Thursday, December 26, 2013

100x100 Birthday Swim Report (or, How this Christmas Was the Greatest Day Ever)

I’m not sure but I think the 100x100 Birthday Swim was invented by our beloved Grand Coachie Hillary Biscay. This is when you get together with your friends and celebrate a birthday (or any special occasion, really) by swimming 100 100s (and now, for the feats of strength!). If you swim in a pool that’s measured in meters, that’s 10,000 meters, or 6.2 miles, aka swimming a 10k; how super cool is it to be able to say you’ve done that!?

Obstacles to doing this on my birthday:
  • Gyms (and the pools within) are closed on Christmas day.
  • Everybody’s busy (rightfully so, it’s a family day!).
  • It’s cold outside, so nobody wants to!
Waaaa… poor me.

Note: Be careful what you wish for. About a month ago, I was indulging in some complaining on this subject and Linda (high school swim coach extraordinaire!) said, “Hey, maybe I can open the pool at Blossom on Christmas day. Let me check with my aquatic director.” And just like that, we were able to get into the beautiful Davis Pool and swim 100x100 on Christmas morning!

Before - all smiles!
 Linda’s swim kids wrote the set for us and Dawn weighed in. On Christmas morning at 6:30 am, Linda, Orissa, Dawn, Herb and I met at Blossom to start our swim.

The set.
At first, we all had our own lanes, but after the first 20 100s, Dawn told me to come and share hers. “Sit on my feet for these band-only 100s,” she said. Band-only is where you tie your feet together and swim with only your arms, dragging the rest of your body behind you, and it’s hard. The most I’ve ever done is 25 meters at a time with a bunch of rest. So basically, 45 minutes into our 4-hour workout, I entered hell, even with the benefit of drafting off Dawn.

She dragged me through the next 15x100 too, telling me to “fight” and “stay with it” as I gasped at the wall, touching and going, while she and Linda got AT LEAST 10-15 seconds rest on each interval and didn’t even look like they were breathing hard. “I can’t believe I asked for this. It’s my birthday, I did this to myself, what the f, OMG we’re not even halfway through this, it's my birthday and they are HAZING ME” is what was going through my head. Herb was doing his own thing in the lane beside us, Dawn and Linda were gliding effortlessly side by side as I gasped on Dawn’s feet for 25 meters and then lost her on the first turn each time, and Orissa tried valiantly to keep up in her own lane on the other side of Linda.

As we worked through a set of PBB (paddles, buoy, band) with aching shoulders, Dawn commented that she needed to leave for Santa duties. At this exact time, Brian showed up to join us. We all hugged and squealed and took a photo for posterity, and then Dawn left after 5400 total meters. And Linda said the best words of the day, “I hate PBB! Let’s get rid of it! Let’s kick with fins and kickboards instead!” A glimmer of hope – the workout was changing. Orissa and I smiled joyfully as we kicked and gossiped and chatted for 1000 meters.

Halfway through!
It wasn’t all fun and games though. Linda made us work hard after that, but finally we were finished, and after congratulating ourselves and each other, we headed out to spend time with our families. I can't even describe how grateful and filled with love I am for my fun, fearless friends who came to swim with me early in the morning on a day that’s reserved for family.

Finished! Success!
That wasn't all for the day, though...

I would already have chalked yesterday up as one of the greatest birthdays of my life due to the swim party. But I had another surprise in store. Later that evening, I opened my present from Robert. The packaging said Quarq on it, but I couldn’t believe that that's what was really inside the box. It’s probably just an accessory of some kind…nope – it’s a power meter. Quarq Elsa power meter OMG and it’s mine!

Matt and Dawn have been preaching power to me forever and for almost as long as that, I've been trying to figure out how to get my hands on a power meter. It's certainly not a "need" but it is most definitely a "want." I don’t understand how all three of them were able to keep this a secret from me, but they totally did. I was even in Bicycle Heaven on Friday, crying about power to Matt as he kept a straight face and told me not to believe in Santa Claus. And Dawn, who can never keep a secret but always tells you not to say anything, was able to hold it in while I begged her on Saturday to hit up Meredith Kessler for a used Powertap hub. Even Hillary knew…sneaky sneaky sneaky. It's so cool that the people that I hold in highest regard were all conspiring together on this fabulous surprise.

The best gift, though, is that my amazing hubby totally gets it. As I sat there speechless over his gift, he quietly said to me, “You had to have it. I want to help you to be great at this.” He gets it, he gets me; I am the luckiest luckiest luckiest.

Alright, I've gushed enough for one post...but finally, here's a little inspiration from a super cool RALLY TOWEL that Linda had made for all the Iron Whiners. I love love love this quote:

Happy holidays and happy training, and here's to a fantastic 2014!

Friday, December 20, 2013

I Hate Math but I Love Numbers - Staying Motivated through the Holidays

About 6 weeks ago, I looked at my running log and thought, "Awesome! I have 2 months until the end of the year, I'm going to hit a thousand miles EASY!" I was sitting at like 930 miles for the year so far. For the last few years, my standard running goal has been to run at least a thousand miles in each year. The first time I accomplished this, I was in Las Vegas with Robert celebrating New Year's Eve and our wedding anniversary...and at 6 pm on New Year's Eve, I was on a treadmill running 7 miles because I needed to make a thousand. (I think/hope I'm not alone here with silly goals like this. There was a storyline on a recent Modern Family in which Phil set and accomplished a similar goal of walking "to Canada" on an elliptical trainer. So at least the guy who wrote that part of that episode knows what I'm talking about here.) That experience taught me two things about myself - that I enjoy fun, ridiculous, useless goals. And once they're set, I'll do anything to achieve them.

So...6 weeks ago when I looked at my running log, I could have stopped there. But I didn't. Instead, something in my brain said, "Ok, you're going to get a thousand running miles easy. But how does it compare to last year?" Hmm. Now I needed 77 more miles, to make it to 1077 and match last year. And I could have stopped there. But I didn't. Instead, I thought, "Hey, I wonder how this year's bike and swim mileage stacks up to last year's?" The bike was easy peasy to achieve, just 200ish more miles. But the swim was not such a piece of cake.

I sent a note to Coachie - "In each of the next five weeks, I need to swim 8625 yards, bike 30 miles, and run 29.8 miles." and she replied back - "No problem." I saw her the next night for a pain cave trainer session, and we talked about the goals. She said she totally understood because she loves numbers too. And then she said something like, "I think you got this, you can totally run 30 miles before the end of the year *eyeroll*" and I said, "You know those miles I sent you were per WEEK, right? Not total." And she said,"Yikes! Ok, yeah, I think you can still do it for the bike and run...but probably not the swim goal."

And with that I set out to do it. I crammed 30 miles of running into the next 3 days. Of course, then I promptly went back to Las Vegas on vacation for Robert's birthday and missed an entire four days of workouts. As soon as we got home, I once again became laser focused on the goal. This meant that in addition to my usual daily workouts, I was running 1 or 2 miles at work during lunch with a couple of my coworkers (trying not to get too sweaty while running during the workday is fun - and by fun I mean not fun). I've been adding an extra 200 or 500 or 1000 to the end of swim workouts.

I'm 100% aware that all of this is "junk miles" but I don't care. I have become obsessed with making this happen! So here I am with 11 days left in the year and I need 12,000+ yards of swimming and 55.5 miles of running before end of day on December 31. I met the bike goal earlier this week (woo hoo!).

I told the girls about my ridiculous self-inflicted challenge, and Aixa decided to join me on my quest - she's aiming for 1000 miles of running this year too, and she's got about 50 miles to go. I think we're going to make it. And FABULOUS LINDA, our fishy friend, the high school swim coach, has determined that she'll help me out by swimming a 10K with me ON CHRISTMAS DAY - my birthday - how cool is that!!?

We'll see how this all shakes out. It has certainly made the last few weeks of training more fun and motivating at a time of year when it can often be anything but. Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Strong, Calm, and Confident - Mental Training

This weekend, a few weeks into the "off season" (which actually means marathon season - which is really not "off" at all), I took Coachie up on an offer to ride with her. It would be foolish not to accept an invitation to ride with Dawn - my take on this is always that if I ride with her, it's going to hurt but I'll get so much more out of it than riding by myself (or with the girls for a donut) that I have to do it every time I can.

So I went with her a couple of weeks ago and it was a total sufferfest (for me. For her, it was a "social ride" which meant she chattered easily the entire time while I tried not to die). It ended up being a 4 hour ride, during which we rode down Krueger Canyon (the last time she rode there, she crashed and broke her collarbone, so that was a fun memory to revisit), and back along some horrible new chip seal and down some access roads to major highways that I'm still trying to block out of my memory. The last hour and a half was torture for me, but afterwards, I thanked her and told her I would love to ride with her again, anytime she'll have me.

That opportunity came up again this weekend. She extended an invitation to the Tri-Belief group and I was the only sucker taker. It was cold and windy and we headed up Blanco Rd. at 12 mph. At first I wondered if she was waiting for me, but of course she was struggling too, leading us into the 15-25 mph headwind and providing a (very welcome) draft for me.

I love riding with Dawn because I can watch what she does and copy it. Just like following Hillary down Mt. Lemmon at camp, I followed Dawn through all the twists and turns, up and down hills, watching how she turned and how she leaned and when she stayed in the bars and when she sat up. By trying to do what she does, I'm learning to be more comfortable on my bike. Woo hoo! Oh, and also we took a break to take some photos of the cows.

At one point, Dawn had to do a 15 minute effort into the wind, along a straightish road with rolling hills. As I watched her disappear into the distance, I concentrated on my own effort - stay in the aerobars. Keep making smooth circles with your feet. Don't let up, keep riding strong. Thoughts came up, "I'm afraid of the crosswind - what if I crash? I'm scared to turn corners." I refused to let my mind use those words - scared and afraid. Instead, a mantra bubbled up, which I repeated throughout the ride - "I am strong, I am calm, I am confident." (Sounded quite a lot like Stuart Smalley or the nanny talking to the little girl in "The Help" - haha - but it worked!) I thought about racing - I don't have to catch up with her, I just have to know I'm going as fast as I can. When I finally did reach her (she had turned around for me), I felt proud of my effort.

The reward was a screaming tailwind on the way home. Of course by this time, almost 3 hours later, I was cooked. Dawn instructed me to get on her wheel, never falling more than a bike length back - we only had an hour to get back to her house. So we blasted back down Blanco Rd, this time at 40 mph. And although I was suffering, I continued to repeat my mantra, and I stayed on her wheel (in zone 4. Zone 4!!! On her wheel with a tailwind!!!).

I'm putting this in the bank for the next racing season. I am strong, I am calm, I am confident (and doggone it, people like me!). Ride on!

Monday, November 18, 2013

San Antonio Rock n Roll Marathon Race Report 2013 ("Fun Run" with the Girls)

It all started with a coupon code last December. First, the marathon date changed from mid-November to December 8, which would mitigate the risk of miserably hot temperatures that have happened nearly every race day since the race's inception in 2008. "Come join us for cooler temps!" they said, "And here's a coupon to sweeten the deal!" Even after suffering through the marathon with Shelly in 2011 and shrieking "I'm never doing a stand-alone marathon again!" to everyone who would listen, I admit that I'm the one who rallied my friends and talked them all into signing up (sorry, girls). Then, a few weeks later, it was determined that the new date conflicted with the Dallas White Rock Marathon, and Competitor Group moved the date back to November 17. In their defense, they offered a refund for folks who had already registered. We opted not to take it.

I had two conversations with Dawn about this race. One was back in early fall. With the hamstring issues I'd been having and my A race 3 weeks prior to the marathon, I questioned training for and racing the marathon. Should I switch to the half? At that time we determined that I'd train for Longhorn and do a quick little ramp up for the marathon afterwards with the understanding that I would be training for a "fun run" and should not expect to get a new marathon PR. With Longhorn on my mind, this was fine with me.

The second conversation was the night before the race. "What's your goal?" Dawn asked. Well, it's a fun run with the girls. "OK, but what's your actual goal?" Honestly Coachie, I am terrified of The Marathon. I have run 4 of them. The first one was a disaster. The next 3 all resulted in the same time (4:46). I am stuck with this terrible marathon PR and I really don't want to get that time again. Not to mention the forecast for the day was for brutal heat. She listened and we put together a plan: Run by feel, take off the heart rate strap. Go easy at first, pick it up after a few miles, find a pace group to chase, don't fade, crush the last 6 miles. And stay positive the whole time. No negative thoughts allowed. Got it?

Race day came and as promised, the morning was 70 degrees and dripping with humidity. Aixa picked me up at 5:45 and we drove to the very well organized shuttle at the AT&T center. Rode the bus to the Alamodome and headed straight for the porta potties. These occupied our time for the next hour or so. Pee, get back in line. Pee again. Met up with Linda, Brian, and Orissa in our corral (13) and we were ready to begin. As we inched towards the start line with the thousands of other people around us, I was filled with pride over how cute we looked in our Smash kits and did not feel nervous about the day.

I ducked into a porta potty right before we got to the start line. This proved a smart move because this was the first marathon where I didn't have to stop in the middle of the race! The girls and Brian waited for me and we crossed the start line. Immediately, Aixa and Orissa were off to the races. I knew that if I followed them, I'd suffer later, so I stuck to the plan of going easy the first few miles. Linda and Brian stayed behind with me.

With 26,000 entrants in this race, if you start in a later corral like we did, the first 12 miles of the race is really hard to navigate and get into a rhythm. The water stops are chaos and there are people everywhere, walking, run-walking, running, stopping dead in their tracks in front of you. Every corner is like a turn buoy on the swim in a triathlon - everyone gets bunched up and you have to avoid smacking into people, getting squashed into a curb, or having someone step on you. Trying to negotiate all of this is tiring. If I did this race again, I would be very tempted to lie about my pace so that I could get a spot in one of the first corrals. I had brought a small bottle of water with me so that I wouldn't have to try to maneuver into the first few water stops, and I think this really helped.

They changed the course this year. The race started at the Alamodome and wound up St. Mary's street to the zoo. Then, to my delight, we ran up and over Stadium Drive past the main entrance of Trinity University and down the other side along the access road of 281. I spent all my time through this section enjoying the huge crowds of students who had shown up to wave signs and cheer, and yelling to Linda "I used to live in that building!" and laughing. We ran past the lacrosse field and the tennis courts and the gym and I recalled so many snippets of happy memories from college. Up Ledge Lane and past Prassel Hall where the kids were hanging off their balconies watching and cheering. What a rush. And, all of it was nicely shaded. With all this distraction, I almost didn't notice that we were running up some pretty tough little hills.

We ran back into downtown on Main, and at mile 7 I got to see Robert, Andre, Gina, and Rebecca, who were spectating (Gina snapped this photo). At this point, Brian had run up to catch Aixa and Orissa, and Linda and I were running together. We were chatting a little bit, and I was listening with the other ear to a fabulous new mix on my iPod that Shelly and Valerie had helped me create last week.

The course divided between half and full marathon at mile 12. After running off to the right towards the missions, finally we had some breathing room. Mile 13.1 came and went. I looked at my watch and observed that if I ran even splits (hahahahaha) I would be able to get a 4:30. I picked up the pace a little. By this point, Linda and I had stopped talking and had our game faces on. It was then that I started to notice that we were passing people. We were passing everyone. I began counting. Between miles 13.1 and 15, we passed 150 people.

Both of us were sticking to our nutrition plan of a gu every half hour and a saltstick every hour. Gatorade every time we passed an aid station that had it (note: there are 20 aid stations advertised on this course. Every other one has Gatorade. As someone who is used to a buffet of sports drink, gu, ice, and other treats at every mile in WTC triathlon races, I do not like this, especially on a hot and humid day).

Up until mile 16, we had followed Coachie's rules. We never stopped running, even through the aid stations. I kept the happiest, most positive attitude I've ever had, singing along to my iPod, chattering to Linda when she seemed to need it. She did the same for me. And then at mile 16, we stopped to walk through a water stop and eat a gu, and kept walking for a little longer than we needed to. Looked at each other and smiled, ashamed. And then started to run again.

At mile 17, the course veered off into a somewhat hilly 2 mile out-and-back. I looked at my watch and noted an 11:07 pace. I said to Linda, "Ok, every mile after this at 11:07 or better is a victory." She said ok and told me that her heart rate was getting high. I was thankful to have left my heartrate strap at home. One less thing to worry about. Now was the time to see if I could stay positive.

I was tested almost right away. I felt a twinge in my right quad, then a twinge in the calf of the same leg. Cramps. Nooooooooo! It's only mile 17! Ok, what to do. Take another saltstick, even though it isn't time. Stay positive. So I did. The cramp subsided.

We saw Aixa and Brian heading back on the out-and-back while we were still on our way out. We never saw Orissa, although apparently at some point, we passed her. At an aid station around mile 18, I lost track of Linda and continued the rest of the race on my own. Saw my co-worker Vincent on his way out while I was approaching mile 19, and waved at him. Ok, he's a rookie, I can't let him catch me.

As the wheels fell off at mile 19, I stuck to the plan. Although I couldn't help falling off the pace, and I had to walk to shake out cramps that were taking over both calves, shins, and hammys at the same time, I kept moving forward in the most positive fashion. The mantra "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional" was rolling around in my head as I sang Three Day's Grace's "Pain" (thank you Shelly for the song suggestion - it is a GREAT one!). I ran out of my own saltsticks and took salt packets from the medical tents to try to make the cramps subside, but it didn't really help.

I'd have the same opinion of miles 19-24 if I was having a great day - that part of the course sucked big time. It was all within the Mission Trail park, along a concrete sidewalk that is just like the greenbelt that Coachie is always telling me not to run on. Hot, exposed concrete. No breeze, no shade, and sparse aid stations. Everyone was walking. But I thought to myself that this run course looked like the run course of Ironman Arizona, the race that I DNF'd without making it to the run exactly one year ago today. Today was the day I was getting to run a marathon instead of sitting in an urgent care in Phoenix with road rash. So I tried to imagine that I was running at Ironman Arizona, and with that, I maintained focus and positive energy.

Around mile 25, I realized that I wouldn't be getting a new PR, and that in fact, I wasn't even going to match my dreaded 4:46 3x marathon time. Turns out there is something worse than 4:46 - it's running slower than 4:46. As I ran back onto city streets and made that final turn onto Cherry Street towards the Alamodome, I saw the time slipping away, but I kept moving forward toward the finish line.

The finishers chute was surrounded by cheering spectators telling the runners what a great job we were doing. I took it in and smiled. My final time: 4:51:10. My second worst marathon time ever. But you know what? I am prouder of this race than all the rest, because I was able to stay relentlessly positive. I also feel like my running is the strongest it's ever been, and that on a nice day, I would have had a wonderful race.

Brian and Aixa had crossed the finish line 25+ minutes earlier, new PRs for both of them on a brutal day - amazing! I wandered through the finisher's area sort of floating and grabbing every beverage that was handed to me - chocolate milk, frozen amazing Jamba Juice smoothies, Gatorade, water. Was able to find Robert and Andre and stand around for a minute talking. Found Orissa, whose hip flexor was seizing up. Orissa told us that she'd caught up with Linda and forced her to get medical attention, and that Linda had had to DNF due to heat exhaustion.

We went into the medical tent and talked with my friend Tim who was working there. He told us that the course had been closed just 30 minutes before due to the heat - the out-and-back at mile 17 had been closed and people were being sent straight past it to the finish - anyone who hadn't reached mile 17 yet would only be permitted to run 22 miles that day. The temperature had matched the record for that day - 87 degrees.

Found Linda at another medical tent and then we went and caught the shuttle back to the park and ride. We were able to laugh as we recounted tales of the day. On the way to the race, we had talked of doing the San Antonio/Las Vegas double-double, which is actually a thing because both races are on the same day - you run here and then fly to Vegas and run again. On the way home we made a pact to never let each other sign up for another full marathon again, unless it has a swim and bike before it.

I've made this promise before at the end of every marathon that I run, and this time is no different. And every time I said it, I've had to retract it the next day when I say, "I know I can do better. I want to try again."

I know I can do better. I want to try again. Austin Marathon, February 2014? Maybe we can find a coupon code.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why Tri? (Some Thoughts on Motivation)

I've been reflecting quite a bit in the last couple of weeks about triathlon and motivation and I thought I'd throw some of my thoughts down here. First though, I want to say thank you to the folks who contacted me after Longhorn - I appreciate the advice and kind, kind words - thank you! I also received the question: why put yourself out there like that, you big whiner? I fully admit that I might have sounded like a bratty child throwing a temper tantrum about a day that didn't go the way I wanted it to. But I feel like it's important in the documentation of my journey to not only publish the awesome stuff, but to describe the bad days too, because it's honest.

So in the aftermath of the "bad day," (which after some reflection, really didn't turn out to be so bad) I'm here thinking about triathlon and what it means to me and why do I do it anyway. Dawn had Shelly and me answer this question when we began training for our first Ironman. We both struggled with it for weeks (What does it meaaaaan!?), and we were surprised to find out that simply "to find out if I can" is a sufficient answer if it means something to you.

The problem is that after you find out that you can, the question becomes "Now what?" or I guess, "Now why?" So now I'm sitting here questioning: why do I do triathlon? Why am I trying to go faster? What is going to keep me motivated to continue to push myself, to get up early to train, to (try really hard to) eat right all the time, to go to bed early every night, to make it hurt in training, to NOT QUIT when a workout isn't going the way I want it to, to repeatedly choose exercise or sleep over social events, to stay positive, to keep running, swimming, biking? I need this answer because I need to know and understand what motivates me. I need to reach and hold on to it when it gets tough, whether during training or racing.

In a conversation with Robert last week, I came to the answer: I want to be great at something. Not just good. I'm "okay" at lots of things, but I want to be really great at something. I don't think "something" necessarily has to be triathlon, but that's what I've picked, which is lucky because I truly can say that I love to train! That's a good thing because clearly "to be great" also requires "to do a whole lot of hard work."

Then the question is: how do you define great? A while back, "great" was to FINISH a 10K, marathon, short course triathlon, Ironman. Now, it would be absolutely absurd for me to say "I want to qualify for Kona/70.3 Worlds" or "I want to win my age group." I'm all about striving for attainable goals, and those are completely out of reach for me. But maybe, just maybe, one day they won't be. The great thing about triathlon is that it truly is a lifetime sport. So "being great" will mean being better than yesterday, every day. This is something I can work with. Onward!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Austin 70.3 Race Report 2013 (Or, How My Brain Ruined My Day)

Because it's happened to me in running and is inevitable after many attempts at a particular distance, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I had a disappointing triathlon race. You can't set a new PR every time. I wasn't prepared for how it would feel, though, so this post will be an attempt to talk about my feelings and help myself. (At this point you can stop reading if you don't want to get sucked down into a spiral of self pity. You have been warned.)

At this moment, I can't think of anything worse than running across a finish line and having your friends ask "what happened" with a look of concern on their face. That's the ones who could actually look at me and talk to me without being awkward and uncomfortable. Unless perhaps it's seeing your coach as you're running angrily toward the finish line, and instead of the greeting I've gotten used to ("I'm so proud of you"), you get the quiet comment, "Just finish it. Get it done." The disappointment that I'm feeling in myself for not meeting my goals at this race is amplified by the disappointment I feel from my friends, coach, fellow triathletes. We all expected better from me, and it didn't happen. Yes, I'm aware that I'm beating myself up.

Now, based on the previous paragraph, you might think that I walked it in at some miserable, horrifying time. This is not the case, which makes it even more confusing and, because when things don't feel good I start to get angry instead of sad, this is where I get mad. I was slower than I expected to be yesterday. However, my time of 5:50:12 (yes, the seconds are important there - here's why...) is only one second slower than my previous all-time best time at this distance, a PR that I set last year in Kerrville. Just one year ago, I was doing mental backflips about how amazing a 5:50 is, and now I'm crying rivers about meeting the same time.

Here's the synopsis of what happened. I had a great swim. I mean it felt fantastic. My (much improved) stroke felt smooth and fresh and strong, and when I ran out of the water and saw my time (35:xx), I was overjoyed that today was going to be MY DAY! Ran up to the transition and had a swift T1, during which I ran a long way in my bike shoes through mud. Got to the bike mount line and couldn't clip in because my cleats were full of mud. Stopped, dug (some of) the mud out, tried again. Repeated 4 times, and wasted 6 minutes. I know this because I looked at my watch. This is where my brain took over. "Well you just lost the minutes you gained with that fast swim. That sucks, and you're not going to get it back." 

This is where my day went downhill. I felt panicky as I started the bike. Fighting with myself about "I need to make up that time" - "No you don't, you need to focus on the task at hand." Same old bullshit. I was glad to have driven the course the day before because the roads on this course are not in the best shape, and I have a fear of the unknown. I knew where the dangerous places were and this allowed me to stay in my aerobars for much more of the ride than if I hadn't been aware. What I was unable to do was to follow the plan that Coachie set out for me. I felt like my legs had nothing. I kept thinking, I need to get past this section because then it gets flat and fast and I can go - but that flat and fast feeling never came to me.

Note - this course is CROWDED. It doesn't ever stop being crowded. I think there are 2000 participants in this race, as opposed to the 700 I raced with at Buffalo Springs. So yesterday I also learned that I'm not over my fear of other cyclists. People do stupid, dangerous stuff. I watched it happen all day. Particularly towards the end of the bike, after mile 40, when there's a narrow lane for bikes because the road is open to traffic and they cone off only the shoulder for bikes to ride on, and cyclists are still trying to pass...I saw a woman bounce off a cone in her attempt to pass a slower rider, and she bounced into traffic and very narrowly missed bouncing off a Suburban that had to hit the brakes. I screamed at her "it's not worth it!" and then I shut it down, stopped trying to pass people, sunk into misery and self defeat. Fear won.

A little fighting voice in me spoke up when I started the run. "Come on, you can salvage this. Just run fast." So I did. I mean, for me, I really did. I achieved the fastest run I've ever done at this distance (2:07). This is huge for me. It's the first time I've averaged faster than 10 minute miles at the end of a half-Ironman. My running has improved! The problem is I just felt miserable the entire time I was doing it. Completely unhappy.  "I hate this, I hate this, I hate this" is what was going through my head for 2+ hours, and it sucked. 

Then I started calculating. My goal times were long gone. But I realized that I was in danger of not even meeting my previous PR. Not acceptable. I picked up the pace for the last 2 miles and ended up coming within one second of my PR. Which feels terrible but probably feels better than missing it by a minute.

Why I'm so disappointed:
1. Unrealistic expectations. Planning for this race with Dawn, we set some very high expectations that I'm too embarrassed to even put in writing here. Actually no - I'll put it out there - I was shooting for a finish time that would put me in striking distance of a rolldown spot to the World Championships race in Canada. I think my mental meltdown had quite a bit to do with not being able to stand up to the pressure of those expectations. 
2. All the time I spent training...and for what? I could have been spending time with my family and friends. I could have been letting my hamstring/adductor heal without spending lots of time and many dollars at physical therapy for the last 6 weeks. I could have been spending some more time at work instead of feeling like a slacker putting in my basic 40 hours to train and go to PT when all my coworkers are working overtime on this massive project that we're launching in just a few short weeks.
3. I hated all but 35 minutes of this race (the swim). I mean, hated it. I've never felt any kind of animosity towards triathlon before. I know that those feelings contributed to my disappointing performance. The contrast of how I felt during this race to how I felt earlier this summer at Buffalo Springs - it's unbelievable.

Things I learned:
1. Once my brain shuts down, I'm done. My brain got the better of me (again). When has there ever been a race where something unexpected doesn't happen? I need to learn to roll with it better.
2. I am not one of those athletes who "brings it" on race day. I know plenty of people who do, but I am not one of them. I race exactly as fast as I train and nothing more. So if I am going to achieve in racing, I need to achieve in training. Otherwise, I'm being unrealistic.

Things I need to learn:
1. How to "dig deep" when not in panic mode. As soon as I knew I was in danger of embarrassing myself with a finish time slower than my previous PR, I dug in and raced to the finish. I've done this over and over again, usually while running marathons. How do I dig deep before I have to?
2. How to handle myself better on the bike. It's been almost a year since I crashed at IMAZ. I need to stop riding like a scared little baby. To do this, I need to get over my fear of other cyclists, and to do that, I need to learn to handle myself better on the bike. I need to be able to ride around benign corners in my aerobars. Hell, I need to learn how to ride around benign corners without feeling like I'm out of control of my own bike, because that's how I felt yesterday. Any suggestions for how to do this would be much appreciated, except please don't tell me to go ride my tri bike in a pack because I'm too scared. :(

In conclusion! For now, without having consulted Coachie, so we'll see if it holds...I am hanging up my tri bike for a while. When I feel like it, I am going to go get the love of cycling back by riding my road bike with my hubby. I'm going to try to find the joy in this again, because if I lose that, what's the point? My next race is in June at Buffalo Springs, my favorite race, and I cannot have a day there that feels like yesterday felt. 

If you've made it all the way through this pity party post, thank you for reading. Please don't feel like you have to comment that you're still proud of me, etc. But if you have any tips for staying mentally in the game when stuff doesn't go your way, or digging deep earlier, or bike skills 101... please send them my way. :)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Breakthroughs and Setbacks

I've had lots of good intentions for posting the last few weeks. The problem is that every time I think to myself "oh that's a good one! I'll write about that when I get home," by the time I sit down to write, the feeling that I had has been replaced by a different one, sometimes good and sometimes bad. So today I just decided to write about this roller coaster that I've been on.

The month of September has been a good one for training, and the reason why might surprise you. Here's what happened. We were off work for Labor Day and Robert and I have been getting his Harley ready for me to ride with him (he's had the bike for years, and I've never had any desire to get on there with him, until Sons of Anarchy came along, don't judge me). So I have this adorable pink helmet and the motorcycle has a seat and pegs for me, and we just need a day to get out there and practice.

After a regular weekend of tri training, we hopped on the Harley on Labor Day and went for a successful ride for an hour an a half around all the roads that I usually ride my bicycle on. It was exhilarating (ok, at first it was terrifying and I almost didn't make it out of our neighborhood without throwing up from fear. But that's a whole other story). The problem is that about an hour into the ride, my same old hamstring was screaming at me just from sitting on the motorcycle, and when we returned home I could barely walk.

For almost a year, I've been figuring out ways to "work through" this hamstring issue without solving it. I've been telling myself that it doesn't hurt while I'm riding/running, so what's the big deal if it hurts all day at work? This summer, I was beginning to dread the running days because every time I ran, I knew I'd be in some pretty solid discomfort for the entire day afterwards. But it wasn't "affecting my life." Well, now it was. And I would be damned if I didn't get to ride around the hill country on the back of the motorcycle holding onto my very own Jax Teller because of a tri injury.

I asked Coachie what to do and she begged me to go and see Justin Martindale over at Promotion Physical Therapy. She has so much confidence in him and he really helped Shelly back in the fall before IMAZ, so I decided that even though physical therapy had not seemed to help that much before, that I needed to give this another try.

This experience has been far different from my PT experience in May. After 3 weeks of 3x a week at Promotion and following all the rules, I believe this is helping me to get better for real this time. The real benefit is coming from having my coach and physical therapist talking to each other about my progress. After a conversation with both of them, we determined that I needed to "push it" on a week's worth of workouts and "see what happened."

Here's where the roller coaster comes in. I followed their directions and started pushing it. And because I wasn't afraid to hurt myself, I broke through left and right in swimming, biking, and running, hitting intervals I've never hit, reaching speeds and heart rate zones that I've never been able to grasp and hold on to before. This happened consistently for 2 weeks and I know it was all because I put fear away. Even with harder workouts, my hamstring was feeling better too. Yesssssss!

Well then, after a particularly awesome weekend workout, I was doing a pretty benign swim on Tuesday and I felt sharp pain in my hip flexor. By the end of that day, I could barely walk. Luckily, I had a PT appointment. Justin couldn't figure out what I'd done, he tried to make my hip physically feel better, but mentally I was a mess. I went home and cried and felt like I was back at square one.

And then 2 days later, it feels better, the hamstring feels great, I'm probably one PT appointment away from "graduating," and I'm back to smashing workouts and feeling super strong.

Roller coaster. I hate roller coasters. I've made a decision to just hold on and go for this ride. Longhorn 70.3 is in exactly one month.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Carrerathon Augusto 18k Race Report(s)

Back in June, several members of my team from work participated in the Carrerathon 5k event, and we had a great time. When one of my coworkers suggested doing the 18k in the same series (on the same course!), I decided, why not? An 11 mile run will probably be on my schedule that weekend anyway as I train for Longhorn. I also took it as an opportunity to egg on some friendly competition between two of my coworkers.

As I ran along the Leon Creek Greenway today, it came to mind that there were all kinds of stories going on out there. Since this is my blog, I'll start with mine. 

I had a workout plan to run 11 miles today - 6 miles easy and 5 miles strong. Aixa signed up for the 18k as well, and she agreed to follow this same plan. In matchy matchy Lululemon (of course), we started the race from OP Schnabel park and settled into a comfortable pace (I'm not going to say easy because it was slightly faster than easy). We chatted with each other and the runners around us (shout out to the guy who called us "Iron Maidens," how clever is that?!). After the turnaround, we saw Brian, who was out for his own run,  and he commented that he'd pace us back to the finish line. "How fast do you want me to go?" he asked. I told him anything under 9 minute miles would be fine. 

Brian took off, Aixa followed, and they started to leave me behind. This was to be expected - Aixa and Brian are faster runners than me and my goal was just to keep Aixa in sight, stay within myself, and not blow up on the strong part of my run. After a couple of miles of hanging behind them, I realized that I was coming up on their heels. "Run faster!" I told Brian. So he did, and we followed. During this time, I realized how much fun I was having. I was running fast in the right heart rate zone, practicing passing people decisively and leaving them behind. And, when one of these people refused to allow it (my new friend Monica, we had chatted for a while on the way out), I didn't get discouraged, but just continued to chase her. It was fun to be racing! My toes started to hurt and my Achilles started to cramp, and I thought of a quote that Runner's World magazine had posted on Facebook just this morning - "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." I didn't even consider suffering. I was making a game of sticking to my plan and playing at racing with the competitors around me.

I was proud that I wasn't letting Aixa leave me in the dust, too. But as I caught her one more time with about a mile to go, I discovered that I wasn't killing it - she was just having a bad day (I found out later that she had also been stung by a bee!). Aixa complained that she was bonking, described a ridiculously high heart rate, and dropped back, urging me to keep going.

This doesn't happen. Aixa usually runs much faster than me. So it was uncomfortable for me to be in front of her. I know that sounds ridiculous, but there's a way that things usually go, and when things don't go the way they're supposed to, it's weird. I thought to myself that she was probably going to rally, so I hustled toward the finish line, which is up a big hill. I saw another girl running ahead of me and thought, I wonder if I can catch her? On a day that things were happening that weren't supposed to, I decided to try. One more time, with thoughts of Rinny and Leanda Cave in my head, I again did the thing where you run up on someone, pass them, and press on with a strong burst so that they can't stay with you. It felt awesome to practice and execute that. 

So that's the story of my racing. But there's tons more, and they're all so inspiring!
The "after" picture. Orissa is the smiling one. ;)
Orissa! She ran the 10k today. Orissa has been spending the summer getting faster. Over the years that we've trained together, she and I have both gone through the same progression from participant to competitor. But she hasn't had the benefit of the camp experience to help her through this, she's done it all by herself, and that makes me so impressed and so proud of her. Today she won second place in her age group and employed all the same skills that I practiced - pacing and picking off the competition, and it totally paid off and she came in fifth overall with a killer time. She knew that she had the possibility of winning the race and she went for it. As the saying goes, she shot for the moon and landed among the stars! Once you've been in that position, I don't think you can ever go back to "just participating" or "just racing against yourself." 

But, if you're just getting started, "just participating" is beyond awesome. I spent miles today being completely inspired by my coworker, Vincent, who ran the 18k today as his second-ever race - his first was the 5k back in June. As a new runner, he agreed to run today to race against another coworker (Mike, who has been running for years), but it's clear that along the way Vincent has discovered a love of running. When he talks about it, I remember how it felt as a beginner, when every run is your longest run ever, to be just totally amazed by what your own body can do. 

He's been diligently training, and he ran 10 miles on Monday after work just to see if he could. That's the furthest he's ever run until this morning. When I saw him on the out-and-back course, he was smiling and running and looking so happy, and I took such inspiration from that. I'd been egging him on to beat Mike at the race, and he didn't. But when he crossed the finish line maybe 5 or 10 minutes behind Mike, he looked so happy that you might think he'd won the whole race. It was awesome.
Vincent (kneeling) and Mike (standing) are the two guys on the right. This was taken at the 5k in June.
How about the comeback story - a former coworker, Stephanie, is training for the marathon, and I was happy to see her out there at the race today. Stephanie has crushed races, including marathons, in the past, but she's been busy for the past year with her new baby girl, who is now one year old. I'm inspired to see Stephanie picking up where she left off - training for another marathon, getting back into it, and even trying triathlons for a new challenge.

So many of us found something new in ourselves and celebrated being alive by running today. I'm so grateful to be feeling this, and so proud of all my friends (including the new ones!) for participating, racing, surviving, persevering, competing, inspiring - being the stars of their own racing stories. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Case of the "Now What's?"

As an avid reader of Slowtwitch and Triathlete/Lava magazines, I've been aware of the dreaded Post-Ironman Depression that can afflict athletes after completing that huge goal of finishing the first Ironman. And like the beginning of every article I've read about it, I'll start by saying "I never thought it would happen to me!"

I understand it. I was completely focused on a big goal for over a year, and once that goal was accomplished, it totally makes sense that I'd feel a little bit lost. However, as I trained for IMTX, I had other goals swimming around in my head for "later," and I figured that they'd be enough to get my attention and keep some drive and focus in the months after Ironman. This hasn't been so much the case, and I struggle day to day with finding motivation. Case in point, I'm officially training for the Austin 70.3 this fall, but I haven't registered for the race.

My friends have all been talking about the next full Ironman events that they're going to do. Some of them have already signed up for races next year. I've joined in these conversations, but in my mind I'm thinking I don't feel like doing all that training again for a long time! Luckily, the girls have talked more about 2015 than next year. I just don't know what I want to do next as far as long races go - and I just need to make myself be okay with that. There's no rush, right?

To add insult to injury (or whatever), my hamstring that was bothering me before IMTX has continued to speak up, but not enough to keep me from training. I've been (not-so-diligently) doing PT exercises to strengthen the muscles around it, but it still makes me notice it during and after workouts - not enough to slow me down but just enough to scare me and make me mad.

I used to spend a lot of time being blissfully happy and grateful that my body allows me to do this stuff every day, because I know that it's a gift and that no moment should be taken for granted. I want that feeling back.

I'm hoping that I'm coming out of it a little bit...this weekend was a GREAT one for training. We had some beautiful weather for a ride out to Castroville yesterday, and the cooler temps allowed for a quicker-than-usual long run this morning. It helps to have fast friends to chase plus the promise of a cold coffee drink at Starbucks afterwards. I know that all of this is supposed to be fun - well, this weekend was more fun than it's been in a long time. Who knows, I might even sign up for Longhorn today. ;)

Post-run Starbucks shenanigans.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Baby's First Triathlon (Small Texan Relay Race Report)

I was tempted to file this one under "related shenanigans," but it turned out to be quite a race! Of course Shelly has been my training buddy and bestie for years and years, and it's no secret that I've been missing her quite a bit in training lately due to her pregnancy. It's been great to be able to walk on breaks with her at work and swim with her - but that's no substitute for the daily smashfests on the bike and run that we used to endure together. I don't think she'd have any issue with me complaining about this.

What surprised me is that she misses the training and the racing too - I thought she'd be so wrapped up in nesting and whatever else you do to prepare for her little (now cantaloupe sized!) bundle of joy that she wouldn't really be missing all the triathlon stuff - but she totally does. So, because swimming is the one thing she can safely and comfortably do, we signed up for the relay race at the Small Texan out at Boerne Lake - with Shelly as the swimmer, me as the cyclist, and Orissa as the runner. The original Iron Whiners in action at this (sort of) Olympic distance race (1500 m swim, 45K bike, 10K run) under the name "San Antonio Smash."

All three of us talked about this being "just for fun," (ahem, isn't it all!?) but when race day came, of course we each had our goals. Shelly and I drove out to the lake together and met Brian and Orissa there. I have never done a tri relay before and it was quite a different feeling. Not the same pre-race butterflies as usual. Of course, because she was going first, Shelly had all of the butterflies racing around in her belly along with the little one.

We set up in transition and chatted with friends. Attended the pre-race meeting at the lake front, and the men's wave was off. Orissa and I hugged Shelly and sent her down to the water's edge. We watched from the boat ramp as the women and relays took off swimming 5 minutes after the men. Go Shelly! Her little yellow cap went off into the distance among all the green caps - there were only 5 relay teams for the Small Texan.

Orissa and I ran a quick (and exact) three-quarters of a mile to warm up and then we set up inside the transition area. Orissa would grab the chip off Shelly and transport it to my leg, and then I'd run out with my bike. As we stood there, the first racers started to come in. What a different experience that was! Some people are crazy and rushed and panicky in transition; others are smooth and quick. Some sit down and chat for a while. We saw one of the other relay people standing at the other side of the transition. I joked with him that I would chase him on the course later. Roland ran through transition so quickly that he forgot to take off his swim skin - Orissa and I screamed at him to take it off and grabbed it from him at the bike mount line before he took off to ride. Apryl ran through in first place. And then came Shelly! She had crushed the swim and made it up the long boat ramp and into transition in 31 minutes! We were in third place and it was my job to keep us there.

Off onto the bike! I ran out of transition and rushed onto my bike, smiling for Brian's photos and yelling at Linda and Heather who were cheering (so cool to have a cheering squad!). Out onto the I-10 access road and down the route that we used to ride every weekend when we were newbies a few short years ago.

The road was familiar with its chip seal and bumps. My heart rate was high and that was okay - even though Coachie had told me that I should plan to run afterwards, I knew that if I raced the bike right and treated it like a time trial, I wouldn't have anything left for a run and that was okay with me. I was flying. Racing past people and feeling super confident. The road was bumpy - it rattled my right elbow right out of my bars twice! My aero helmet felt hot at first but then I stopped noticing it. The route took us straight out to the Waring general store, and then we turned back towards the lake. Right before the turnaround, I caught a glimpse of the relay rider that I had joked with earlier. He was already coming back the other way. I yelled "I'm coming after you!" or something ridiculous like that, and made it my plan to catch him.

I love out-and-back courses because you can see where everyone is. You can also get encouragement from your friends - I enjoyed exchanging greetings with Carlos, Roland, Apryl, and others that I recognized as we flew by each other. The way back to the lake went by quickly as I picked off more of the riders in front of me.

Then, instead of turning into the lake, we had to ride past it, down a road that I've run on a few times but am not as familiar with. It turns out that there are some pretty nice hills out that direction too, and after hammering it back down the access road of I-10 and expecting more flat-ish terrain, it's a nasty surprise. But never mind, just keep on pushing because you don't have to run afterwards. I raced back into the lake, and as we approached the last half mile, I saw the relay rider...and he was sitting up and slowing down. What? Who does that? I flew past him, screamed and fist pumped like Mark Cavendish winning a sprint finish, and hustled into transition. I think I probably looked like an enormous fool, but it was sooo much fun. I never saw the relay cyclist who was in first place, but I was happy with my time - an 18 mph average! My fastest ever out in Boerne.

After I handed off the chip to Orissa, it took some time for me to collect myself and I barely had the energy to walk to rack my bike. "I'm not running," I told Shelly, Brian and Linda. Brian and I took a dip in the lake and cooled off. Then it was up to the top of the reservoir to cheer Orissa in.

Orissa crushed her run in the ridiculous heat on a course with no shade. She outran the relay runner behind her and put us in 3rd place by 40 seconds. Yahoo! I could tell that she was totally spent just like I had been. AND! She achieved her goal of a sub-9 pace. I poured water over her head and we all screamed excitedly at each other about what a great day it had been. Orissa dipped in the lake and then we went to eat some delicious barbecue. They even served beer!

I found the relay cyclist that I had been chasing and thanked him for motivating me to ride faster. He laughed and said he somehow could tell I wasn't joking when I said I was coming for him. It turns out that their team won first place in the relay division because their runner ran a 35 minute 10K. Amazing!

The girls and I agreed that being beaten by a relay team of 3 male Marines was not too shabby. The second place team ahead of us was quick and strong too. We were proud to be the only all-female team. And then when the awards ceremony came around, it was even more fun to be recognized as the only 4-man relay team, with Shelly's little cantaloupe joining her on the swim.

What a fun day! If you haven't done one before, you should try it. If for no other reason than to just smash yourself on the bike and see what you can do when you don't have to save yourself to run. It was a fantastic day out at the lake with great friends at a great race. I would definitely do this again - we don't even need to have a baby along for the ride as an excuse!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon 2013 Race Report

The Buffalo Springs 70.3 is considered one of the most difficult courses on the half-Ironman circuit, and it's right here in Lubbock, TX, about 6 hours from San Antonio. Last year, when I was unexpectedly offered a discounted entry fee as part of a tri club, I thought, why not try an epic race and see what happens? Well, I had an amazing day in 2012 and even achieved a new half-Ironman personal record time of 6 hours, 13 minutes. So this year, when Dawn and I met after Ironman Texas to decide "what's next," I jumped at the chance to do it again, at Coachie's suggestion. (It's only 6 weeks after IMTX? Can I really do it? "Sure, you have a ton of fitness in you and you had a huge taper for IMTX due to injury and illness. Of course you can! Just think of Ironman Texas as your last long training day for this race." Okay, Coachie.) Bonus: Dawn was also planning on racing Buffalo Springs.

The course is tough because you battle hills, heat, and wind on the bike and the run. The swim and transition area are at the bottom of a (beautiful!) canyon, so the first few hundred meters of the bike course are up a huge hill, climbing out of the canyon. There are a couple of big hills out on the bike course, and because it's always windy in Lubbock and the course is made up of 2 out and backs (imagine one of those pointy barbecue forks with 2 prongs), you ride in all different directions, so you get headwind, crosswind, and tailwind at all different times. The run has 3 long, steep hills spaced pretty evenly through the course, and even has its own "energy lab" section, named after a particularly difficult stretch of the Ironman Kona marathon course that is completely unprotected from the sun and the wind. And it's Lubbock at the end of June, so the temperatures are usually in the 100s.

An added bonus for this race is that we have some good friends who live in Lubbock, so we made plans to get together with them after the race. Robert and I drove up Saturday morning for the Sunday race, with a plan to arrive in time for packet pickup and a warm-up ride and run. Everything went as planned and we arrived in Lubbock around 2 pm on Saturday. In and out of packet pickup/expo, and we headed out to the lake to make sure we could remember how to get there. It had been raining in Lubbock (weird!) and it was freakishly humid outside. The roads were wet and full of puddles. As we parked the car at the lake (trying not to get it stuck in the mud) to get my bike out for a practice ride, Coachie called. Don't do your warm-up stuff, she cautioned. It's too hot and humid. Get to your hotel and rest! She didn't have to tell me twice. I felt sick. Humidity! Just like Ironman Texas. This is not going to be good. I was counting on a "dry heat," which I typically handle far better than humidity.

Pre-race Smash shenanigans with Coachie and Alan.

At 4:15 on race morning, I woke up and checked the weather. Cool temperatures but raining. ARGH. Looked on Facebook and secretly hoped to see a post from the race director offering apologies that the race was cancelled. Nope. Fine then. At the lake, the parking situation was not good due to the rain/mud, so Robert dropped me off at the transition area and drove to find another place to set up to take photos.

Alone for the first time ever before a race, I felt sick and nervous as I wheeled my bike down the hill into transition to get set up. My goals for the race were to be brave (i.e., stay in my aerobars) on the bike, and to PR the run. How could I make the first goal with wet roads and hills? The forecast said that the rain was passing through and would stop by the time the race started. But the roads might still be wet, I whined to myself.

Everything went smoothly and very quickly. I socialized with some friends from home, Kelly, Bob, and Roland. I saw Dawn briefly. And then, before I could blink an eye, it was time to race! We lined up for the beach start and watched the pros go. Two more age groups and then my wave was off. Started my watch, ran into the water with all the women 44 and under, and started swimming. There was less contact than last year because the women were split into 2 waves instead of one, but the sun was out and was directly in our eyes. I sighted off the silhouettes of the swimmers in front of me and prayed they were going in the right direction.

Gorgeous sunrise; yes, this really is Lubbock.

As usual, I couldn't tell how I was doing on the 1.2-mile swim. I felt like I was breathing hard, so I was probably "racing," but I couldn't be sure. Once we turned away from the sun, I sighted the buoy line and passed people from waves ahead of me, which gave me confidence. My new sleeveless wetsuit felt good. And before I knew it, I passed the final turn buoy and was hauled up out of the water by 2 energetic volunteers. Had my wetsuit stripped off and looked at my watch. 32 minutes - I screamed with joy. Are you kidding me?! That's a swim PR by like 3 minutes. I was over the moon, but also trying to figure out if my watch had somehow malfunctioned. (I'm pretty sure the swim was short. After the race, everyone was talking about record times.)

Up the big hill on my bike and out onto the 56-mile course. Saw Robert at the bottom of the first big hill and screamed incoherently at him - it was so great to see him. Rode up the next big hill and settled in. I was actually talking to myself out loud, "That swim time, ridiculous! No way! Ok, forget the swim. Settle down. Focus." My heart rate was high (168) - focus on getting that to come down. Get some nutrition in. It's funny - when I have a bad swim, it affects at least the first few miles of the bike and I have to force myself to get over it. I didn't expect the same thing to happen with a good swim. It took some serious self-talk to get myself to focus on the task at hand.

No need to fake this smile. 

After the first few miles inside the park, we got out onto the farm roads and I was flying on the bike course. Over 20 mph and passing people. The roads were dry, for the most part, except for a few deep puddles that filled the whole road, that I went through praying that there were no potholes hidden underneath. I got down into my aerobars and stayed there. The first hour of the bike flew by. Throughout the ride, I watched the average speed on my Garmin fluctuate between 17.8 and 19 mph. I really wanted to ride faster than last year, and to do that, the average had to stay above 17.8. Saw Coachie and Carlos out there on an out-and-back, and they shouted encouragement. Then the wind picked up (or, we had a tailwind for the first part of the ride. I'm not sure which). For a good 45 minute stretch, it was tough and I was struggling to go 15+ mph. Kelly and Roland passed me and I started to get discouraged. Come on Kris, you're a better cyclist than this. Stay with them. But I couldn't. And I kept thinking about the massive headwind that we had last year for the last 10 miles of the bike, and knew I wouldn't get a bike time better than last year - impossible. Kris! Focus. Stay in the moment.

And then, as I turned for that final stretch, I realized that the wind pattern was the exact opposite of last year. Tailwind! Woo hoo! The final 10 miles were a blur and I went screaming down the road at 25 mph. Even the headwind that I had to fight going back into the park couldn't bring the average back down, and I ended up with a bike split 4 minutes faster than last year.

On the way back into the park.

Seeing Robert and Tony cheering at the park entrance was a huge boost, too. I screamed at them about how great I was feeling. The run course went out past the park entrance in the opposite direction of the bike route, and I knew that they would be expecting me soon on the run. I think that made me move a little quicker. I hustled through T2 and headed out onto the run course. The first 3 miles of the run inside the park were a blur. I felt like I was on familiar ground - I remembered the course well from last year and particularly remembered enjoying watching the pros come in on the the first 3 miles of the out-and-back course. So inspiring to see them racing by to win when I still had 13.1 miles to run. They are so unbelievably fact, Greg Bennett, the winner, posted a new course record of 3:48!

I saw Robert on the way down the second hill near mile 4, and yelled joyfully at him. Throughout the run, I ran steadily and never stopped to walk, not even on the hills. I actually felt great the whole time. There were a couple of times in the last 3 miles that I felt my calves and shins wanting to cramp, but each time, the feeling passed. The entire time, I just kept watching my watch and calculating what I needed to do to get under 6 hours. I had this goal in mind and planned to achieve it by running 20 minutes faster than last year - well, now I had some padding with faster times than I'd counted on for the bike and the swim, so I didn't have to. Which is good, because I didn't. With a 2:13 split for the half marathon, I was only 8 minutes faster on the run than last year. But I will take that, because I know I was moving as fast as I could the entire time.

Ok, maybe I didn't feel awesome the whole time. Trying to fake it here.

I knew that I was going to make my goal of a sub-6 hour race, and as I approached the final half mile, I started to get really emotional. I needed to do well at this race. After spending a year and a half preparing for Ironman, then DNFing in November at Arizona, and then coming up way short of my time goal at Ironman Texas, I needed that feeling of racing. I needed the confidence and pride that it brings. I didn't race at Ironman Texas; I survived it. I raced Buffalo Springs and I'm so proud.

I was feeling all of this as I ran down the final stretch, and I started to cry - an ugly, hyperventilating, dry heaving, sobbing cry that left spectators looking somewhat horrified and Robert, who I passed without a word, looking concerned. And then I crossed the finish line with a time of 5:57 and ran straight into the arms of Dawn, who was there waiting for me (she had finished nearly an hour earlier, in first place in her division) and I started weeping and she was hugging me screaming at me about how f-ing proud she was. Such a cool, ridiculous, overwhelming moment, and I was just thinking and probably yelling out loud, "I LOVE THIS SPORT!" I really do. I am totally, completely in love with the sport of triathlon. And I know now that the 70.3 distance is my soulmate!

Here I am with proud Coachie. Sniffle.

We packed up pretty quickly after the race and headed back to the hotel to clean up. Went to have some lunch with Dawn and then the plan was to go to the awards ceremony and then Robert and I would head to Tony's house for dinner. It would be cool to see Dawn get her award for first place in her age group - how awesome is that!? But I had another reason for wanting to attend - the top finishers in each division get offered a spot at the 70.3 championship race in Las Vegas, and if they don't want the slot, it rolls down to the next person in that age group, and then the next person, until someone claims it. You have to be present to get it. There was a very slight chance that I could claim one of these spots if it rolled down far enough. I can't imagine anything cooler than racing in Las Vegas with all the pros and the best athletes in the sport. I had finished 17th in my age group, so it was a very outside chance.

To make a long story short, I didn't get a Vegas slot. It was pretty cool to watch it happen though. They went through the awards, one age group at a time, starting with the oldest age groups first. As each set of athletes came up to claim their awards (a buffalo statue and a bottle of wine for the top 5 finishers), the announcer called the names of the winners, pictures were taken, and everyone clapped politely. Then he asked the important question of the first place finisher - do you want to go to Vegas? This is when everyone listened a little closer. If they said yes, the crowd clapped politely. If they said no, the announcer asked the second-place person, and so on. And everyone listened intently to see what each person would say.

Coachie on the far left - 1st place AG!

In most cases, the first and second place athletes declined the slots, usually stating that they had already qualified at a previous race. Once everyone on the podium had been asked if they were interested, the slot would roll down in that age group. They brought up a projection of the finishers in the age group and just started reading down the list of names until someone in the audience yelled out "YES!" Most of the slots were claimed by someone in the top 5 athletes. A few age groups rolled down, though. In my age group, the second Vegas slot rolled down to maybe 8th place. In the male 35-39 age group, because there were more competitors in the group, there were more Vegas slots available, and the last one rolled down beyond 25th place. It really is about the luck of the draw!

The whole weekend was pretty awesome. Instead of epic weather, we got beautiful, unseasonably cool temperatures to race in. It was great to be there to see Dawn standing on the podium in first place at the awards. I loved chatting with nervous new triathletes at the start line, socializing with friends before and after the race, and making new friends out on the race course (hmm, I suppose I lost focus for a few minutes on the run after all). I really loved seeing Robert so many times out on the course, and it was so cool that Tony came out to cheer too and to learn a little bit about the sport from Robert. I enjoyed and appreciated the words of encouragement from other competitors out on the course, and the energy and joy coming from spectators and volunteers. There's something really special about the triathlon community, and I'm so grateful to be a part of it. All in all a great weekend of racing!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Castroville Time Trial "Race Report"

"Race report" is in quotes because Coachie sent me and a couple other kids (Alan and Jeff) out to do this 40k time trial not as a race, but as a benchmark for training for the rest of the summer. "You're not racing," she said, "it's just a hard effort." So I should ride as fast as I can for 25ish miles. "Yes." How is this not racing?? I don't know, but whatever. This was my first bike race - that is, a race where I ride my bike without swimming first or running after.

At Coachie's direction, Robert and I parked at Rio Medina and then, to warm up, we rode 6ish miles to the start, which is at the Iron Haus gym just outside of Castroville. The race is an out-and-back course from Castroville to about 6 miles past Rio Medina, and then you turn around and head back. For the most part, it's flat with a bunch of turns. I ride this road a lot in training, and it's always super windy. Today was no exception. The tell-tale flags were standing straight out. This means that there would be a tailwind on the way out and a headwind on the way back.

Robert and I saw Coachie on the way to Castroville (she rode from her house!) and rode in with her. We had preregistered for the event and we walked inside the gym to get set up to race. This race was sooooo not like a triathlon. It started at 8 am, with riders starting every minute. We arrived at 8 am (not 2+ hours early to set up in a transition area). We were given our start times (9:00 and 9:01 for Coachie and me, the times were given based on when you arrived) and a little number to pin on. That's it. No bodymarking, no stickers for your bike or helmet. No timing chip. No commemorative T-shirt.

The state time trial race is at the end of June, so apparently a lot of people were out racing today to practice for it. There were 70 or so riders altogether. Lots of disc wheels, aero helmets, skinsuits, and aerodynamic shoe booties. One thing is for sure - nobody shows up at a 40k tt to check it off their bucket list. This was not like your local 5K, triathlon, or even Ironman, where there's always a ton of people who are just there to finish. Everyone here was serious. They were all set up in the parking lot warming up on their trainers, or riding back and forth on the road.

Since we had a whole hour before our start time, we rolled over to the gas station in Castroville to get a snack. Coachie wouldn't let me have any donuts but she did let us take our photo in front of Haby's.

We ate our snack (peanut butter Snickers for me!), rode back to the start and got ready to ride. I was worried about rolling down off a ramp or having someone holding onto my bike and counting me down Tour de France style, but I didn't need to be concerned. The start line was a couple of cones next to a clock. One guy stood there yelling out people's numbers and sending them off one at a time. He offered to hold my bike for me and let me clip in to get started, but I declined. I was afraid I'd topple over in front of all these roadies.

When my turn came I was literally shaking with fear. Took off tentatively and couldn't clip in. Got down in my aerobars and let the tailwind carry me. My heart rate immediately shot up to the 170s, which is ridiculous for me. I was concerned but couldn't get it to go down. Kept on riding, got passed by Jeff after about 4 miles, kept on riding. Ok, don't let Alan pass you. The first 10k went by and it was fine. Kept on riding. Started to get tired in the places that I usually get tired, the long straightaways that have a beastly crosswind. Started to worry about what the way back would feel like. Reached the turnaround (a single cone set up in the middle of the road, with Jimmy Britton standing there with a flag yelling "turn around!") and I turned around.

This is when the headwind smacked me in the face and my 22 mph turned into 15. Argh. Oh well, keep fighting and try to stay over 20 mph average for the ride. I watched my average speed creep down as my heart rate went the end of the race it was 183 (seriously, I didn't think it was possible to reach that on my bike; I can barely hit that while running hill repeats), I felt like throwing up, my feet were hurting and I was watching my garmin like a hawk, willing it to say 24 miles. When it finally did, a peloton went by in the other direction shouting encouragement and saying "you're almost there!" I made a final push for the finish line (another couple of cones) and then kept riding after I passed it because I couldn't stop. Everything was shaking. I have never, ever worked so hard on my bike. It was awesome!

We stood around for a few minutes to get our results; I'm pretty sure I was dead last of the 6 or so women who raced today, with a time of 1:16:23, that's 19.5ish mph. Not too bad. But next time I want to go faster, of course! Loved the new experience, loved sharing it with Robert, who had his own adventure riding off to La Coste with a group while I was racing. Loved the simplicity of this really well-run event. I loved it so much that I asked Coachie if I can do it again in two weeks, and she said yes. Woo hoo!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ironman Texas 2013 Race Report (or, How I Survived 14+ Hours on the Surface of the Sun)

All photos by Robert Cordova and you can see the whole set here.

I'm an Ironman! I've waited a year and a half to say that, and now that it's true, it's still hard to believe. Even though I wanted it so badly, I didn't know how much it would mean to achieve this goal. People say that once you've done an Ironman, you can do anything. Whenever I heard this in the past, I would nod solemnly while secretly thinking, "Oh you are so full of crap." I understand it now. It's not that there's something magical about completing a 140.6 mile race, and all of a sudden you're Superman. It's that somewhere along the way through the long hours of the race day (up to 17 hours), you have to battle your own fears and doubts. You have to choose to keep moving forward when everything in you is telling you to quit or at least to slow down. By reaching the finish line - by fighting yourself and winning - that's how you end up feeling invincible. My day at Ironman Texas was all about fighting my own fears.

Here's the report and I'm not even going to attempt a short version.

Robert and I arrived in Houston on Thursday. This weekend's wolfpack included Aixa, Linda, Jenny, and myself. We went to packet pickup together, got interviewed for the Ironman youtube channel together, dressed alike, attended the welcome dinner, and generally had a silly giggly time together in matchy matchy clothes. Thursday was a blast. The weather was cool and overcast and it felt "ok" outside. My biggest fear (I thought) was the weather. We've had an unreasonably cool spring in San Antonio and there's been no time to acclimate to heat. The forecast for race day was for 90 degrees, high humidity (standard in the Woodlands) and 15 mph winds from the south.

Matchy Matchy in Lululemon store, dressed in Lululemon. Jenny, Aixa, Linda and I.

Friday was the practice swim and bike check in. There had been a lot of anticipation about whether the race would be wetsuit legal (if the water temperature is above 76.1, you can wear a wetsuit but have to start 10 minutes late and are ineligible for awards). I wasn't planning to win any awards, but I wanted to follow the rules anyway. Assuming the water was going to heat up, we practiced without wetsuits, which turned out to be a good call because the water ended up being too warm to be wetsuit legal on race day. The water was brown and murky, just like Boerne Lake. I practiced treading water and determined that it was possible to do so without a wetsuit. A little bit of fear melted away.

When we went to check our bikes in at about 2 pm, the clouds in the sky dissolved and the sun beat down on us. As the sweat dripped off our faces just standing in the shade of a tree, I wondered how race day would go. Be careful, the Slowtwitch forum advised, this race is going to be a scorcher. Slow down. Stay within yourself.

On race day, Robert and I woke up at 3:45 am, picked up Aixa and headed to the bike transition to drop off bottles of nutrition and get the bikes ready. We arrived at 4:30 and hustled into transition, got everything taken care of, and started the 1-mile walk to the swim start. The humidity was oppressive; I think the day started at 76 degrees and 100% humidity, and I could certainly feel it.

Aixa, Jenny, Linda and I got body marked and ready to swim. Our awesome spectators arrived at the swim start: Shelly and Patrick, Brian and Orissa, Herb, was so great to have them all there to cheer for us. Sooner than expected, it was 6:45 and the announcer started herding us into the water. I didn't have much time to think. I felt one strong wave of nerves wash over me as I gave Shelly an emotional hug before getting the day started. Kissed Robert and walked to the water's edge in my new-to-me speed suit (from Hillary - this makes it lucky and invincible) and lucky pink goggles from camp.

The Swim (1:28:59)

The washing machine and spectators lining the bridge and both sides of the lake.

After about 15 minutes of treading water, the cannon went off. I was pleasantly surprised that there was way less contact on this swim than in Arizona. I had a few sketchy moments but none of the pummeling of Tempe Town Lake. The swim course was out and back, and then a right turn into a canal. We had been warned about the crowds in the canal, and I was scared about getting into too much contact there or being squashed against one of the walls. Although it was difficult to sight along the buoy line, I swam without incident, and eventually reached the canal. It was fine! There was hardly anyone around at all. Because of this, I thought, I've either crushed this swim or I'm way behind. But I always refuse to look at my watch until I run out of the water. As my feet touched the steps and I hauled myself up, I looked at my watch and shouted out my first F-bomb of the day - 1:28. A full 10 minutes slower than Ironman Arizona and 20 minutes off my goal time. Uggggh. None of the euphoria of a first-timer finishing the swim this time - I was just mad that my time was so far off the goal.

T1 (8:31)
I needed to shake off the disappointment about my swim and get the race started. The bike is my strength; use it! I ran through T1, grabbed my bag, and hustled into the changing tent. Opened the bag and my heart sank. I had picked up the wrong bag. Dropped a second F-bomb and ran back to the bags, grabbed the right one, and ran all the way back to the tent. Let's try this again. A volunteer dumped all my stuff out onto the ground and I got ready to ride. Coolwings, chamois cream, socks, shoes, gloves, helmet, glasses. Spare tube into my pocket and I was out the door and running for my bike. Grabbed my bike, ran for the bike mount line, got stuck behind another woman who couldn't get on her bike, heard Coachie screaming at me to get on my bike and ride, and finally got on my bike and started riding. Frustration.

The Bike (6:44:17)
The first of many faked smiles. But how cute is that outfit.

Surely this comedy of errors was now behind me and I could get focused on the day. But with the first pedal stroke, I felt the tightening in my adductor. Oh my God, this is going to be a long day if it's already hurting. I sat up to try to let it warm up a bit. After about 20 miles, it finally warmed up and I felt good. I felt generally sluggish, but good.

Then I tried to get down in my aerobars and ride, and I just couldn't do it. With all the people around me, passing me, being passed by me...I was so afraid that one of them would bump into me and end my day that no matter what I tried I couldn't get into my aerobars. I decided that I had about 5 more hours to figure it out, and just kept sitting up, riding, moving forward. I knew I was behind because of the swim, I was off my predicted pace for the bike, and I was just going to survive this day and maybe get lucky and have a good pace on the run. The attitude stayed positive.

And then I got stung by a red wasp. WHAT THE F. It bounced off my helmet, landed on my inner thigh right at the line of my shorts, and stung me. If you know me at all, you know I have a deathly fear of bees/flying stinging insects in general, and I've never been stung by one. I thought, what if I'm allergic? Ouch that hurts! Just keep riding. And then I was proud of myself for not crashing my bike, because a couple of weeks ago I had a bee land on my arm and I almost took Robert and myself out trying to wave it off. To not wig out and start crying was a huge mark in the plus column for me at this point in the race.

The next 30 miles were uneventful. Drink every 10 minutes. Take a water at the aid station, pour it on yourself. Take another bottle to drink for the next 10 miles until the next aid station. The course was smoothly paved with rolling hills, and the sun beat down with not a cloud in the sky. I was alone on the course, unlike at IMAZ where Shelly and I got to leapfrog. I didn't know where any of my friends were, but I assumed they were in front of me. With 3 hours done and at least 3 more hours left to go on the bike, I felt lonely.

At 60 miles, you could pick up your special needs bag if you wanted to. This is a bag that you've filled with whatever might get you through the rest of the ride. Mine contained a spare tube and CO2 and various foods. I didn't take the bag, but I took the opportunity to stop and eat half of a delicious HEB glazed cake donut that I had smashed in my bento box "just in case." The donut served as a huge pick-me-up and I raced off with a surge of energy that would last 10 miles.

After the 70 mile point, things started to really break down on the course. We were fighting a headwind. People were hot and they were starting to pull off to the side, remove their helmets, and lay down in the grass. At aid stations, they came to a complete stop, clustering around the volunteers and just standing there pouring water on themselves. I joined in - why not. My bike split was going to be so much longer than I expected it to be, why not try to stay cool? And that's how the rest of the ride went. Every 10 miles, stop, get water, drink, keep going. I never got into the aerobars unless there was nobody around me (or there was a photographer nearby). At about 90 miles, I stopped again to eat the other half of my amazing donut. And then finally, blissfully, there were only 10 miles left. Six hours had already gone by; I had been planning to finish the entire bike leg in 6 hours. I counted down the final miles, took energy from the cheering spectators, and rolled into transition.

T2 (8:03)
That's some slow, sad walking.

I said it would be a victory to make it to T2, and it was. But I was in a bad headspace thinking, Oh my God I have to run a marathon now. What if my hammy/adductor starts to hurt. This is such a long day already. It's so hot. At this point, according to reports, the heat index was 100 degrees. The wind that had pummeled us on the bike course would now be a blessing.

Robert was yelling at me from outside the transition "Go Baby!" and I yelled back, "It's HOT! This is what suffering looks like!" as I walked slowly to the run bags, trying to take off my helmet with fingers that didn't work. "It's not called EASYMAN," he teased me. I yelled "I love you," he replied the same, and I walked into the changing tent.

The volunteers were great. They refilled a bike bottle that I had brought in with me with water, helped me to change my socks and shoes and remove my coolwings, and I was off on the run course.

The Run (5:56:27)
Finally feeling happy(er) after 10 hours of racing.

I forced myself to try be happy to be on the flat, 3-loop run course that weaved through wooded trails, along the Waterway (which is similar to the Riverwalk) past the swim start and along the lake, and through a bunch of fabulous neighborhoods. After 6 months of crying that I didn't get to do it in Arizona, I was supposed to be happy about this. And then somehow, I actually was happy about it! I was smiling and running and enjoying myself for the first time in 8+ hours. I ran really slowly, about 12:30 miles, but I didn't even care. I was moving, nothing hurt, and the only thing that was wrong was that I was tired. I had nailed my nutrition on the bike course. I was ready to get this done.

The spectators were loud and energetic and covered nearly every inch of the run course. There was never a time that I was alone. Motivational signs lined the course and there were themed cheering sections with music and craziness. It was awesome compared to the bike leg. In the first loop, I saw friends along the course and was informed that Aixa was 20 minutes ahead of me. goal is to catch Aixa.

At every mile there was an aid station that had wonderful volunteers who served up gu, water, sports drink, ice, and cold sponges. For the first 12 miles, I kept up with the nutrition plan of gu, water, and sports drink. Ice in both hands and down my shirt cooled me down. And then I couldn't do it anymore. I started trying other things - coke, chicken broth, bananas. The bananas helped me feel better, but I was worried that I wasn't getting enough salt. Then I felt the urge to pee. Oh good, I thought, peeing is good. It means you're not dehydrated. The problem is that once I started, I couldn't stop! At every aid station between miles 12 and 23, I stopped to duck into a porta potty. I started to worry about what was happening to me.

Somewhere during that time, I spent a mile or so walking and feeling sorry for myself. Oh man, I think this is the low point that Dawn says is inevitable in every race. Then I forced myself to cut it out. My legs didn't hurt, I was just tired. Samantha McGlone had told us at camp - the best way to end the suffering is to get to the finish line and the fastest way to the finish line is to run, so RUN! Hillary has said that you should never walk unless you have to, unless it's too painful to run. I wasn't in pain, so I ran.

With 3 miles to go, Robert appeared in a spot that I wasn't expecting him. And to my surprise, Mom and Dad were with him. They weren't supposed to be at the race - how cool is that! They were screaming and telling me to keep up the pace, and I did! I kept running until I reached the little out-and-back right before the course split off to the finish line. As I ran down the hill with less than a mile to go, I saw Aixa and Roland walking together. This put more energy into my legs and I ran as fast as I could. I caught up with them right before the finisher's chute. Without slowing, I bellowed, "Come on! Let's run to the finish!" and we ran up the chute into the lights and the noise of the crowd.

I intended to spend enough time in the chute to appreciate this first Ironman finish line. So I told Aixa to slow down, to enjoy it. I high-fived every hand I saw, including Brian and Orissa and Shelly and Patrick! And then I saw Robert and Mom and Dad and I came to a complete stop to give each of them a kiss. "Go on!" they yelled, but I was laughing and didn't care. It was so awesome. Aixa waited for me and then we ran together to the finish line and as we crossed under that iconic blue archway, I heard Mike Reilly yell out those amazing words, "KRISTINA SWANN CORDOVA, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!"

Pure joy.

Someone tried to give me a medal but I said NO, I need to get it from Herb, my Iron Whiner friend who was volunteering at the finish line. The thought of reaching the finish line before his shift ended at 9:30 had carried me through the last hour and a half of the race, and I had made it with 4 minutes to spare. Although I got my medal from another volunteer, I found Herb and hugged him and cried and told him how hard the race was and he just said "I know," because he does know. He helped me through to get my hat and t-shirt and have my picture taken one more time, and then I was handed off to Robert, who hugged me tight and told me how proud he was. Mom and Dad were there and I could see the pride in their faces, which really touched me. Coachie was on the other side of the finish line and I ran to hug her through the fence. She told me she was proud of me and talked about how far I had come, and I asked her "When is the next one!?" which shocked me.

What an amazing day. With a final time of 14:26, I was nearly two and a half hours off my goal time. But I didn't care. I was just so happy to have done it, to have overcome fears, to have fought myself and won. A year and a half of training - worth it. Soooo worth it.

Of course I couldn't have gotten through this without the support of my incredible Iron Sherpa husband Robert; our kids Andre and Julia (who think I'm a professional, no matter how frequently I inform them that this isn't the case); Coachie Dawn Elder, who always believes I can push boundaries that I didn't even know existed; Grand Coachie Hillary Biscay who helped build my confidence so much at camp; the Iron Whiners (it's so incredibly cool that all of the Whiners are now Ironman finishers!!!); Shelly, who has helped me mentally prepare for this race since December and who has listened to every gripe and worry and has set my mind at ease each time; and all my friends and relatives and coworkers who have been cheering for me and rooting for me for a year and a half - THANK YOU.