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 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... 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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Old Man Winter Rally Race Report 2017

Last winter when we bought our gravel bikes, Trent immediately started looking for races. He found one in Lyons, CO – the Old Man Winter Rally, sponsored by his favorite brewery, Oskar Blues. The event celebrates winter with a gravel ride, a trail run, and beer and chili at the post-race party. We talked about traveling for the race from Texas last February, but didn’t end up going. Now that we live in the area, of course our first race here in Colorado had to be the Old Man Winter Rally!

There are a few options at this race – a 100k gravel ride, a 50k gravel ride, a 5.8 mile trail run, or a combination of the 50k ride and the run. We opted for the run/ride combo.

We drove up to Lyons for packet pickup at 8:30, met up with our BSR teammate Brian, watched the 100k riders head out for their race, and then prepared for the run which started at 10:30. I had come dressed for 35 degree temperatures in pants, a long sleeve shirt, gloves, and a beanie, but it was sunny, and after a 10-minute warmup, I was already hot. I changed into my cycling shorts and ran in them because they were the only shorts I had! The run was an out-and-back course on a combination of asphalt, gravel, and dirt trails.

The Run 
I didn’t have any expectations for pace, because the last month and a half of training at altitude has not been about pace, it has been about keeping my heart rate where it needs to be. In one of my first runs here, I ran with a friend for 6 “easy” miles at a 9:30ish pace and my heart rate was in zone 4. After that run, Emily cautioned me to slow down, be patient, and work on keeping my heart rate in zone 2 for easy runs. Last week, I ran the same 6-mile route on an easy run. I kept my heart rate in zone 1 and 2, and ended up running at a 9:45ish pace. Progress. Patience was paying off!

For yesterday’s race, I ran at a “comfortably hard” tempo pace based on feel. When I glanced at my watch in the first half of the race, I saw that my heart rate was 165 (zone 4) and my pace was hovering just under 9 minutes/mile. I was okay with that, and aimed to hold the pace for the entire run. It wasn’t until the turnaround that I realized we’d been running uphill the whole way out. I watched my pace increase on the way back and aimed for negative splits. I was beyond excited to finish with a time that put my average pace at 8:04 (I think the course was short).

Trent did well too. Even stopping during the run to pick up a snowflake – there were Styrofoam snowflakes scattered throughout all the courses, that if you brought one back, you’d get a prize – Trent ended up running at an average 6:40 pace. So awesome! But we had no time to celebrate because we had to hurry and change and get our bikes out of the car and ready to ride.

Just a guy and his snowflake. Trent's prize was a water bottle and a baseball cap.
The Ride 
The ~31-mile short course ride was on a combination of asphalt, gravel, hard-packed dirt, and one mile of single-track soft dirt and sand in the middle of the ride. It was 40 degrees and sunny, and the ride was beautiful with rolling fields, horses that ran alongside our bikes on the other side of a fence, and a stunning view of a frosty snow capped mountain in the distance.

Photo by Ryan Muncy Photography; from the Old Man Winter Rally website.
Obstacle #1 - Fear
Since last year’s Castell Grind, where I fell multiple times in soft, wet sand, rode off course and got lost, I’ve been over-cautious on my gravel bike and I’m still afraid of wet, muddy conditions. To prepare for this event, we attended a clinic last week in Boulder in which we rode part of the course, including the single-track section. Last weekend it was muddy and I rode around the one-mile loop feeling scared, but staying upright. I spent the week hoping the nice warm weather would hold out, and I got lucky. It was supposed to rain and snow the night before the race, but it didn’t! Dry, perfect conditions for the short course ride, and I could not have been happier. I gained quite a bit of confidence on my bike this weekend.

Obstacle #2 – Nutrition/Hydration 
On my last few outdoor rides, including the clinic, I have felt great for the first hour or so, and then bonked badly. The problem was poor fueling – with thick gloves on, it’s hard to get to bars and other snacks in a jacket pocket, so I opted not to eat anything. It’s easier to get a bottle out to drink, but my bottles just had Gatorade and water, and that was not enough. I’d get dehydrated too, because when it’s cold, you don’t think to drink. But actually, you should drink more than normal at altitude to avoid dehydration. Back to the old standby, Infinit! My order came in just in time for the race; I filled two bottles with 250 wonderful grape-flavored calories each, and forced myself to drink both of them during the ride. It was PERFECT. I felt like my old self, and stayed strong throughout the 2-hour ride. At one point in the last 3 miles, I looked back and saw that I was pulling a string of 10 riders behind me. I felt so strong and happy.

The Post-Race Party
The post-race party in a cute little park in Lyons was great, with delicious beer and chili as promised, wonderful warming coffee and Clif products, and a cool awards presentation where the podium folks sprayed beer rather than champagne. We ended up walking over to Oskar Blues afterward to get some food (and more beer), and then headed home by way of Voodoo Donuts (yes, these donuts have officially become a problem).

It felt really good to race again! I’m motivated in a way that I haven’t been for a while. Just seeing the caliber of athletes around us and the strength it will take to try to keep up with them gives me mental fuel for those solo weekday trainer rides. I’m looking forward to the season! Hopefully Old Man Winter doesn’t get in the way too much.

Fun with friends Whiting and Ariana at the post-race party.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Chasing Dreams to Colorado

A couple of years ago, I gave a speech in which I challenged 300 of my friends and coworkers to ask "why not?" and to move forward and live their dreams. Since that day, I've felt like I needed to keep that momentum going in my own life, to continuously push forward and challenge myself, whether it was taking a new position at work or setting big goals in triathlon. When you start to challenge yourself that way all the time, it's really interesting where that kind of mindset will take you.

Last September, Trent and I took a weekend trip to Keystone, Colorado, to ride our bikes up some mountains. Before the plane to Denver had left the ground, we were talking about how awesome it would be to live in Colorado. How cool would it be to train in the beautiful mountains all the time? By the time we arrived back in San Antonio three days later, we had a plan for making it happen.

In mid-September we started sending resumes to Colorado to see where one might stick. We were driving home from Ironman Louisville a month later when we got the first exciting email, "please call to schedule a phone interview." A month after that, while Trent was out for a training ride in Phoenix two days before Ironman Arizona, I received the magical phone call with an offer for a position at a great company here in Denver.

I don't think it's a coincidence that these big things happened around Ironman events. The Ironman motto is "anything is possible." After you've cross an Ironman finish line, you start to believe it. To get to that line, you have to have strength of body and mind. You put in the training and hard work towards a goal. On race day, you push through pain and doubt to accomplish something that feels huge and meaningful, and you understand that you made it possible through will and dedication. Like so many others, Ironman's great gift to me is that I started believing that I can do whatever I put my mind to. The events of the past few months are more proof to me that this is true.

Things started moving fast after Ironman Arizona. We had to get ready to move, sell the house, give notice at work. It was hard to leave a company where I've worked for almost 10 years and made so many friends. It was hard to leave San Antonio, where I've lived for 20+ years since college; hard to leave friends and family behind, even though I know we'll be back to visit. I cried in my car driving past Kerrville on I-10, looking towards my parents' house and at landmarks and roads where Shelly and I began our triathlon days.

Then of course, I started looking forward, and although we've only been here one month, what a month it has been! We had a fairytale white Christmas in Winter Park with Trent's boys, we've ridden our bikes through Red Rocks, gone running on snowy trails only minutes from our front door, been downhill skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating. I'm looking forward to so many adventures to come!

Christmas in Winter Park
Trent has always dreamed of living here in Colorado. For me, it wasn't just, "I need to be in the mountains." I don't think I would have been able to move somewhere that I didn't have a personal connection, and it just happens that I have so many wonderful ones here. Whiting, my amazing swimmy friend that I met at a triathlon camp 2 years ago, and have kept in touch with. Naomi, my bff from high school, who moved here with her husband years ago. And of course, the heart of our triathlon team, Big Sexy Racing - Erika and Chris McDonald live just down the road in Boulder, and so do several of our awesome teammates. The world seems smaller and smaller when you realize how many people you're connected to, near and far.

Back in a swim lane together again with Whiting and some new friends!
Naomi and I picked up right where we left off over 20 years ago in high school in Lafayette, LA.
There is a saying, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." I'm so grateful that I've learned the lesson that it's never too late to do the things you want to do, to live the life you want to live. You can allow yourself to get stuck in the every day; you can make excuses, or you can make a decision to do something. Whatever it is, choose it, and then jump in with both feet and see what happens. Plant your tree.

As always, I'm honored that you're reading this. Thank you for your encouragement and well wishes, and I wish the best to you as well, my amazing friends and family. Happy New Year!