying to break land speed records.

Portland’s Race for the Roses was a lovely 1st race of the year. I was thankful for 1) no rain(!), 2) mild temperatures, 3) a brother who dropped us off bright at early at the startline, 4) a pre-race indoor staging area, 5) joints that held up surprisingly well to the pounding that comes with 13.1 miles, 6) muscles that cried just a wee little bit when they realized that my condensed training had incorporated absolutely NO hills and there were in fact, several that stood between me and the finish line, and last but not least, 7) a wonderful running partner, my hubby, whose joints and muscles also held up well considering the shortened training plan he also undertook. (Some might say he was coerced. But I won’t use such a strong word here…).

I should note, I don’t necessarily condone the kind of cocky and irresponsible behavior that I’m exhibiting here. Now, in this case we walked away just fine. Fortunately, 8 weeks worked out okay this time. We both had a good base of fitness and a good running foundation from which to build. And we’d both done many many halfs prior to this one, so we knew what we were getting ourselves into. And we were prepared to walk (though I’d be lying if I said we wouldn’t hvae been upset about it).

Most 13.1 training programs recommend 12 weeks with good reason (and so do I…), primarily because your body (joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments) needs time to adjust to the miles. A good rule of thumb is to increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10% each week to allow yourself to safely increase without undue risk of injury, etc. And I’ve definitely been in the position before where a condensed training program led to disappointment and even injury. So why, then, would any sane individual take on this kind of risk? I really have no good answer. Other than that I want to race in the spring.

It feels good to get a good race under my belt – I’m not going to lie. And I’ve got a fancy new technical T to prove it. See?

But the moral of today’s story? Don’t be a fool. For crying out loud, do as I say, not as I do… I certainly intend to see this 70.3 training through. And maybe I will also listen to my own advice for the next 13.1. But don’t hold me to it. If I’m going to be a fool, I’ll do it on my own terms, thank you very much.