Sunday, December 14, 2014

San Antonio Rock n Roll Marathon Race Report 2014

There's a THREE at the front of my marathon PR. Last Sunday, under perfect conditions, I ran a perfect race and grabbed a new marathon PR of 3:57. I can't even describe how amazing that feels. Really, I can't. I've tried and deleted at least 7 attempts at this post over the last week.

There's not very much for me to say about the race itself. I described the course in last year's report, and it hasn't changed (neither have the crowds). I'd rather talk about the reason that I had the kind of day that results in a 33-minute PR at a distance that I haven't been able to understand in 6 tries, until now, lucky number 7.

Except that I'm not going to credit luck. I wasn't lucky last Sunday. Yes, it's lucky that the weather was great: mid 50s and overcast. (And I did wish on a star that fell right behind the porta potties at the park n ride before the race!) But otherwise, luck is not the reason that I achieved something that constantly eluded me before. I was successful because I changed my mindset approaching the race.

When I'm talking about marathon or ironman, I tend to go on and on about having "respect for the distance." Clearly, that's important. There are some things that you just can't fake or muscle through, and marathon and ironman are two of them. Both take preparation, consistent training, dedication, and heart. However, as far as marathon is concerned (and maybe ironman too) I've been disguising fear as respect, and there's a difference.

Respect: This is a tough distance and I've set a hard goal, but I've trained, I'm ready, and I'm going to do my best to accomplish something and have some fun today.

Fear: Marathons are hard, so it's ok if you don't reach your goal.

In the week leading up to the race, I solicited the advice of everyone I could think of who would help me to get into the right mental place. People that I really look up to: Dad; Dawn, my coach; Trent and Rene, my super fast training buddies; and finally, in a desperate, late-night plea the day before the race: Bree, my Worlds-crushing travel buddy. They all said the same thing. Of course you can do it. Then, more importantly, they proved it to me: you ran that pace at Buffalo Springs and Norseman, off the bike. You ran faster than that pace on multiple long training runs. You can do it. You have it in you. It'll probably be easy. Try. Have fun. Go get it.

I cried over this. What if I fail? I've told tons of people my goal of going sub-4: what if I end up having a terrible day out there? I'll disappoint people, I'll look stupid. Looking back, it seems ridiculous to have struggled so much over something that doesn't really matter in the whole scheme of things. But oh my goodness, I struggled.

On race morning, under perfect conditions, I still think it could have gone either way. I consciously decided as I crossed the start line to put fear away and to have fun chasing a goal. And sure enough, mile after mile, my Garmin proved to me that I was doing it: one 9-minute mile after the next. For someone who has considered herself a 10-minute-mile runner for 15+ years, this was just huge.

Super happy to not be cramping at mile 18.
Even after my iPod crapped out at mile 8 and Shelly took off to crush the half, leaving me alone with my thoughts, I kept on running steady. Seeing Mom and Dad at mile 13, 18, and 24, out on the lonely back half of the course, gave me a boost. Using positive thoughts and singing a little to myself, taking strength from passing people, smiling as spectators called me "Pinky" like they've done at races all year, pretending that I was running in Norway, channeling that joy, I made my way to the finish line. My feet were burning and my legs threatened to cramp with every step after mile 24, but I didn't slow down. With half a mile to go, I checked my Garmin and knew that I was going to make it. I started smiling then. I beat my goal by 3 minutes and smiled so much as I crossed the finish line that the announcer even said "Now there's a smile, Kristina Cordova, Smash!" (Then I burst into tears.)

Photo by Dad at mile 24. I had so much I wanted to say, but all I could get out was a four-letter word. (Sorry Mom.)
I'm really proud of myself for reaching my goal, for putting fear away and going for it. It was hard, it hurt, but I didn't let myself stop or slow down or settle for something less than my best. As always, this is the stuff that will help going forwards, in racing and in life. Make new goals. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, and you'll reap the benefits. Hard work works, and so does believing in yourself. I proved it last Sunday. The future is wide open, and I'm so excited to see what happens next. I know I just keep saying this, but it's true.

In fact, what happens next is the Houston marathon in January. And I'll put the goal out there: I want to qualify for Boston. I'm 12 minutes away. Every marathon I run after this, that's what I'll be aiming at. Mindset = changed. And I refuse to be afraid.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Next Chapter: Meet Coach Kris

You don't have to have a coach to do an ironman, but it certainly makes it easier.

In 2010, when Shelly and I decided to attempt our first half ironman, we found a coach at a local shop. Of course it was Dawn Elder, and she remembers us walking in with our notepads, eyes wide, ready to write down everything she said. After a successful first 70.3, we were both hooked, and we turned to Dawn to help us through the next big goal (a faster marathon!), and the next one (a faster 70.3!), and the next one (Ironman!!!).

I've put all my trust into my coach over the past 4 years, and in turn she's helped me to reach goals and believe that I can chase bigger ones. Before this turns into a Love Letter to My Coachie, I'll just say that as we've traveled this road together, I've learned about Dawn's mission and motivation. I fully agree with her philosophy that it's not about the finish line, but the journey. Her greatest pride is in helping others to find their strength (not just physical, but mental, and emotional) through the journey of Ironman. This philosophy speaks to me; it inspires me.
Those are happy, grateful tears after reaching a huge goal this summer at Buffalo Springs!
You've heard me talk about Coachie (Dawn) and Grand Coachie (Hillary Biscay). Even Great-Grand Coachie (Siri Lindley - Hillary's coach) has made an appearance in some of Dawn's Facebook posts. I've always thought that it's so cool that each coach gives their knowledge to their athletes, and that this knowledge keeps getting passed down through "generations" until we all benefit.

So, I'm really proud and excited to tell you that I'm joining Dawn as a Tri-Belief associate coach. Coaching is something I've been interested in for years, and I feel honored that my coach and mentor thinks it's something I'll be good at. It feels like a really good fit - my friends have been jokingly calling me Coachie Junior for a while (although that may just be their way of telling me I'm being a bossy know-it-all). Coach Kris!

As I work toward certifications, I'll be coaching under Dawn, learning from her, drawing from my own experience, and passing along the Tri-Belief philosophy while helping other athletes chase their dreams. And I can't wait!

In fact, I've been coaching two amazing women for a couple of months now, under Dawn's careful eye. And even though neither of these ladies has raced yet with me as their coach, I'm already so proud of them as I read their workout logs and watch their progress. It's an incredible feeling to be a part of someone else's success. I am so excited about this new chapter.

**If you're interested in working with me or Dawn, please don't hesitate to contact us through the Tri-Belief website.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

An Open Love Letter to My BFFs

I considered apologizing in advance for the unquestionably sentimental post that you're about to read...but then I changed my mind. I'm not sorry to send out some love and gratitude into the universe today after an amazing ride this morning with my incredible, strong, fun, fearless friends!

Aixa, me, Linda (birthday girl!), Shelly, Orissa
I remember 7 (!!) years ago talking with Shelly, my coworker-turned-training-partner-BFF, about how you know who your friends are. How do you determine if someone's your friend or just your coworker? Is it the amount of time you spend together outside of work? How do work-related Happy Hours fit into the equation? What if you start training together every day for marathons and triathlons, and with the 40-hour work weeks and 15-hour training weeks, ultimately spending more time together than with your families? Of course we were defining our own relationship, but through the years as we've met more people through this sport, we've continued to discuss the subject and ask the question - what defines a training buddy? When do training buddies become friends?

Well, all of a sudden, 2 became 5. How cool is that?!

We can credit our coach, Dawn Elder, for putting together the coolest group of girls that I know, simply because we happen to be triathletes who work with the same coach and train for the same events. When you put in hours, weeks, months, years together training for Ironman, you can't help but develop a unique relationship. To ride your bikes together and run together for hours at a time, you learn each others' strengths and weaknesses. You share hopes and fears as you work together pursuing the same dream. There's a trust and respect that comes with sharing these experiences. You learn how to build each other up and say the right things and ultimately become each others' biggest cheerleaders.

We can thank Dawn (far right) for introducing us. 
Not that it's all fun and games. At any given time, 3 of the 5 of us are in the same age group, competing for the same prize. That's not easy, especially if you're the one having the bad day.

Over the years, the 5 of us have been through a lot of stuff together beyond the races and epic training days. There's been the wonderful stuff - weddings and babies. And there's been the crappy stuff that nobody else needs to hear about.

Today, we went out and rode to Castroville for a donut to celebrate Linda's birthday, and it was the first time the 5 of us have ridden our bikes together in a really long time. It was amazing to all be together again doing the thing that started our friendships in the first place. The thing I feel really blessed about is that the friendship is real and strong and present regardless of triathlon. In sharing the important things in our lives together, in being there for each other in tough times as well as celebrations, our friendship clearly goes beyond the sport, and I'm so grateful.

I remember watching Sex and the City years ago and being jealous of the friendships that were highlighted so well on that show. I thought at the time that it would be impossible for real women to have relationships like that, because at the time, I simply didn't have them. But now, I feel so lucky to look at my amazing friends and know that I have that kind of loving family, support system, group of incredible friends.

Just another reason to be grateful to the sport of triathlon and how it's enriched my life. Happy birthday, Linda! And here's to many more years training, racing, and competing together. I love you girls.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hello, Running!

Triathlon season is over (for me), which naturally means that the marathon season begins. There's been a rest period though, which I really needed. After I made the decision last November to "be great at something," I hit the ground running (and biking, and swimming) and just kept finding another gear, training hard at triathlon until 70.3 Worlds last month, barely resting for a couple of days after Norseman in August. I never really took a break, and I didn't realize how physically, mentally, and emotionally broken down and exhausted I had become.

I'm not complaining. It's been an amazing season, filled with success that I worked hard for. Triathlon is the love of my life. But some rest was long overdue. So, for the past six weeks, I've had only one workout a day on the schedule. It's been luxurious to get on the road bike and ride some hills with no regard for speed or distance, instead of chasing watts on the tri bike on the trainer - I think I've done one trainer ride since Norseman. I've also scaled back significantly on the swimming - this isn't luxurious - I miss it. (I don't, however, miss getting up so early in the morning to do it.)

Rest is important, I know this. You can't keep pushing on forever, you can't just continuously improve. At some point, you have to scale it back and rest and let the gains from the season come to you. Otherwise you'll end up totally burned out. I was told this twice yesterday by two ridiculously knowledgeable people (Dawn Elder and Matt Hamlin, in two separate, unrelated conversations). I know that it "wouldn't hurt, you know, to gain three or four pounds and play at a sport other than triathlon for a couple of days." Although I'm not going with the suggestion to join a ladies' sand volleyball league, I do understand the importance and benefit of losing focus for a little while.

That being said, of course, I've been slowly ramping the running back up. I'm training for the Rock n Roll Marathon in December - as usual, the girls and I have signed up for it as an annual fun event. I know it probably sounds ridiculous to say that marathon training is resting, but mentally, I think this does count as rest for me. The hours of training per week have scaled back since Norseman, and I've gotten a little bit fat. I don't think this is a bad thing. In fact, I recommend it!

The best thing is that as the weather cools, I'm remembering why I love running - it simply feels so good to go outside and run. Although I fought it when they first started showing up on my plan, lately I've been enjoying "naked" runs (without the Garmin - no data, just running for time and volume). Another surprising source of joy - hill repeats! Both are a welcome change from the speed workouts on the treadmill that I attacked all summer. I've been getting to run with Shelly again on our lunch break at work, which makes me incredibly happy because it's just like old times (like, old times - I'm talking the pre-triathlon days!).

And now the long runs begin, not that I didn't run long while training for Norseman, but there's something about the 14-, 16-, 18-mile runs of a stand-alone marathon build that speak to me. Even though we don't really have a change in actual seasons here in Texas, these weekend long runs symbolize a change in seasons from triathlon to marathon, and I just love it. For me, the path to endurance sports started with running, and to go back to it every fall brings me happiness that I forget about until it happens again each year. Not to mention the ease and speed that comes with a drop in temperature and humidity.

I've been kind of lost lately, but yesterday on my long run, I felt that joy that only comes when you're running alone for hours, feeling the wind on your face and the earth passing beneath your feet. There's something about being in that moment, aware only of the movement of your own body through space, that gives validity to the joke that "I run because it's cheaper than therapy." It's a point that's even beyond being lost in your own thoughts - it's just you and your feet and the road. There's nothing like it.

I remember how I used to tell Shelly that instead of dreading difficult workouts, we needed to be grateful for every training session that our bodies are able to do, because you never know what might happen. As corny as it sounds, I'm so grateful to be able to be grateful for that - to know what this feels like. So I welcome the new season. Hello, Running. Let's hang out a while.

Ok, every run hasn't been awesome. I had my first trip-over-my-own feet faceplant last week that resulted in bruised knees, chin, and an amazingly M-Dot shaped scrape right over my heart. I'm choosing to look at this as a positive sign for great things to come. ;)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

70.3 Worlds Race Report 2014

The 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant, Canada, was a truly unique experience to round out an incredible 2014 triathlon season.

Bree Soileau, owner and coach of Alamo 180, and I unexpectedly earned our slots to Worlds at Buffalo Springs in Lubbock in June. At that moment, with Norseman on my mind and Ironman Arizona on hers, we quickly joined forces to get ourselves to Canada to race. We found flights, a condo to stay in, and a Sherpa, her friend Mary Evelyn. Bree and I really didn't know each other at all before the race except by name.

She turned out to be the perfect person to share this experience with. Dawn was at the race too, along with a couple of other friends - but Bree and I were the only ones experiencing everything for the first time. I felt happily free to giggle and squeal excitedly about everything along with someone else who was equally excited about the event.

We arrived on Thursday in Montreal and drove the two hours to Mont Tremblant in the dark. Mary Evelyn would join us later on Friday night.

Everywhere we went, starting in the airport upon arrival, we were greeted in French and English with congratulations for qualifying. It felt incredibly special. The Ironman Village was huge and festive, with tons of booths and crowds. It had the feeling of a full Ironman event, but on an even grander, larger scale. I had heard that Mont Tremblant goes all out for Ironman, but to experience it first hand, it's clear why WTC picked this venue for the first Worlds race outside of the U.S. There were signs all around the gorgeous resort town celebrating Ironman. They have a 70.3 race and a full Ironman event here each year and they had repaved all of the roads with buttery, smooth asphalt to prepare for this year's events. Even a portion of the run course that had formerly been a trail was freshly paved for the race.

The athletes seemed different here too. Unlike the usual stressed out, intense atmosphere around most races, this one had a celebratory mood. As we stood in line for packet pickup and shopped and milled around the village, athletes greeted each other, congratulating each other on their qualification and asking each other where they qualified. Bree and I were proud to note that people were impressed that we'd gotten our spots at Buffalo Springs - everyone knows what a difficult course it is. We also noted that it seemed that for most of the athletes, it was a second or third trip to Worlds.

We spent a lot of time enjoying the athlete village.
On Friday we picked up our packets and went to the practice swim. The lake was beautiful, although warmer than I expected. It was so clear and fresh that I wanted to just drink it! I was surprised to find that I felt overheated in my longsleeve wetsuit on our easy 30 minute swim. The highlight was a stop for a drink at a coffee boat along the course - I'd heard about the coffee boat at Kona and it was really fun that a local coffee shop had created a version of that experience here.

We attended the welcome dinner and enjoyed the celebration. We learned that 2700 athletes were taking part in the event from 32 countries. They had qualified at 61 races around the world. 65% were men. 800 were Americans, and 400 were Canadian. There was also a huge showing of athletes from Australia and the UK.

Mary Evelyn arrived that night and we chatted and giggled a little in the condo before turning in early for a big day ahead. On Saturday, Bree and I picked up our bikes from Tri Bike Transport and took them out for a quick shakeout ride to run through the gears. Checked the bikes in to transition and shopped a little, got some lunch, checked in our gear bags, bought breakfast to prepare the following morning, and finally settled down to rest a little. All three of us were exhausted, sunburned, and seemed to be catching a cold.

The gang's all here! Bree, Mary Evelyn, and me
T1 bags, swim to bike
Setting up T2 bags
Loved having a Norwegian flag to use as a landmark to find my row in T2!
Race morning began at 4:30 on Sunday. We grabbed some quick breakfast, headed to transition and then to the swim start. We had a while to wait to start - the pros went off at 8, Bree went at 8:30, and I started with one of the last waves of the day at 8:52.

The highlight of my morning was meeting Jordan Rapp! I was waiting in line for porta potties and I saw him standing off to the side getting ready. After being too shy on Friday to approach pro Terenzo Bozzone as we stood side by side for a moment at the swim practice, I was unwilling to give up the opportunity to meet one of my pro heroes. I jumped out of line to introduce myself and to wish him a good race. He very politely wished me the same and I ran back to the line smiling. OMG! The other pro sighting of the weekend was in the airport on the way home - Jesse Thomas was on the same flight as us and we boldly took the opportunity to meet him. He was gracious and friendly as well. So cool.

Swim start shenanigans. It was definitely cold outside!
When it was finally time for my wave to start, I ran into the water with 115 other women and we furiously started swimming for the first buoy. I settled in pretty quickly, found some feet to chase, and, as usual, had no idea how I was doing. I felt fast, but couldn't predict what my time would be. I was surprised that although our pack stayed together, there was none of the usual pushing and shoving. We didn't swim over any of the packs in front of us, and nobody swam over us from the waves behind us. After one of the smoothest swims ever, in which I did spend time looking up at the mountains and clouds around me and feeling grateful to be at Worlds, I ran out of the water with a new personal best swim time: 33 minutes. Yessss!

T1 included a 400 meter run down a red carpet to the transition area. I grabbed my bag, put on my helmet and shoes, exited the tent, and was immediately disconcerted because the entire transition was empty of bikes. Because our wave went so late, there were probably only 300 bikes of 2700 left in the transition when I got there. Grabbed my bike, ran out past the bike mount line, and settled in with a plan to be relentlessly positive and grateful, and to stay in the moment.

This immediately became impossible to do as I headed out onto the first stretch of the bike onto a highway that, although buttery smooth, was pretty much uphill into a headwind. As I tried to find a rhythm and settle in, it seemed like the entire rest of the field was on its way back on this long out-and-back section. Enormous packs of super fast guys blazing back into town, riding five across in pelotons that sounded like a swarm of bees as they passed. Ugh, this is the drafting they talk about at Worlds. It makes sense. You send out 200 guys at a time who are all about the same speed, and what are they going to do? It's hard to stay legal. But I was frustrated to see that so many of them clearly weren't even trying to. 

I began to feel discouraged. I'd spent the last few weeks since Norseman feeling either great or terrible at every training session; it's been weird to go out and never know what I'm going to feel like. I fought the feeling of "this feels terrible today" for the first 20 miles of the bike. I had to remind myself "this is awesome! This is Worlds!" and tried to feel like I felt at Norseman, but it wasn't happening.

Then I hit the turnaround. Sweet, amazing, beautiful, screaming fast section of downhill/tailwind to make up for the struggle of the first part. I focused on hitting my watts and not wasting the free speed. Started feeling physically great and mentally happy, even though I was at the back of the pack and would continue to be all day, partly because of the late start and partly because of the amazing talent of the rest of the field. I worked on feeling honored to have the opportunity to race with this caliber of athlete, rather than feeling disappointed that I was getting my ass handed to me by 2000 people.

After the highway section, we rode through a cute little town where all the residents had turned out to spectate. We then turned onto the last out-and-back section that we had been warned about - 10k of tough uphills out, and 10k of downhill back. Some of the hills were a struggle to get over, and I felt discouraged again. At the final turnaround, again, the net downhill allowed a screaming fast return to the transition area. I wanted a bike split under 3 hours; I ended up with 3:02.

T2 was a blur. I was happily in and out in 2 minutes, took the time to duck into a porta potty before I started the run, and took off running on the 2-loop, out-and-back course. 

I wanted a run PR. I wanted to go under 2 hours. I had come ridiculously close at Buffalo Springs on a hot, hilly course, and I assumed that running "anywhere else" it would be a piece of cake to carve ~30 seconds off my run PR time. Nope. This run course was no joke. Even though the weather was gorgeous - cool and overcast in the 60s - the relentless rolling hills made it impossible to find a rhythm. It was so crowded; as I started my first lap, nearly the entire field was out there on the course. It was discouraging to have super fast athletes on their second lap passing me like I was standing still as I worked my way through my first. These people can run.

That's what was so weird - nobody walked. NOBODY WALKED. Every half-ironman and ironman event I've participated in, by the time you get to the run, especially on looped courses, at least half of the field is walking. Here, though, everyone was running. And everyone was running FAST. It makes sense. These people are the best in the world, and it showed. Again, I worked really hard at keeping my spirits up and feeling grateful to be part of the event, yelling encouragement at other athletes dressed in Smash kits, and getting a boost from seeing Dawn, Bree, Susan Gershenhorn (another Tri-Belief athlete) and Marc Rubin (a friend from tri camp) out on the course.

As I approached the village for the first time, the crowd support was incredible. At that point I didn't have to try to feel good. I smiled uncontrollably for at least 4 miles, just taking it in. People were yelling at me, "Go Pinky!" which made me laugh and think of Norseman. The volunteers and the spectators were screaming and handing out high-fives. Calling us heroes. Telling us we were the best in the world. It was so much fun to run through this section. 

Back out onto the course for the second loop, I was hurting and just focused on getting it done. I was close to that PR time, and I wanted it really badly. But not badly enough to make my legs go faster. I ended up with a run time of 2:03; not bad for a difficult course, but certainly a disappointment. 

I pushed those feelings aside to enjoy myself running down the final stretch to the finish line, which was as awesome as any Ironman finish line I've ever seen. So brightly colored and full of screaming crowds and a big screen TV and an awesome announcer. I was so happy to see Mary Evelyn and Bree (who had an incredible race - see her report here) yelling at me as I turned the corner to the finish. And then it was done, my chip was removed, an enormous medal was placed around my neck, I was wrapped in a space blanket, drinking chocolate milk and coming down from the high of the day. Finish time 5:47; back of the pack, bottom of my age group. But it was the freaking World Championships, a dream come true - what a way to end the season!

So much happiness running down that final stretch.
We had champagne waiting for us at the condo and we dipped into it as we showered and dressed for a celebratory dinner with Dawn and friends. Continued savoring and taking in the experience, drinking beers with a bunch of happy athletes celebrating the day. It was fun. Everything was fun! Dawn had urged me to spend the entire trip Present and In the Moment, and I really did.

Our condo host left us a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Not your smartest recovery drink, but it was fun!
Dinner and drinks with the Coachie. Me, Dawn, Susan
The next day was a little less fun. We drove in rush hour traffic to the Montreal airport and barely made it through security for our flight. Spent the entire day traveling, sick and tired, but happy. We arrived home to an awesome greeting in the airport from the Alamo 180 welcome committee, which put the icing on the cake of this wonderful weekend.

Alamo 180 welcome wagon awesomeness!
I want to say thank you to my incredible coach Dawn Elder, who helped me pick right up where I left off after Norseman to get me ready for this race. Thank you to Bicycle Heaven for setting me up on great wheels and making sure my bike was ready to race. Thank you to my amazing travel buddies Bree and Mary Evelyn for making this adventure even more fun! Thank you to my friends and family for all your encouragement, and for not defriending me on Facebook for all the posting that I did about Worlds! And as always, thank you to my husband, Robert, for being relentlessly supportive about this dream that I'm living. 

The most amazing season of my life is over, the report is written, and now I'm just looking forward to chilling out for a while before I plan the next chapter. Thank you for reading!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Post-Norseman/Pre-70.3 World Champs: Absurd and Muted

“It must be absurd to come back to work after something like that.” - a brilliant coworker
“So, is everything just kind of muted now, after Norseman?” - a very perceptive friend
"Do you want to go back and try for a black T-shirt?" - everyone else

Yes, yes, and yes (one day).

I’m feeling kind of lost after Norseman and wondering “what’s the next big thing,” even though I have another really awesome race coming up in just a few weeks. Instead of focusing on that, I’m making myself insane driving to work singing show tunes and crying in the car and relating way too much to Evita/Madonna (so what happens now? Where am I going to?). I promise I’m not a crazy person.

Until the moment that I entered the Norseman contest, my Big Goal was to race “one day” at the 70.3 World Championships. As an iron superfan, I can’t think of anything cooler than participating on the same course in a championship race with all of the top pros and age group athletes. Last year when Dawn raced the 70.3 WC, she even got Andy Potts to record a message telling me that he expected to see me at the race “next year.” HUGE, and at the time, unfathomable. I knew the work it would take. I didn't expect it to happen overnight.

Andy Potts and Dawn at the race in Vegas last year.
Then it did. It still feels ridiculous to say that I get to race at the 70.3 World Championships in Canada next month.

But it happened right in the middle of my training for Norseman. I’ve never been so focused on anything in my life. The enormity of Norseman, the impossible dream come true, made it difficult to think about anything else, including the WC race, which has been a more reasonable dream goal for a couple of years now. But then Norseman came and went. Now that it’s over, I’m feeling scattered. And everything is “kind of muted” and “absurd.” How do I come back to real life after that?

The best answer came from my friend Rene, who just raced Age Group Nationals. I messaged her to ask, “how do you handle going to a championship race where you know everyone’s as good as or better than you and not freak out, OMG, I’m freaking out right nowwww!!” Her calm and reassuring answer was, this is normal. You’re right in the middle of the post-race letdown. And you’re also smack in the middle of pre-race nerves. Of course your emotions are everywhere.

Rene is the smartest woman alive.

Thinking about what she said helps me to put some things in perspective. I’m in the middle of awesome things happening in a short period of time. I haven’t had a lot of time to think about what’s next. The future is full of possibilities that I hadn’t even considered 6 months ago (did you know that there’s a race where you swim 10 miles, island to island, running across each one? Did you know there’s a 6-day self-supported footrace across the Sahara that regular people can enter?). With this bigger view of the world comes some risk and uncertainty. So what happens now? Where am I going to? What’s the Next Big Thing? I’ll do my best to embrace and enjoy this journey instead of freaking out.

In the meantime, I’ll start to focus on Canada and remind myself that this is a dream come true. Less than three weeks!

After nearly 3 weeks, my heart and brain are still here on this mountain.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Norseman 2014 Race Report

Photo by Delly Carr.
I’m writing this race report on a plane from Oslo to Newark - this flight across the world will take less time than I spent on my bike during the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon. I’ll let that sink in for a second before I describe my race day in more detail than anyone might want.

Athlete Meeting
The mandatory pre-race meeting was held the day before the race in what I think was a high school gym. All of the athletes and their crews shuffled into a completely dark room that was lit only by the projector behind a stage with a single microphone stand. My crew (Mom, Dad, and Robert) and I sat down on the floor and without any announcement, the video from last year’s race began to play. To watch this video on a big screen in the dark in surround sound with the 260 athletes and their crew that were about to do the race - to say it was intense is an understatement.

After that came a briefing that lasted only 45 minutes before they held Q&A sessions in 6 languages around the room. We were told that of the 310 people who were entered in the race, 260 competitors from 25 countries had arrived to start, including 43 women.

It’s standard to get little sleep the night before and to get up early on the morning of an ironman. This race was no exception: I think I slept maybe 1 hour total. We had packed up the car the night before. All of our luggage plus my bike needed to be ready to go in the morning because for this point-to-point race, we would not be returning to Kinsarvik afterwards. We woke up at 1:30 am and began our drive to Eidfjord at 2:15. Athlete check-in was at 3 am, then you had to be on the ferry by 3:45 before it took off at 4 to drop us in the fjord for the 5 am swim start.

After a thorough check of my bike for working brakes and a front and rear light for safety, I was escorted to my place in transition to set up. Instead of hanging racks, there were boxes on the floor to prop our bikes and gear in, and my thought was “Wow, this transition looks like Kona or the Olympics.”

One cool thing about this race is that you can have a crew member inside the transition to help you with everything. As we set up, Robert and I asked to borrow a bike pump from some guys next to us - it turns out that they were from Hampton Roads, Virginia, and I chatted their ears off about how my company has an office there. It was fun to talk to some Americans; there weren’t very many of them at this race.

I was happy to find Penny, my new BFF, outside of the transition area. Kissed my family goodbye, Robert snapped a couple of photos, and Penny and I stepped up onto the ferry.

Penny led the way and as we walked in, we saw all the guys in their wetsuits, lining the walls of the cold metal area where cars would usually go, looking intense. It looked exactly like a scene from the video. Then Penny turned to me and said, “Yeah, forget this, we’re going upstairs and stay warm,” and we went up to the top floor of the ferry; it was warm and filled with soft chairs and tables where we could comfortably sit for the 1-hour ride to the middle of the fjord.

We immediately ran into another girl, Mel, who Penny had met earlier in the week. Surrounded by intense looking guys who were either listening to iPods, sleeping, or staring into space, the three of us chatted and giggled our way to the swim start. At one point I did get a little teary and told Penny that I was so glad to have met her; I have never raced alone without my friends and I was really happy to be racing with a friend. She hugged me and we giggled some more and I felt so at ease.

When we felt the motor stop, we struggled into the top half of our wetsuits and helped zip each other up. The three of us wandered downstairs and I got ready to live the scene from the video - how cool would this be? When we got downstairs, the back of the ferry was open and the wind was whipping around as all the men were lined up to jump off the back. We saw another girl, Katarina, and the four of us stood around laughing as we pulled on our neoprene caps and then our yellow Norseman swim caps. We joked about how different the experience was from what the videos portray - instead of standing silently and looking dramatic, nervous, or terrified, the four of us grabbed a photographer and asked her to take our picture, danced around singing the song “Happy.” The entire situation was so different than I’d expected that it made me laugh uncontrollably.

Mel, me, Katarina, Penny. Photo by Camilla Hylleberg.
 Penny and I waited for the majority of the men to jump off the ferry so that nobody would jump on top of us and we could spend as little time as possible in the cold water before the race. As we approached the edge, we saw a photographer in the water below. Penny grabbed my hand, and the photographer was like, “Yes, let me get this!” So we waited, posed, counted down from three, and jumped off the ferry hand-in-hand, laughing. And then resurfaced, laughing, goggles intact. Then we took our time swimming towards the swim start, which was marked by a line of kayaks about 400 meters away.

Photo by Delly Carr.
We’d been advised to swim close to the shore because then we’d be less affected by the tide that we’d be swimming against. So Penny and I made our way to the end of the line of kayaks. We were almost to the group of swimmers lined up there when the ferry’s horn went off, signaling the start of the swim. We wished each other good luck, pressed the start buttons on our (matching) watches, and started to swim.

Because we got a late start, I knew I’d have to swim my way through the pack. My instructions were to go “balls out” for the first 20 minutes and then to settle into a rhythm while swimming aggressively.

I swam through one group of swimmers and then through another group. Each time I did this, I looked forward to see where the next pack was that I’d have to reach. It was fun trying to bridge each gap. I knew I was swimming faster than most of the people around me, but I didn’t know how well I was doing time-wise. My perceived rate of exertion was way off. I just focused on catching the next group.

About halfway through the swim, I felt my hair fluffing around on my forehead - my prized yellow Norseman cap was coming off! I stopped for a moment to adjust it, and when I did, I felt a strong cramp in my left hamstring. Oh Crap. Started swimming again and felt the hammy on every kick. Began to worry about how the day would go - if I was already cramping, what would happen when I tried to climb the first hill on my bike?

I decided it was really important to find some fast feet and get on them so that I could conserve energy and save my legs. I had been swimming alongside one man for some time, and when I caught up with him again, I picked him to draft. Another faster guy came up at this moment and in his attempt to get by, he hit me hard in the face with his hand. I cursed and decided to draft him instead - he was going faster and I thought to myself, “that’s what he gets for hitting me, he can tow me to T1.” So I jumped on his feet and stayed there for the remainder of the swim. I kicked as little as possible to try to help my hamstring. My arms felt strong and powerful as I stayed in his draft, but because my breathing was even and steady, I still didn’t have any idea of my pace. I felt someone drafting off me, and was proud that someone thought I was fast enough to draft!

The water was cold but not uncomfortable. I could feel the change in temperature as we swam through the parts where the glacier-fed streams fed into the fjord. It was noticeably warmer to be in the bubbles in a draft than to plow through the water myself, so it was even more important to stay on those fast feet.

The swim felt so long. But as we made the right turn towards Eidfjord and I knew that it was almost over, I felt a new burst of energy and swam off by myself toward Swim Out. This takes you by the pier where the ferry had been parked earlier, only now instead of a ferry, the pier was lined 3 deep with spectators. I thought I could hear my dad screaming “GO KRISTINA!”

And just like that, the swim was over. The race director helped to pull me out of the water and I took a moment to look at my watch. It said 1:11 (although the official time was 1:12) and I screamed with excitement at having exceeded my swim goal. I would have been really happy with 1:15. I had blown away my previous PR of 1:18!
Swim exit - this isn't me. It's the first guy out of the water. :)
I ran up the small sandy beach to T1, where Robert was waiting. Passed Tamsin who screamed excitedly and (I think) snapped a photo (she was waiting for Penny who was right behind me), and then got down to business.

T1 took 4 minutes, which is WAY faster than any other ironman transition for me - I would have been happy with 8 minutes. But having my own personal crew member who knew me, my stuff, and what I needed made all the difference. Robert quickly helped me to throw on my bike jersey over my tri kit. Gloves, helmet, glasses, shoes, and warm wool socks. Everything was hot pink Smash, which earned me the nickname of “Pinky” or “The Pink Lady” from spectators for the rest of the day. Robert had turned on my Garmin and the front and rear light. We slipped on my race belt with number and mandatory reflective vest, and I was out on the bike course.

My parents were standing at Bike Out, and Dad yelled at me that I was in 109th place. They had counted everyone who swam past the pier before me. I planned to keep track of my place throughout the day - I needed to be in 160th place or better by 32.5k (~20 miles) of the run to earn the right to climb to the mountaintop finish. I knew that based on previous years’ results, I’d need a 7:30 on the bike to ensure that I’d get a place on the mountain. I was happy to have a little cushion with the faster-than-expected swim and T1.

I’m so glad we drove the bike course before the race, because it was a huge advantage to know what was coming. The 40k (~25 mile) steady climb out of Eidfjord was the first challenge of the course. Then we would reach a plateau with a net downhill that lasted until halfway through at 90k (56 miles). After that was a series of 3 mountain passes, followed by one final enormous steady and steep climb to Imingfjell. After that it would be 6 miles of false flat and then all downhill (some of it quite technical on poor road surfaces with unmarked switchbacks) for about 20 miles to T2. Altogether, about 10,000 feet of climbing on the bike course.

My plan was to drink a bottle of Infinit and to take a salt pill every hour, with intermittent snacking on Payday bars in between. I practiced this strategy when I raced at Buffalo Springs last month, as well as in training. I instructed Mom, who was handling my drinks, that each time I stopped (every 2 hours - 4 stops altogether), both bottles of Infinit and the bottle of water that I was carrying had to be replaced, and that it was critical that she check to make sure I was drinking all of my Infinit. The Infinit provided calories, hydration, and salt that would help me to stay strong throughout the race.

We planned to meet at Dyranut for the first exchange. I saw my family before that though, among an enormous group of spectators about halfway through the first section. People were cheering in various languages as bike after bike flew through a small section of road; I imagined that this is what riding in the Tour de France would feel like.

Mom and Dad cheering as I approached on the climb from Eidfjord.
The climb out of Eidfjord was steady, made more challenging by a strong headwind that started to pick up, but the scenery was incredible. At one point I had a steep, sheer, never-ending cliff face on one side and a rushing river on the other side, and I laughed out loud to myself that this was just like River Road in New Braunfels. We rode through low tunnels on the old road that was now traveled only by bikes and pedestrians; they were dark, lit by the flames of little gas lamps on the ground.

For one section, we had no choice but to ride through a tunnel where cars were also driving because the tunnel for bikes and pedestrians had collapsed earlier this summer due to a landslide. For almost 2 miles, it was a no-passing zone for both cars and bikes, and a pack of 15 of us crawled along in the dark behind one slow cyclist who’d had the misfortune of reaching the tunnel at the front of a pack. I was grateful that it wasn’t me holding up all of these impatient dudes. The tunnel was lit dimly by a row of lights from above, by the lights on our bikes, and by the headlights of the cars behind us. I felt like I was in a movie. Then we popped out of the tunnel and continued on the bike-only path, where you could look directly up and see the cyclists winding their way up impossibly steep looking switchbacks. And then seconds later I’d be on that section, thinking, “Oh good, this isn’t that hard.”

I made it to Dyranut in 2 and a half hours. The race manual had said that it would take the average competitor 2 hours to get there. I wasn’t worried. It was windy and there were tons of racers around me. I was watching my watts, following my plan, taking it easy to save energy for the final climbs and for the run. I was happy to see my family. I stopped briefly to run into a restaurant there to pee (there were no porta potties on this entire bike course). Mom switched out my bottles and Robert helped me dress for the cold plateau ahead. I took off, feeling good.

The windy plateau.
About 15 minutes later, my stomach had started to hurt. My family was supposed to leap ahead to the next point at Geilo, about 25 miles away. Instead, as they drove by, I yelled that I had to pee, and they pulled over and helped me to be as private as possible, on the ground behind the car, shielded by my Mom and a towel. I asked to take some Imodium and continued on my way. But my stomach continued to hurt and I couldn’t drink my Infinit without feeling sick. I realized the only thing that I could take in that didn’t cause pain was water. I have an alarm on my watch that goes off every 10 minutes reminding me to drink, and I ignored it several times before I realized that I had to take in calories or I’d ruin the rest of my race.

At this point, I was really happy to have a support crew that could contact my coach, who was standing by even though it was the middle of the night in Texas. Robert relayed a message from Dawn that I should eat gu and bananas, so that’s what I did. I tried to eat the Paydays that I had on my bike, but everything I took in made me hurt. And I still had to pee ALL THE TIME.

In retrospect, I realize that I was fueling for the hot races in Texas/Arizona/Louisiana that I’ve always done before. I usually sweat so much and I eat saltsticks and drink heavily salted Infinit because if I don’t do it, I’ll cramp on the run. This plan has always worked for me, but in the cold weather in Norway, I wasn’t sweating it out.

So I felt great for the first 2.5 hours of the bike before it became a problem. Then for the next 6 hours, my body tried to figure it out while I took in hardly any nutrition (water and bananas). Then finally, in the last 2 hours of the bike, I started to feel hungry, and after I stopped to eat at the top of the final climb (chips, gummy worms, beef jerky, bananas), my stomach began to feel better.

Throughout the nearly 9 hours that I spent on the bike, I stopped 7 times to pee and get aid from my family, including bananas, water, Motrin, Tums, and changes of clothes. At an average 3 minutes per stop, this really cost me, and I knew that nearly the entire field had passed me.

Even though I felt like crap for more than half of the bike, I am not lying when I say I enjoyed it. I yelled out loud to myself more than a few times “I can’t believe I’m doing Norseman!” When I had to slow for some sheep to cross the road ahead of me, I laughed and waved at them. One of my goals was to stay relentlessly positive and I’m glad to say that I did it. I know that this saved my race.

It's clear why they were calling me "Pinky."
The scenery was incredible. It changed so much - after the climb from Eidfjord, we reached a grassy plateau that was sparsely populated with small lakes and cabins that people use in the winter for cross-country skiing. Geilo is a bustling little town that marks a perfect halfway point. Then the three mountain passes are scenic and smell deliciously of pine, with gorgeous little houses in some sections. And then the final enormous climb to Imingfjell, although punishing to the body after such a long time on the bike, is beautiful with its switchbacks and green trees and moss-covered rocks.

The weather changed the entire time too. The climb from Eidfjord was almost warm, followed by brutal, cold crosswinds on the plateau, followed by chilly climbing and descending after Geilo, followed by pouring rain on the climb to Imingfjell and dense fog on the false flat that made it impossible to see further than 3 car lengths ahead of you. The final descent towards T2 was terrifying with fog, rain, sleet, and hail.
The rain was really starting to come down on the final climb. Dad in the background offering relentless support.
And then came the thick fog.
My family met and checked on me countless times, and after they fed me at the top of the final climb (my Mom literally fed me gummy worms like I was a baby bird), they rushed to T2 to get my running stuff ready. I was left to descend by myself in the cold and rain, completely soaked even wearing my rain gear and enormous gloves borrowed from Dawn. I couldn’t feel my hands and I couldn’t see out of my sunglasses, which I had to keep on because they protected my eyes from the bouncing sleet!

As I descended further into the valley, the weather started to clear up. Knowing I was definitely out of contention for reaching T2 in the first 160, I decided to at least try to get there in less than nine hours. NINE HOURS. OMG. I ended up making it there in 8 hours, 52 minutes.

On the last few miles into T2, I knew I needed to get as many calories as possible in before the run, so I ate everything that I had left in my bento box (1 payday and a gu) and smiled because my stomach didn’t rebel. Drank water, even though I was still immediately peeing out everything that I drank. At this point, because I was already soaked and cold, I just went ahead and peed on the bike. Like 5 times…Sorry Matt and guys at Bicycle Heaven. Please wear gloves when working on my bike. :(

Robert helped me wheel my bike over to my spot, which was already all laid out for me. I changed my shorts, socks, and shoes. Grabbed my visor and my fuel belt. Ran to a porta-potty (yes!!!!). Then poked my head out and screamed at Robert that I’d forgotten my Garmin. He rushed it over to me. On my way out of transition, a woman holding a sign with a number on it (209? 212? 219? - I can’t remember) asked me what my number was and I told her “44.” Then started running.

T2 was a blur. Photo by Dad.
After feeling so bad on the bike, I had no idea how the run was going to go. I realized pretty quickly within the first mile that the number the woman had been holding up was my place in the race - I was in the 200s but I wasn’t in last place. OK, try to run and finish without peeing or pooping on the course. That was my goal.

After about a mile, I caught and passed another runner. Then I took a gu with water and didn’t feel sick. Then I caught and passed another runner. And then I realized that this race was not over. Maybe I could run myself into a place below 200 - that would be acceptable. That became my goal.

I ticked off the miles and marveled that each one was in the 9-minute range. I changed my goal - I’m going to run 9-minute miles for the first 15 miles to Zombie Hill. That way I can prove that I’m good at running, and at Zombie Hill, I can walk. As I ran, my support team leapfrogged me and told me how great I looked. And then other runners’ support teams started cheering loudly for me. They’d been cheering for me on the bike course too, but now they sounded excited. “Great pace, Pinky!” “You look great!” “Keep up the pace!”

As I ran alongside the beautiful river on the course that I’d been looking forward to running for a week, I felt stronger and stronger. Took in my nutrition and felt good. Robert leaned out the window and yelled at me that Dawn had said “Don’t forget, everyone is hurting. You’re still racing. Find one more gear, dig deep. Go get it. Don’t give up.” This is what Hillary had told her when she was suffering at Ironman Texas. And I realized that of course she was right.

Passing runners one by one, I could tell that they were hurting and yet I was flying. I felt like I was running downhill (Dad told me later that I wasn’t, and I just couldn’t believe him). I wondered how long I could last, but with every runner that I passed, my confidence grew and my pace stayed the same. I started to wonder if I could pick off the 50-something people that I’d need to pass to be able to climb the mountain, and I kept on running, taking in the scenery, taking strength from passing people, and enjoying the little game that I was playing. From the reactions of the other participants and the support crews as I passed them, I realized that I was doing something extraordinary.
Flying on the most gorgeous run course.
By the time I reached the 25k (~15 mile) checkpoint at the start of Zombie Hill, I had passed 18 people. I’d run 2:08 for the first half of the marathon - I’ve only run faster than that one time at the end of a triathlon. I was thrilled, but it wasn’t enough yet. I wondered what Zombie Hill would be like and if I’d be able to power past people there too. Dad joined me to pace me up the hill, and for the next 4+ miles, we walked and walked up the relentlessly continuous 7-10% hill. Robert and Mom leapfrogged and checked in on us from the car.
Zombie Hill - Dad pacing me and another athlete up the hill.
I was so tired that I couldn’t even fully extend my arm to take water from Dad when he offered it. I couldn’t eat, breathe, and walk at the same time, so I stopped every once in a while to take a few bites of banana. I began to understand why it was called Zombie Hill. Dad kept an awesome pace - he’s been training at an incline on a treadmill for hours every day this summer and it paid off! He kept telling me how proud he was, and I was too tired to respond. We walked the 4 miles at a 16-19 minute mile pace.

Then we reached the checkpoint at 32.5k (20ish miles), the one that would determine if you went up the mountain or not. I had passed maybe 4 people on the hill. I turned to Dad about a half-mile before the checkpoint and said “I don’t think I’m going up the mountain today,” and he gently replied, “No, I don’t think so.” Of course he had known for an hour that it wasn’t going to happen, because he’d been informed that 160 had already made it to the checkpoint, but he hadn’t told me and I had never given up hope.

We were directed towards the secondary finish line (along the beautiful road that I had run on a training run earlier in the week). I asked one of the officials if he could just tell me what my placement was. “194,” he said, “You did well. You made the time cutoff (14:30) by 20 minutes but too many people got here ahead of you.” I was happy to have moved up in position but sad to miss out on the black t-shirt and the climb to Gaustatoppen. I started to cry a little bit and then shook it off.

As we turned the corner, I looked at my watch - 3:50 for the first ~20 miles of the marathon. The next mini-goal kicked in. “Dad, this is what’s happening now. We have less than 10k (6.2 miles) left to go and I’m getting a new ironman marathon PR today.” He had only planned to walk Zombie Hill with me - he hasn’t run in 5 years - but he looked at me excitedly and was like “OK! Let’s go!” and we took off running. My ironman marathon PR (from Ironman Texas last year) was 5:57. I realized almost immediately that I’d be able to beat that if we just walked the 10k to the finish, so I amended the goal - how about let’s try to go under 5 hours.

We had to pass the finish line to do 2 out-and-back loops to finish the final 4 miles. As we ran the flats and downhills and walked the uphills, spectators and athletes alike were yelling encouragement and marveling at my pace. At this point, Dad and I were the only people out there who were running. Nearly everyone else was walking. It was an amazing feeling. As we reached the turnaround point at the end of our first loop, an official slipped an orange rubber band over my wrist. This would prove that we’d already done one loop. We ran back towards the finish line, and then I headed out for the second loop by myself (Dad called it a victory lap). It seemed to take no time at all to run this loop. I smiled and laughed and talked to the spectators and told them that I loved them. I congratulated the other runners on the course. I took my yellow rubber band from the turnaround point. On my way back with less than half a mile to the finish, I saw Mohamed Lahna, an athlete with a prosthetic leg who had done the entire race ahead of me except for these last few miles. He simply told me “Run” and I got choked up, thinking if this dude is telling me to run, I need to RUN.

Two little bands proved that I'd completed the last two loops of the run course.
I ended up with a time of 5:06 for the marathon - 51 minutes faster than my previous PR - OMG. I ran through the cheering spectators to the finish line which was marked off by some tiny cones and spray painted arrows on the floor. I almost ran right past it! No music, no finishers chute, no Mike Reilly. No thousands of screaming spectators. No catchers, no medical tent. No finish line photographer. Just a timing mat under an archway, which I crossed with so much satisfaction with my parents and Robert there to greet me.
Happy finisher with awesome crew.
A soft-spoken female volunteer walked over to me and whispered, “Congratulations. You’re a Norseman.” And then another volunteer asked me if l would like some soup, which was served to me in a coffee cup along with a small slice of bread. And that was it. Finish time 15:21 on one of the toughest ironman courses in the world.

The following day, there was an awards ceremony followed by an official group photo of everyone in their t-shirts. I was bummed to be standing there in a white t-shirt amongst all of the folks who were proudly wearing black. Despite this, I had fun taking photos with my new friends and exchanging stories with them and the support crews that had cheered for me all day. I particularly enjoyed hearing about Penny’s ridiculous day (she's amazing; under such difficult circumstances, she ended up fighting her way to being the 160th person to pass the checkpoint).
All of the participants signed this banner to mark our place in history!
Days later, I’m still disappointed about not getting the full experience with the mountain climb and black t-shirt. I knew before I started that it would take a perfect day to be able to get up there to the mountaintop finish and I didn’t have one. But the experience was incredible and I’m proud of my accomplishment. I’m still incredulous over how I ran so well off a freaking nine-hour bike ride.

Learning that I can keep a positive attitude when things are going wrong for SIX HOURS - well, I can’t imagine how that’s going to help me in my racing after this. The future feels big and bright and full of possibility after what I experienced and learned about myself here at Norseman. It was truly the opportunity of a lifetime. I enjoyed every minute; I think it’s the greatest race in the world, and I think everyone should rush out and sign up for next year’s lottery. I also think I’ll want to make another attempt at that Black T-Shirt one day.

I’m so thankful for the support of my parents, especially my Dad who ran nearly the last 9 miles of the race with me. I’m grateful to my husband, Robert, for helping me and understanding me through all the training and through the execution of this race plan. I can’t say enough about what my coach, Dawn Elder, has done for me over the 3+ months that I trained for this race - the trips to train in Arizona, the research that she did to figure out how to get me ready, the help with the mental preparation that it would take to stay strong through the race. Thank you to Chris Aarhus for all the instruction in climbing, handling, and descending on the bike - I can’t believe how much better I’ve gotten at this. Thank you to Matt and Greg and the guys at Bicycle Heaven who set me up with a perfectly dialed bike with fabulous wheels, taught us how to safely transport it to Norway and put it back together again, and provided laughs and entertainment along the way. Thank you to Justin and the folks at Promotion Physical Therapy who helped keep me healthy (both physically and mentally in the days leading up to the race). And of course, thank you to everyone who voted for me in the Facebook contest and to blueseventy for my race entry and sweet wetsuit and gear! Thank you to my friends and coworkers who encouraged me and listened to me talk about this race all summer. And finally to my amazing training buddies who were out there every weekend training with me and pushing me to exceed my own expectations - thank you, thank you, thank you. Norseman 2014, the greatest adventure of my life (so far), is in the books!

*All photos by Robert Cordova unless otherwise noted.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Norseman: Swimming in the Fjord!

Today was athlete check in, plus the usual prescribed pre-race short swim/bike/run. It was a really good day...but of course the highlight was the swim!

I ran this morning in Kinsarvik and then we drove over to Eidfjord to do everything else. The very low-key athlete check-in was held in a small hotel conference room. The crew and athletes were friendly and the general vibe around the place was "savor it, enjoy it, have fun." I loved hearing that and feeling the positive energy. We spent some time in the Q&A corner with some very helpful crew members who had done the crew race last weekend - 8 members of the crew raced the entire distance last weekend! They were full of great advice and I'm really glad we stopped to talk with them.

Can't help posting more pics from my run today.
And another one. Gorgeous views EVERYWHERE.
After the very quick check-in where I received the usual stickers for my bike, bib, etc., and Robert received his support team shirt and a wristband that will let him into the transitions to help me, we walked over to see the swim start. I saw another woman wearing a wetsuit and asked her if she was going to swim. I then scrambled around quickly to grab my swim stuff so that I could hop in with her - there is always safety in numbers, especially when you're swimming in a fjord with 2 cruise ships parked in it.

Athlete check-in.
Ok, so this plus the wristband makes it really real.
There's a cruise ship parked right in front of Swim Out.
It turns out that my new friend Penny is a blueseventy ambassador, so she had all the same swim stuff as me - we were matchy matchy from head to toe in our wetsuits, booties, and neoprene caps. This made me laugh and miss my friendies back home.

I was surprised that the water wasn't as cold as I thought it would be (about 60 degrees today). Of course that can change in 2 days - but I was very comfy swimming in my wetsuit, booties, and cap. We swam for about 15 minutes and each breath I took, I was thrilled to see the mountains around me as I looked up from the water. When we finished the swim, we took a couple of pictures and then Penny suggested a practice jump off the dock! After we climbed out, we had to laugh, because at that moment several small children jumped into the water in just their swimsuits. I guess it all depends on what you're used to.
Penny = carefree jumper. Kris = cautious goggle holder. 
Tomorrow there will be a blueseventy swim in the morning and I can't wait to swim again. I am definitely savoring this and taking it all in. Then there's the mandatory athlete meeting at 3 pm...and then I'm sure time will fly by until the race starts on Saturday morning! You can track me here:
A rare photo of the photographer - my hubby and support crew, Robert. :)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Norseman: Getting to Know the Course

I'll admit that when Dad's itinerary for this trip included getting here nearly a week early, that I grumbled about it - why arrive early? Why not use the vacation days to enjoy Norway after the race instead? So far, though, I've been proven wrong. It's been really good to get here early and get to know the course.

We arrived in Rjukan (where the race ends) on Monday and left this morning (Wednesday) to drive along almost the entire 140 miles of the course to Eidfjord (where the race starts). This allowed for some awesome training in the warm, sunny area around Rjukan/Gaustatoppen. They've been having unseasonably warm weather and it was in the 80s yesterday when I went out to ride and run. I can't think of many things that make me happier than being on my bike, and yesterday's easy spin along part of the run course was incredible. I just took in the scenery and chilled out a bit.

Dad and I got in a couple miles of training on Zombie Hill. We practiced walking/running up it while Robert practiced driving the support vehicle and parking All Four Wheels Off the Road, as instructed in the support crew guide.
We drove up to the entrance to Gaustatoppen and I posed for this picture, then went home for a nap. Hoping I'll get there fast enough to go through that gate on Saturday. Robert and Dad climbed to the top (3 miles) and got to see where the finish line will be!
I received this in my email's getting real.
I was apprehensive about the drive from Rjukan to Eidfjord, but ended up being glad that I got to see the bike course. (Everything looks worse from a car - right, Shelly!?!) We took note of the kilometers that passed between the bottom of Zombie Hill and where we expected T2 to be - this is where the bike will end on Saturday and the run will begin. It's the most scenic run course I've ever seen! Cannot wait to run it this weekend.

Then we started paying attention to the bike course: what the climbs were like (challenging but not impossible), what the road surface was like (perfect in some areas, pretty crappy in others, a fair share of surface not unlike Texas chip seal, and three sections that are just gravel), what the weather was like (constantly changing - sun, wind, hot, cold, rain). It was really good to be able to see everything that I'll do on Saturday - just in the opposite direction.

Once we climbed from the valley onto the Hardangervidda plateau, the weather changed dramatically. The temperature dropped from 80 to 50 degrees, the wind picked up, and the sun went away.
The yellow building is where support crews will be parked on Saturday, waiting for their athletes to complete the first climb out of Eidfjord.

And then you have this to look forward to. Three climbs and descents followed by one final, enormous climb (not pictured here) up to Imingfjell, followed by a long descent into T2.
It took quite a bit of the day to do the drive, and when we arrived in Eidfjord it was exciting to see banners for Norseman and to see, in person, the town that I've only viewed in photos and YouTube videos.

Eidfjord and surrounding area = gorgeous.
We drove about 30 minutes past Eidfjord to where we're staying at Kinsarvik in a cosy little cabin for the next few days. Tomorrow I'll get to swim in the fjord (!!!) and put all of my awesome blueseventy cold weather gear to good use! I'll also get in a little bike and run, in addition to checking in. And then start counting down the days - race day is approaching quickly!