Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Like Father, Like Daughter: Dad's First Tri


I have a guest blogger for you this week: my Dad!

An accomplished runner, Dad has always been my endurance sports inspiration. When he encouraged me to enter my first 10k race 17 years ago, I would never have guessed where that road would lead. After he and Mom spent the last 10 years cheering for me at triathlons and even crewing for me at Norseman, imagine my surprise and delight when Dad announced that he'd like to try a triathlon.

I loved cheering for Dad this weekend as he raced the Olympic distance race at the Kerrville Triathlon Festival! Here's the story of his day - in his own words.

Kerrville Tri Race Report 2017
by John Swann

Here I stand, at the start-line of my very first triathlon. I’ve finally plucked up the courage to be standing here, looking out at the lines of buoys that mark the 1000 meter swim course. My bike, and helmet, and shoes and other stuff are waiting at T1. My running shoes, hat, number belt, drinks, and other stuff are hanging in a bag at T2. I’m wishing I could be at one of those places now.

Everyone says that open-water swimming is a beast to conquer. I’ve been swimming for over two years, going up and down the lap pool, fighting off little old ladies who insist on doing their aqua-bounces in the middle of my lane. My regular training distance is more than double this triathlon swim. So this should be a breeze, right?

I swam in the open sea, in Bali. I swam out to a buoy, perhaps 100 meters offshore. The farther from shore I got, the bigger the imagined sharks became, and the stronger the imaginary rip tide was becoming. I was freaked out. The next day, I did it again and, was it my imagination, or were those sharks just a little less menacing?

A year ago I had done a practice swim to the first buoy of today’s course. I was gasping for breath from the start, and I just wanted to get back to shore, where I could touch bottom.

But also a year ago, I had watched the triathletes on the run part of the course. Some were out of shape, some were barely walking, but I remember thinking that every one of them had done that swim.

I signed up for this event after years of watching Kristina and her friends compete in, and destroy, Ironman courses all over the nation. I always wanted to give it a shot. And the Kerrville Tri is right on our doorstep. Word got out that I was entering, and almost immediately, Kristina and Trent had booked their flights from Denver. Kristina’s San Antonio friends decided to join the festival, And our neighbors were asking about the race. So there was no way to back out.

Kristina had given swim-coaching tips (after watching videos of my stroke), and the coach at the local pool declared that I was a good swimmer. (although his final piece of advice was “if you get into trouble just raise your hand and the kayaks will get you!). The day before the race I had done a practice swim on the first part of the course, with Orissa and Kristina. They had estimated the distance to be about 700 or 800 meters. I was ready.

Start-line thoughts: don’t go out too fast, go easy to the first buoy, stay out of the way of others, follow the shoreline, I’ve got this. Other start-line thoughts: did I get enough to eat, did I drink too much, will my goggles leak, will I get leg cramp and, I hope I didn’t do too much yesterday!

We inched toward the start-line and timing mat. An announcement “and now at the start-line, in his first triathlon, at age 69….” Even the competitors behind me wished me well! And then I was swimming. “Go easy, get your stroke going.” The first two kayaks along the course already had competitors hanging from them. The water was choppy and murky, and I couldn’t even see my hand at the bottom of the stroke. After rounding the first turn, it was time to just swim parallel to the shore for about 500 meters, each stroke taking me farther away from the start-line. My swim stroke was horrible, my breathing was ragged, and more than once I took on water. But I had a crowd waiting at the swim-out, so I couldn’t stop.

The farthest point on the course was marked by a red triangle buoy. Reaching it took forever, but when I got there, it turned out to be the most beautiful red buoy I’ve ever set eyes on. And, once I got around it, something magical happened. I was now swimming towards the finish line. My breathing evened out, my stroke became more confident. Now, I really had got this!

At swim-out, another announcement “in his first triathlon at age 69, lets have a cheer for…”. It was great to be done with the swim. There were lots of high fives on the way to T1. Just a wonderful feeling.

I love to ride a bike. I love my bike with aero-bars fitted. And I love the Big Sexy Racing tri-suit that Kristina had given to me. I know all the roads around here like the back of my hand. What could go wrong? Well, from the first pedal stroke my quads tried to cramp up. Now that was a new experience on a bike. I suppose that’s a post-swim phenomenon. It took two miles of easy riding, and some coaxing, for things to get back to normal.

Riding through Kerrville’s main streets with police stopping all other traffic was awesome. Then the rain started, and I love riding in the rain! The outward ride was into the wind, which is how I always plan my training rides. Fellow competitors were courteous, no-one drafted, many had kind words as we passed each other. Several people had flats along the way, and there was one crash at the top of the only hill on the course. But for me, the ride was perfect. I used up the last of my onboard fluids with a mile to go. Everything was going according to plan. And the cheering crew was in full voice.

After trading my bike for running shoes at T2, it was time to walk/jog 6.5 miles. Those were long miles. And the sun made them hot and humid after all the rain. My pre-race goal was to get to the finish line. But it’s so frustrating not to be able to run and compete anymore. So I walked and jogged the whole way. It was tough even so.

At the finish line, a final announcement “and now crossing the line, in his first triathlon, at age 69, from Big Sexy Racing,…..”

Hugs and high fives all round. And Kristina took me immediately to the food area “drink this coke, drink all that water, you need protein, chips, something sweet, a beer…”

So that was it. I now have a whole new perspective on triathlons. Swimming 1000 meters is pretty straight forward (especially in hind-sight), biking 29 miles is easy, and walking/jogging 6.5 miles is a piece of cake. But put all those things back-to-back-to-back and it gets tough.

Now, its even harder for me to fathom how Kristina and her Ironman buddies do what they do. And how do you jump into a darkened fjord and swim two and a half miles to shore?

What a great day, start to finish. A huge thank you to all the folks who came out to Kerrville. Kristina’s triathlon buddies (Aixa, Orissa, Shelly, and Linda), and their families. Thank you Kristina for all the pointers, advice, coaching, and for the Big Sexy Racing suit. It meant a lot to have you and Trent on the sideline.

And an even bigger thank you to Maria for her support and encouragement all along the way. Thanks for taking those swim videos, for encouraging me to get that beautiful neon-green bike, and for always being there in the cheering crew. And finally, I’m in a new age-group next year…woohoo!
Practice swim on Saturday
Triumphant coming out of the water!
I'm so proud of Dad's matchy matchy here - bike, kit, helmet!
On the run!
Family and friends came out to cheer: Lisa, Mom, Me, Shelly and Avery, Harper, Trent, and Miles
Pre-race pic: Mom and Dad

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Leadville Trail 100: Pace Report


Earlier this summer, Whiting mentioned that her husband, Doug, was going to be racing the Leadville 100 Trail Race for the fourth time, and she asked if Trent and I had any interest in pacing him. Any interest? Are you kidding?! We jumped at the chance to be involved in this iconic event: a 100 mile ultrarun that begins and ends in Leadville, Colorado, the highest incorporated city in the United States, sitting at 10,200 feet above sea level.

Even though Doug had sent detailed instructions for pacing, Trent and I really didn’t have any idea what we were doing when we drove up to the mountains on Saturday morning. We met Whiting and the rest of the crew in Twin Lakes, which is where one of the checkpoints is located. We left my car in Twin Lakes, jumped into Whiting’s car, and headed to Winfield, which was the turnaround point of this out-and-back race.
Doug's detailed instructions for my leg.
The moment I stepped out onto the dirt road to walk with our supplies to the checkpoint to meet Doug, I realized we had entered crazytown. The race started at 4:00 on Saturday morning. By the time we arrived in Winfield, 50 miles away from the start, the runners had been out on the course for 12 hours. Twelve hours...and they were halfway through. As we unpacked our gear and stood around waiting for Doug to arrive, I began to learn more about what this journey entails.

Each runner has a Crew Chief. Doug’s was Whiting. This person is in charge of meeting up with the runner at each checkpoint and providing fresh shoes, clothes, food, drink, and support. She was also in charge of Doug’s pacing crew. Once a runner reaches the halfway point, they can have a pacer to run along with them, keep them company, remind them to eat and drink, and basically do whatever it takes to get them to the checkpoints along the course before the time cutoffs. Doug had 4 pacers: Trent, me, Maggie, and Ariana. Each of us would take a section of the course after mile 50.

I still can’t wrap my head around what it means to run 100 miles in a row. The Leadville course record is somewhere around 16 hours. The final cutoff is 30 hours. I've completed more than a couple of ironman races around the 15-hour range. I cannot fathom completing that and then TURNING AROUND AND RUNNING BACK. This is what these athletes intended to do.

I was told that less than 50% of the ~700 entrants finish the race each year. As I watched the runners entering the halfway checkpoint at mile 50, I started to understand why. Nobody looked cute or happy. By that point, they had been running for at least 12 hours. They had crossed over a mountain pass (Hope Pass), where they were rained and hailed on. They were having stomach issues, likely from the heat and altitude. Most of them looked miserable and hopeful at the same time as they ran into the checkpoint at Winfield.

We stood waiting for Doug to come around the corner. And waited. And waited. Waited until his expected arrival time had come and gone. Waited until there were only 15 minutes left before the 6:30 pm time cutoff. And then he came running around the corner, and we all cheered. Yelled at him to hurry up and cross the timing mat to make sure he was officially within the time cutoff. Trent carried a backpack containing food, water, and gear for both of them, and they ran away again, up and over Hope Pass, back toward the town of Twin Lakes where they had to arrive before the cutoff time of 10 pm.

Doug accompanied by Trent, Whiting, and Melina, their daughter.
We learned that Doug had arrived at the checkpoint 45 minutes later than expected because this year's course had 2 extra miles added to the Hope Pass segment. They didn't adjust the Winfield time cutoff to account for the extra distance. On terrain where it takes 30 minutes to hike a mile, this was kind of a big deal. It meant that many athletes ended their day at Winfield. It meant that Doug would spend the rest of the race chasing time cutoffs.
Maggie is pointing at Hope Pass from Winfield.
While Trent ran with Doug, the rest of the crew headed back to the cabin in Leadville to grab something to eat. Then we headed over to the Twin Lakes checkpoint, where I would take over pacing duties. We had the same stressful waiting situation there. We stood in the dark with a hundred other crews, waiting next to our little makeshift changing area that had a folding chair for Doug to sit in, warm clothes and dry shoes for him to change into, and supplies to take with us. Shivering in a beanie, tights, gloves, and 3 shirts, I became more nervous by the minute. Nervous that Doug would not make the cutoff, and nervous that he would make it, and that I'd really have to run off into the dark and pace him for five hours. With less than three minutes to spare, Doug came sprinting into the checkpoint. Trent had pushed him to his limit, but he had made the cutoff!

After a quick transition, Doug and I were off and running. Well, hiking. At this point, it was 10 pm and Doug had been racing for 16 hours. And we were walking straight up a gravel hill. As I huffed and puffed, Doug nonchalantly said, "this part lasts about 4 miles, and then it levels out a bit." As we climbed, the air temperature dropped. Eventually we could see each breath in the light of our headlamps.

We stopped every few minutes for Doug to take water from the hydration pack that I was wearing. He was great about remembering to eat. We paid attention to the time; we had to be at the Half Pipe checkpoint by 1:15 am. It took us nearly 3 hours to hike/walk/run/shuffle the 8.5 miles that it took to get there. We arrived with 10 minutes to spare.

We needed to complete our next 6 mile segment by 3 am. A 16 minute mile pace is what was necessary, and although that sounds easy, it wasn't. When we were "fast hiking" we went at a 16:30ish pace. When we were running, we ran 11:30s.

I learned that Doug moves faster when he's talking, especially when he's talking about Whiting and his girls, but as we continued into the night, there were longer silences. When my legs became tired after several hours, I couldn't possibly complain, because Doug had been on his feet for nearly a day. There were green glowsticks tied to the trees to guide us, and we ran from glowstick to glowstick, willing each other to move forward.

In the 14.5 miles that I traveled with Doug, we ran/hiked on singletrack trail, jeep paths and asphalt. The final mile was across a prairie dog field, where we had to be aware of holes we might fall in. The course seemed beautiful, but of course I couldn't see it. Every once in a while I glanced up at the sky, and beyond the glow of my headlamp I saw the brightest stars I've ever seen. The experience of running at night in the middle of nowhere was surreal and beautiful.

The night sky. Photo by Daniel Benjamin Morefield, a local photographer who was camping at Twin Lakes.
As we approached the final mile of our leg, we knew we'd make the cutoff, and we arrived at the Twin Lakes checkpoint with 5 minutes to spare. Maggie and Whiting ran out to the middle of the field to greet us with hot chocolate and warm ramen noodles. It was 3 am. Maggie took over pacing duties, and Whiting drove me back to the cabin to sleep.

We knew that Maggie's section would be a challenge because it covered some difficult terrain and Doug had no time to spare to slow down. He needed to arrive at the May Queen checkpoint by 6:30 am. He didn't get there in time, and after 87 miles, the race officials at May Queen cut his wristband.

Doug: Ultrarunner Extraordinaire
This is the part where the mindset of ultrarunning, especially at this distance, diverges from your typical road running/triathlon point of view. You don't enter Leadville and say "I just want to finish." You say, "I wonder how far I can get." Doug made it almost to the end, and he was satisfied with his race. He's finished the race twice before, so he knows exactly what it takes: training, planning, discipline, and luck. He'll definitely attempt it again, and I hope my pacing skills were good enough to get me a return trip to Leadville with Whiting, Doug, and family.

I left Leadville on Sunday feeling sore, tired, and completely inspired. Although I've learned to enjoy trail running, there has never been anything appealing to me about ultrarunning...until this weekend. As we were leaving the cabin on Sunday, I told Whiting that I wanted to try a trail race. I think she surprised both of us by agreeing that she'd like to try one too. So of course, the next logical step was for both of us to sign up for a 50k at the end of September! I'm so excited to be excited to have something new to train for. There's no expectations because this will be our first one, and I love that. I can't wait!

I've told them a few times but I want to say it again here: I'm so grateful that Whiting and Doug invited us to join them this weekend. It was such a powerful experience and has opened a new chapter of things to come. When we signed up for the 50k today, I felt giddy with excitement and fear. I haven't felt this inspired in a while, and I love it. Hopefully I'll have a great race report for you in approximately 6 weeks!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Buffalo Springs 70.3 2017 Race Report: "Just for Fun" Does Not Mean "Easy"

This is my second race report about Buffalo Springs 70.3 that starts with, "for two months leading up to the race, I tried to figure out how to ask my coach if I could race it." I couldn't think of a reasonable way to approach Emily before Ironman Boulder about doing Buffalo Springs two weeks later, so I let it go. But after Boulder, which was this year's "main event," I started to rationalize. Lots of people race 2 full ironmans 2 weeks apart: this would be just a full and then a half. I didn't even run the whole run at Boulder; my body was probably fine. Maybe I could go to Buffalo Springs to race "just for fun." What do you think, Coach? Of course she said yes, but with a caveat: I was not allowed to have any expectations about my performance.

I found 2 awesome, willing friends, Whiting and Ariana, to travel down to Texas with me for the quickest weekend trip ever. I was thrilled to get on the road for a girls' trip to race my favorite race for the fifth time, meet up with several of my Big Sexy teammates in Lubbock, and see many friends from Texas, including bestie Linda and bff training buddy Michael from San Antonio.

On a mission to "just have fun," I consumed as much Whataburger as possible both pre- and post-race. 
Of course we had our team dinner at Chili's. It was wonderful to see great friends and meet new ones!
My race plan from Emily read like this: Use this race to practice being in the moment, taking what your body is giving you and deal with it. Don't judge good/bad and decide how the day is going to be (i.e., don't write your race report on the bike). Nothing is forever and things can turn around. Coming off a race at Boulder that *did not* turn around, staying positive and in the moment would be key. I don't know how Emily knows that when I lose focus on the bike, I start writing my race report in my head, but it was wonderful to actually be instructed not to do that.

Race morning arrived and we packed up and headed over to the lake. The temperatures were unusually cool and the sky was overcast. It was perfect. We all had plenty of time to rack bikes, snap a few photos, and head down to the lake.

It was simply amazing to race with Linda for the first time in years, as she has been coming back from hip surgery.
I chose to swim in my sleeveless wetsuit for the first time in 3 years. I know that a fullsleeve wetsuit is always faster, but today I cared more about comfort than speed. As I took my first few strokes in that warm lake, I knew I had made the right decision. With the pressure off, I had fun running into the lake with the rest of the 40+ women and racing to the first turn buoy. The swim was smooth and pleasant, and I swam by myself for most of it. For the last stretch into the shore, I was able to draft successfully off another swimmer for the first time this year. I know the swim here is traditionally short and this year was no exception, but when I ran out of the water at 33 minutes, I let out a scream of joy.

EVIDENCE! That I was drafting on the swim. Woo hoo! Thank you Whiting for the pic.
 On to the bike! This is what I had been looking forward to most. I zoomed out of the park at 185 watts, wondered if I could sustain it, but didn't really care. I was having fun racing my bike, leaning into the wind on the flats, charging up the hills, and descending with confidence. As always, I loved looking for my friends on the out-and-back sections and exchanging screams of encouragement with them. After my fueling mishap at Boulder, I was mindful about drinking and eating. My watts started to drop in the second half of the ride, but my smile never faltered. As always, I wanted to go under 3 hours, but even pushing as hard as I could back into the park, I missed it by over a minute. But, you guys...at no time during this bike ride was I forcing myself to be positive. Instead, I was actually Having Fun! It felt awesome.

I love this photo taken by Scott Flathouse.
A few miles into the run, my body started telling me that I'd done an ironman a couple of weeks ago. I suppose my legs were also feeling a little bit of overbiking at this race. My pace slowed, but I was determined to fuel correctly and run the whole run, and I accomplished both of those goals.

With a 2:17 run split, it might surprise you to hear that I feel like I raced the run. The out-and-back sections on this run course always allow you to know where you are compared to others. I first saw teammate Mike running down the big hill at mile 3 while I was running up it. We exchanged a high five and I yelled that I was coming for him. A minute later, a friend from San Antonio, Lexa, ran past me. I know that she's a fast runner, so it didn't surprise me, but at that point I went into race mode. Let's see how small I can keep the gap between us. On my way back down the hill, I saw Linda running up. Although she is one of my best friends, there was no way I was going to let her catch me. The race was on.

Big Sexy himself was out on the run course snapping selfies. With him out there, I was not about to walk an inch or stop smiling for a second (especially after my bad behavior on the run course in Boulder).
I never caught up with Mike. Lexa put some time into me but not as much as I expected, and I held Linda off. I was happy to cross the finish line just under 6 hours, which was not my best time at this race, but not my worst either. Lexa, Linda, and I chattered enthusiastically after the race about how each of us pushed the others to excel. This is what I love about racing; we brought out the best in each other! It was also incredibly refreshing that we were all honest about it, as females are often taught that it's impolite to appear to be competitive.

The day was perfect. The race was fun because I had no expectations for how the day was going to go, which allowed me to take some chances on the bike and have some fun on the run racing other people instead of worrying (too much) about the clock. I also made the surprising, important discovery that "fun" does not have to mean "easy." When I told Emily how much fun I had because I had no pressure of expectations, she gently reminded me that this is all supposed to be fun. That's why we do it, right? If you focus on having fun pushing yourself, in training and in racing, you get faster. Simple.

I'm so glad that I raced Buffalo Springs "just for fun" this year. Part of the reason that I wanted to go was that I was afraid the race would be cancelled, like so many other races have been lately. Luckily, registration is already open for next year's race, so we get at least one more year of awesome racing in Lubbock. It's definitely on my 2018 schedule, not as an afterthought, but as a main event. If you haven't raced there already, you need to put it on your list too. Hopefully I'll see you there next June!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ironman Boulder Race Report 2017: Pity Party and a Silver Lining

“Surprisingly disappointing” is the phrase I’d use to describe my race at Ironman Boulder. With five years of full distance racing under my belt, I thought I was prepared for anything. As predictably unpredictable as ironman racing can be, I should have known better.

My plan going into the day was the same as always – smile and be patient. Focus on the process. If there’s one thing I’m keenly aware of when racing Ironman, it’s that the way you feel now is not going to be the way you feel in a few minutes, or in an hour: whether you’re feeling good or bad, it will change.

I once saw a video of Andy Potts that stuck with me, where he talked about the power of staying positive. To paraphrase, he said: “If the swim is crappy, who cares? Now it’s time to crush the bike! If the bike isn’t going well, that’s ok; you’re going to do great on the run! The first half of the run isn’t going your way? That’s ok, negative split it! Just stay positive.” What great advice for a long day of racing. I was determined to follow it.
Me and Whiting pre-race, excited to see what the day would bring.
Which is why I wasn’t worried when Trent swam around me 400 meters into the swim. We’ve always joked that no matter the distance of the race, I’ll beat him on the swim by 2 minutes. He was planning to swim on my feet, so when he went around, I was a little surprised, but felt confident that I was pacing my swim well. I felt a little “off,” but I was in Andy Potts mode (meaning that I was staying positive, not that I was winning the swim as he always does!) and I just kept racing my own race. I came out of the water 45 seconds behind Trent. (He’s not going to let me forget about that anytime soon!)

I noticed that I was gasping for breath as I ran out of the water, and I continued to do so for several minutes on the bike. My loud breathing even caused a spectator to tell me, “settle down, it’s a long day,” so I made a concerted effort to chill out. The bike course was three loops of a course I have ridden countless times in practice. I was confident that I’d pace it well. But, I couldn’t push the watts that I normally do in training. I backed off the pace and tried to stay positive – this would turn around! But it didn’t. I never really felt great on the bike, but I didn’t really feel that bad either.
My prairie dog cheerleaders never showed their little faces on race day but I still love them - peep peep!
Winston the famous neighborhood pig was there for 2 out of 3 bike laps, though.
I made some mistakes with nutrition that would cost me later – I had a headache and I figured I was dehydrated, so along with a couple of Motrin, I started drinking lots of water, instead of the Gatorade that I usually pick up at aid stations. By the time I was on my second loop, I was hungry, which is never a good sign. I stopped at Bike Special Needs, which I had previously declared is for emergency purposes only, and grabbed my Snickers and Red Bull that I had stashed there. It was like Ironman Texas 2013 and that damn donut all over again.

Bike Special Needs was a bright spot in my day, because my friend Ariana was there, and she was overflowing with positivity. I remember telling her “My legs have no watts today!” and she said, “That’s nonsense, your legs have ALL THE WATTS!” which made me laugh. Six and a half hours later, I was running through T2, still thinking about Andy Potts. If my swim and bike had been this lackluster, this run was going to be freaking awesome!

Ariana snapped a pic of me stuffing my face with Snickers and Red Bull at Bike Special Needs.
As always, my plan was to ease into the run, but I was so excited to be turning my legs over at a 9:30 pace that it was really hard to hold back. I forced myself to slow down and save some energy for later. Everything was great! Boulder is the home base for our Big Sexy Racing team, and we had a cheering crew out in full force, led by Chris and Erika McDonald themselves. We had tons of teammates out there cheering who had come in from all over the country, including our friends Mike and Jenna who had come up from Brownsville to Sherpa for Trent and me. I loved running past my BSR team members who were cheering so loudly in the first mile. A few minutes later, I recognized famous coach Siri Lindley standing with her bike on the side of the path, and she yelled at me “You are winning the race with that smile!” I was feeling pretty good for about half an hour.
I was not actually happy here, but Jenn made me laugh by overtaking me and snapping some totally posed photos. Those signs on the left...
...one of them was created by our fabulous Sherpa, Jenna!
Then I took my first gu, and everything went downhill. Analyzing the day after the fact, I know that I made the nutrition mistake that pretty much every newbie who is walking on an ironman run course makes. The lack of Gatorade on the bike caused a calorie deficit that I couldn’t dig myself out of, and as soon as I put that first gu in on the run, my stomach couldn’t process it. I started to feel nauseated, so I switched to bananas and water. It didn’t work. The waves of nausea washed over me, and I started to slow down. Finally, I was one of the walking dead. I had more than half a marathon left to do, and I have never felt sick like that in a race before. I’ve had stomach pain on the bike, and I’ve been very uncomfortable, but I haven’t felt sick.

Pity Party 
In 8 ironman starts, this was a new experience for me. I soon learned that none of my “stay positive, mind over matter” techniques work when I’m sick to my stomach. I can run through all kinds of pain, but I couldn’t run through that. I began to wallow in the disappointment that the day never turned around for me. At some point during the first loop of the run, I walked up to a family of spectators with kids holding their hands out for a high five. This has always been magic in the past, and as I approached them, the mom leaned down and said to her daughter, “oh, this one really needs us.” I gave the little girl a high five and then burst into tears of self pity. How could my day be going this badly?

Luckily (?!), I have DNFed an ironman before, and I knew the only thing that would feel worse than this walk would be to not finish the race. So I kept going. I was a jerk the second time I came through the BSR cheering section, where everyone was shouting encouragement until the look on my face silenced them. Trent was there, finished with his race, looking at me with a worried expression on his face and asking me what was wrong. I was so ashamed about walking that I couldn’t even make eye contact. (I’d hear about that later, too.)

Every friend I saw on the course from that point on asked me with concern in their eyes if I was doing okay, and urged me to keep moving to the finish line. Finally, after 14 hours and 5 minutes, it appeared, and Trent was standing there waiting for me just before the chute. I stopped to talk to him and told him how sick I felt and that I needed a break from Ironman. Then I jogged down the chute, gave high fives to the people who were offering them, got my medal, and immediately curled up in the fetal position underneath a space blanket in the grass next to the finish line.
Whiting's hubby, Doug, snapped this pic in the chute. I'm still calling this a daylight finish. ;)
Silver Lining 
Trent and I talked about how Ironman Boulder would be a “hometown” race for us. It was the first ironman race where we’ve been able to sleep in our own bed the night before. We were happy about the idea of training on the course and in the conditions that we’d be racing in, but that’s not what ended up making it a “hometown” race. Of course, as always, it was the people! Of all the folks cheering and providing encouragement, many were from our BSR team and had come in from all over the country. But most were friends that we’ve made here in Denver/Boulder, through the triathlon community. I’m proud that Trent and I have developed relationships and started to build our new tribe here in a place we’ve only lived for a short time. That’s what made it feel like home. And that’s why, two weeks later, I’m filled with a warm fuzzy feeling about it instead of the gnawing disappointment that I expected to feel after a sub-par race. It's not just a silver lining. It's a huge, glorious sunrise!

And Of Course, the Lesson 
Through this experience, I’ve learned that you can’t just pick a race because it’s convenient, and that’s what we did. There has to be some driving desire to do it, whether it’s the location, the terrain, or just the allure of a particular race. That’s not to say I won’t do this race again: the allure next year might be to get redemption on this course. But two weeks later, I’m fairly certain that what I said to Trent in the chute was true - I do need a break from full ironman training. When you find yourself saying regularly in the months leading up to a race, “I can’t wait to get this Ironman over with, so we can do X, Y, Z,” you know you need a break. Although the experience of walking the marathon was unpleasant, it was a great reminder that you have to respect the distance. You must put in the training and passion that’s necessary to turn out a solid result. I need to get that passion back before I consider training for another full distance race. I’m putting this here to keep myself honest.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to training for shorter distances and taking our bikes on the scenic route up every mountain we can find (there’s lots of them here). But first, a spontaneous trip down to Texas this weekend for a joyride around the Buffalo Springs course!

Thank You
As always, thank you for the cheers and support from near and far. I am continually grateful for the friendships I’ve gained through this sport, for the lessons it keeps teaching me, and for being part of a community that makes the world seem small and warm at a time when that’s exactly what we seem to need most. Thank you for reading! xoxo
A little post-race fun touring the Coors Plant in Golden with our awesome Sherpas, Mike and Jenna.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

St. George 70.3 2017 Race Report: Happy Place

I honestly don't even know where to start with this race report about St. George 70.3. It certainly won't be "fair and balanced" because I've fallen completely in love with the race. Part of me just wants to post all the gorgeous pictures that I took of the scenery. But...let me give this a try.

Ironman 70.3 St. George is the North American 70.3 Pro Championship. It had the feeling of a championship event: the vibe around the cool little Utah town was similar to that of 70.3 Worlds. In addition to 2500 age groupers racing on Saturday, there was a world class pro field, including two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee, who would be competing in his first Ironman-branded 70.3 event. For weeks leading up to the race, there was huge hype about how Brownlee would do compared to some of the greatest competitors in the sport. I couldn't believe that I'd be there in person for this race!

Trent and I made the 9-hour drive from Denver on Thursday. Neither of us have seen this part of the country before, and the scenic drive passed by very quickly. We arrived in St. George early enough to enjoy a little sunset drive through Snow Canyon, where we would be riding our bikes during the race on Saturday. The landscape is so gorgeous and unique with the enormous red rocks, contrasting green foliage, bright blue sky, and warm desert sand.

A petrified sand dune in Snow Canyon.
On Friday, we did a short shakeout run from the hotel, grabbed some breakfast, and headed over to Athlete Checkin at the town square. Then we drove to Sand Hollow to do a practice swim in the reservoir, ran through our gears, and racked our bikes in T1. Then back to the town square to drop off our run gear bags in T2. Everything went smoothly. The water was cool and inviting at 61 degrees, because the air temperature was an unseasonably warm 96 degrees! The weather was supposed to cool off overnight for race day, so I wasn't too concerned.

Ok, so this sign at the front of the park was a little concerning, although clearly not for our teammate Chad!
Because we registered late, we were racked at the end of the age group bike racks, which happened to be right next to the pros. Here's a pic of Trent next to the spot of one of his favorites, the lovely Maggie Rusch.
Star gazing in transition.
That evening, I received an alarming text message from a friend. The swim waves were being moved up because the weather forecast was for high winds that would increase through the day. They wanted to have people off the bike as early as possible. My heart sank - one week ago on a training ride in Boulder, I was literally crying on my bike because I felt like the strong crosswind was going to blow me into traffic, and I shortened my ride, citing "I'm a wind weenie" on Strava. We went to bed early and I just hoped for the best.
In transition on race morning. I just love racing with this guy. ❤️
Race morning came and it was fun to ride the shuttle bus from the town square to Sand Hollow, and to chat with friends in transition. Before I knew it, it was time for my wave to start. My goal for the swim was to get on some fast feet and stay there. After swimming Masters for months, I am fully aware of the benefit of the draft, and even though I'm uncomfortable being in the middle of the fray, I was determined to do it this time.

I lasted about two minutes in a wonderfully fast pack of splashing arms and feet. Then, I started to feel panicky. I was wearing a new aero top that zipped all the way up to the neck, which I'm not used to. Combined with a tight wetsuit and constricting heart rate strap, I felt like I couldn't breathe. I swam off to the right of the pack, pulled my wetsuit neck down to get some water into my suit, and tried to breathe. This panicky feeling came up several times throughout the swim, and whenever I wasn't trying to compose myself, I was swimming as fast as possible to try to make up for the little breaks I was taking.

That is one of the great reasons to do a practice race before your big event - to figure out things like this. Next time, I'll simply unzip the neck of my kit before the swim. I definitely recommend a sleeved aero suit like the one I wore for St. George - it was comfortable and aerodynamic on the bike, protected me from the sun, and felt cool on the run on a hot day.

After 37+ minutes, the swim was over, and I ran up the boat dock to transition. I didn't have any particular goals or expectations for the bike. It was my first race on a new bike with a fit that isn't perfectly dialed yet. I've been riding up mountains for several months, so I wasn't worried about the ~3000 feet of elevation gain. I was looking forward to riding through Snow Canyon, a 4-mile climb that began around mile 40. As I rolled out of transition and out onto the road, the wind was picking up, but I wasn't scared like I thought I would be. Instead, I was uncontrollably smiling, enjoying the race, enjoying the ride! The scenery was ridiculous. At one point we were riding towards this huge mountain, with breathtaking desert landscape on either side.

Absolutely loved my first race with my new bike.
There's a section of the bike course, around mile 30, where it's parallel to the run course. I saw Alistair Brownlee at about mile 4 of his run, winning the race. He was running so fast and effortlessly up the enormous hill that I was descending. Moments later, I saw Lionel Sanders giving chase, and then more pros. How cool is that? Even being so enamored with the pro race, I couldn't help thinking about how hard it would be for me to run up that hill later.

After many rolling hills, twists, and turns, we finally rode into Snow Canyon. I exclaimed to a cyclist nearby, "isn't this beautiful!?" and he agreed. I was happy to find that the steady 4-mile climb wasn't too difficult, just spin spin spin. I did pass by some folks who were walking their bikes up the hill. I wondered if they would really keep walking for the 4 miles up the canyon to the main road.

This is a place where I think that your mindset is the most important thing. I made a point of looking forward to the scenery in Snow Canyon, rather than allowing myself to get intimidated by the climb. I was not disappointed!
Snow Canyon. No picture can do this place justice!
Once you exit the top of Snow Canyon State Park, you take a right, and then it's 10 screaming fast miles into town. Well - it's supposed to be. I'd been warned that if it was windy, it would be the most dangerous stretch, because you can hit 60 miles an hour without trying on a calm day. But today, the winds came straight at us, and I was grateful for a headwind instead of a crosswind. I spent 10 miles riding at about 25 miles an hour, mostly out of the bars, trying to just stay steady on my bike. When you're about 2 miles from transition, the bike course and run course coincide again. It's a little disheartening to be riding your brakes down a hill, thinking about running back up it again in a few minutes!

Transition was uneventful. I dropped off Mr. Bike and thanked him for a great job on our ride that lasted 3 hours and 10 minutes, which is about the same amount of time I spent on the bike at my very first half, 7 years ago. I took a moment to duck into a porta-potty and then headed out onto the run course, which is the hardest run course I have ever been on, besides Norseman. Even Norseman's run course is flat for 15 miles. This one starts with a false flat, and then for 4 miles you climb and climb to the top of Red Hills Parkway, for a total of ~1000 feet of elevation gain.

I heard the announcer congratulating the female pro winner of the race, Holly Lawrence, as she crossed the finish line. I laughed, thinking how ridiculous it was that I still had 2 hours to run. Then the mental games started. I'm way off my normal time and pace for a half ironman. Nobody will care if I walk up this hill.

Well, I didn't walk. I didn't walk any part of the run, except for the aid stations. I'm immensely proud of this. I was inspired to continue running for several reasons...I noticed that I was passing people who had hammered around me on the bike, and that made me happy. Then, as I approached the steep hill that wouldn't end for 2 miles, I looked up it and saw a train of people walking. Of all the people on the hill in front of me, maybe 3 were running. And they were all women! As I saw their ponytails bouncing, I had this moment of pride and thought, I am not going to be the first woman to start walking. I asked my usual question: does anything hurt, or are you just tired? And with that, I ran my 12+ minute miles up the hill.

At the top of the hill, the wind was ferocious. I got hit by a tumbleweed rolling across the road, and then laughed as I was paced by another one that bounced along next to me as I ran with a massive tailwind. In this section, you weave down and then back up and down and up the same little hill. I was told before the race that this was the worst part of the run, because the sun beats down and reflects off the red rocks and black asphalt and it's stifling hot, but today the wind was blowing and I was distracted and laughing watching the tumbleweeds go by. Drink cups were flying everywhere at the aid stations. My hat kept threatening to come off, and the situation just made me laugh. It was at this point in the race where I saw most of my teammates, including Trent. From across the road, he cupped his hands around his mouth to yell something at me. Although I couldn't hear him through the howling wind, it motivated me to run faster.

Eventually, I reached mile 9, where I had been promised it would be all downhill from there. It was. The last few miles were blissfully downhill, but I had used up all my energy. I tried to run faster but could barely keep up a 9:45 pace. I ended up with my slowest half-marathon time that I can remember in recent years: 2:21!

Taking the turn towards the finish line and running down the chute was one of the most memorable experiences I've had at any race. It had the feeling of a full Ironman, the crowds lined the sides of the chute and offered high fives, of which I took at least 30. It was amazing! My finish time was 6:15, about 45 minutes slower than how I "usually" do, but I was euphoric crossing that line.

If you haven't yet high-fived an entire chute full of spectators, I highly recommend it.
Trent was waiting for me and we went to grab some food and get cleaned up. We wanted to come back for the awards ceremony at 4 pm to see all of the pros. I also had a secret wish to get a rolldown for 70.3 Worlds, but coming in 24th place in my age group wasn't going to be good enough for that.

Watching the pros accept their awards was fun, and seeing the strong, fit age group winners celebrate their podium positions was inspiring. Their times were incredible: the winners of my age group were more than an hour faster than me. I am just in awe of anyone who can go that fast on such a hard course.

Now that I've had a few days to think about it, I think difficult courses take quite a bit of pressure off, and I can think, "oh, it's a hard course, so it's ok to go slow." I probably should have pushed harder on the bike and the run, to test what I can really do. But having a good, positive race experience was important as well, and I'm glad to feel strong going into Boulder, both mentally and physically.
That's Kona champ Sebastian Kienle, y'all. He was so friendly and chatted with us a little bit about his race. 
Brownlee not only won the race, he set a new course record.
We went to dinner afterward at Chili's (of course) with our Big Sexy Racing teammates. I have to say that seeing teammates and friends that I have met through the sport is one of the best things about traveling to races. It was so great to meet a few more teammates at this one, and to make some more new friends!

St. George was a great first race to kick off the season. I've written before about practicing staying relentlessly positive during a race, but at this one, there was no need. I was effortlessly happy all day, to the point where it kind of freaked me out! Needless to say, St. George is my new happy place. It's a tough course, but that's part of what makes this race special. The town loves and supports the sport. The scenery is beautiful. The logistics are flawless and the volunteers are amazing. We'll be back for sure.

I just want to say thank you, as always, for reading this report and for your support and encouragement. It truly means so much. Next up: Ironman Boulder on June 11!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Love the Process

Monday has only one redeeming quality: it’s my rest day. Last Monday, I was so grateful to have a rest day that I almost said “I love Mondays” out loud. The previous week had been really frustrating, with notes like this in my workout log:

  • Wednesday: Gave up after 39 mins on the trainer feeling nauseated and sluggish.
  • Thursday: Masters. Lots of kick with fins and pulling with paddles today, which saved me because I couldn't keep up with the lane. Still very tired. 
  • Friday: I'm still feeling sluggish and crappy, and frustrated! 
  • Sunday (after my “easy run with friends” in San Antonio was far more difficult than expected): I thought it was supposed to be easier to run at sea level now. (sad face). 
I was filled with self-doubt. Maybe I’m getting too old for this. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to get up at 4:45 to go to the pool and then struggle to keep up with my lane at Masters. I don’t want to do a hard treadmill run after a long day at work. I just want to sleep. Why am I struggling on an easy trainer ride? Everything is hard. Nothing is easy. I’m getting slower, not faster! What’s the point? I’m terrible at this! I'm tired of being the slowest one here! What’s wrong with me?!
It wasn't an easy run, but it was so wonderful to run with Orissa, Linda, and Brian on one of my favorite old routes.
Social media didn’t help. I have a couple of friends who are struggling with burnout and have been quite vocal about it over the last few months. They've been in the sport for years, and suddenly they’re talking about how it’s not fun to race anymore, how they’re over it, how they need to figure out how to get the joy back. These people are usually the ones posting the most positive, inspirational, joy-filled pictures and updates about how they love training and the sport. If they’re burned out, I don’t have a chance.

Thank goodness for the well-timed comments of a couple of friends who didn’t even know they were positively influencing my frame of mind. This time, social media helped me out quite a bit: Thanks, Strava, Instagram, and Facebook!

Last Sunday, Whiting, who is also training for Boulder, posted a workout on Strava and commented “Only 6 more weeks til Ironman Boulder!” A lightbulb went off. OF COURSE! This is how you’re supposed to feel 6 weeks out from the race. Although I feel ridiculous for not recognizing it after years of doing this, and going through the same thing EVERY TIME, the realization brought such relief.

In the middle of last week, Ariana, who's training for St. George 70.3 on the way to Ironman Boulder just like I am, posted on Instagram about feeling the struggle between walking a line between working so hard that it will be impossible to recover and working so little that you'll be sluggish on race day. Her post was exactly what I needed to read: I’m not the only one struggling physically and mentally here.

I think Ariana's photo says it all.
And Coach Marilyn Chychota posted on Facebook exactly the reminder that I needed (I'm paraphrasing): there is no easy button for Ironman. It's just weeks and months and years of chipping away. You need to build a foundation, it's not glamorous, and to be successful, you have to love the process. YES.

Although my workouts this week were much improved from the week before, I’m still incredibly tired. But my state of mind is vastly improved. On a run this weekend with my new training buddy Julie, I talked about how tired I’ve been. She asked, “Isn’t Boulder in about 6 weeks? Yep. Makes sense that you’re tired now.” It’s funny that we can easily recognize these things in others, but it’s so hard to have perspective when you’re thinking about yourself.

Lessons Learned!

  • Understand what’s normal. Ironman training is hard, and in every cycle you (meaning me, but also the universal you) reach a point where you’re tired, sluggish, grouchy, fat, and lacking motivation. It will pass. 
  • Talk to your friends/training partners. Knowing that others are going through the same thing helps! It was so validating to read Ariana’s post last week, and to talk to Julie about it this weekend. 
  • Talk to your coach. This should probably be the first thing on the list, but not everyone has a coach. For those of you who do – tell them how you’re feeling. They can modify your workouts to help you through the rough patch. Emily will give me two workouts: the “I’m feeling better” workout, or the alternate “I’m feeling crappy” workout. She is sure to tell me to be honest with myself about how I’m actually feeling. 
  • Find inspiration. Get out your go-to music, choose a favorite route, invite a favorite training buddy…whatever it takes to get you motivated to make the workout happen! 
  • Get started. I learned this one from Dawn at a time when we were both struggling personally, and, like so many lessons, it works beyond the sport. Just get started. Get in the car and drive to the pool. Or get on the bike on the trainer. Or lace up your running shoes and walk outside. Say, “I’m just going to do the warmup and then I’ll see what happens.” Nine times out of 10, you’ll do the whole workout, and you’ll feel better physically and mentally afterward. And, that one time that you walked into the gym, got changed to swim, walked over to the pool, and turned around and walked right back out? Well, you probably needed the rest that day. :)

When Shelly and I first started running together years ago, our mantra was, “I can do anything for 5 minutes.” We’d keep on running, and 5 minutes would turn into 10 or 15. We used to joke that once we got into Ironman training, our go-to phrase became, “I can do anything for two hours.” I’ll modify it just slightly again and say: “I can do anything for six weeks.” The countdown to Boulder begins!

Joshua Tree has been my go-to inspiration for years, starting when I was 18 and
trying to lose the college "freshman 15." Mom took me to the gym with her each
morning that summer, and I walked on the treadmill listening to this cassette on a
yellow Sony Walkman. This music still works its magic today on the treadmill,
and I'm happy to report that I'm moving quite a bit faster than I was back then!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Little Fish

It’s been just over two months since we moved to Denver, and I’m starting to settle in. I’m confident I won’t get lost driving to work in the morning (although if it’s snowing, I might still cry when I get there). I have a favorite running route and bike route. I know the times that the rec center pool is available for lap swimming. I even have new friends to do some of this stuff with! Although a comfort zone is developing, I’m still learning something new every day. The benefit is that when everything is new and different, it becomes easier to do things that scare you.

Swim
In San Antonio, I had great excuses for not swimming Masters. It costs extra to join. The gym that has a Masters program isn’t close to where I live. The times don’t work with my schedule. But mostly, I’m scared that it will be too hard. When we joined the local rec center here, I was excited and nervous to see that they have a Masters program. I talked with my coach and she encouraged me to go. Guess what – I loved it! During that first session on a Saturday morning, as my arms turned to noodles, I watched in awe as the guys in the fast lane raced by. Maybe I can be in that lane one day…

Every Thursday morning's "chance at greatness" happens here. 
A couple of months later, I’m hooked. I have Masters on the schedule once a week, and I look forward to it like nothing else. The competition and camaraderie in the pool are making me a better swimmer. The on-deck coaching is invaluable. For these reasons, I’m happy to be up before 5 on Thursday mornings to get in the pool.

Bike
Trent is eager to find every bike route in the Denver Metro area, and the best way to do that has been to join a cycling club! We are now proud, card-carrying members of the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club, a group of roadies who love to ride for hours up mountains. Each time I’ve ridden with them, I’m the weakest one in the group. But each time we ride, I feel myself getting stronger, and maybe they get ahead of me a little less each time. I have to work hard to keep up. My desire to stay with the group on weekend rides leads me to work just that much harder on trainer rides during the week. Pushing myself during those long weekend rides to try not to get dropped is helping me build mental toughness that I know will pay dividends on race day.

Our first ride with the RMCC.
Run
Same story with running – on the one group run that Trent and I did, I was the last one to finish. But it was a great experience, and I'll be back again for the next one if they'll have me. Every time we run trails I face the fears of tripping, falling, walking, giving up. All of this is making me stronger.

Challenges
This new experience has had its challenges. Of course there's the altitude: it's been a learning experience finding a new normal at 5280 feet. My heart rate is coming around, but sometimes when my legs just feel dead, I still can't tell if it's because of the altitude, because I'm tired, or because I didn't fuel right. It's frustrating. Nutrition and hydration have been a problem too - in cold weather, it's easy to put off drinking water. I keep choosing not to eat because it's hard to get to food in your pocket with thick gloves on. Then it's too late and you've dug yourself into a hole and ruined the ride or run. I'm learning every day.

Last weekend's group run - we'll definitely be back.
Although it can be discouraging to feel like I’m back at square one, to be in a place where everyone is better than me, it’s also a total recharge to be the Little Fish in a Big Sea. Remember what it was like when you were just getting started, to think, I just did that! I can do that! What else can I do? It’s motivating to feel like a newbie, to feel like the possibilities are endless.

This move was the shot in the arm that I needed when I was feeling a little bit stuck. If you’re like me, and you need an excuse to break the cycle of excuses, you don’t even have to move away from home. Just take a step or two outside of your comfort zone. Try swimming Masters. Ride with someone who’s faster than you. Run with a group that you don’t usually run with. Be the Little Fish. I promise it’s worth it.