Saturday, December 5, 2015

Norseman 2016: I'm Going Back!

As soon as I crossed the finish line at Norseman in 2014, I knew that I'd want to come back one day to try to finish on the mountaintop and earn a black T-shirt. What I didn't know was that "one day" would come so quickly!

Norseman has two finish lines. One of them is at the top of a mountain. The first 160 people to pass a checkpoint at mile 20 of the marathon can continue to this finish line. They earn a black finisher's T-shirt. Everyone else finishes at a secondary finish line about halfway up, and earns a white shirt. While I am incredibly proud of the white T-shirt that I got in 2014, I'm also completely disappointed that I didn't get to climb to the top of Gaustatoppen. I want that black shirt.

You can only get into Norseman through a lottery (or through a contest put on by one of the sponsors, like I did the first time). This year's lottery worked differently than it has in the past. This year, if you didn't get selected, you'd get two chances at winning a slot next year, and so on. I signed up for the lottery expecting to be improving my chances for next year, and the year after that.

When the drawing came and went on November 9, I received my rejection email with a caveat, "We do not operate a waiting-list, but we will in this way invite 50 people to our runners up list in case some of the draw winners declines their slot over the next couple of days. If so happens we will offer the slot to the runners up." The email said that I'd know by December 1 if I had been selected.

Reading that email, I realized exactly how badly I wanted the chance to go back to race in Norway. I was filled with disappointment. I didn't let myself hope to be selected as a runner-up.

A week later, on a business trip, sitting on a plane that had just landed in Charlotte, I casually checked my email on my phone. Imagine my surprise when I saw the email: "We are excited to confirm that we have reserved a slot for you in the 2016 edition of Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon." WHAT?! I couldn't believe it. I spent the rest of that layover texting my friends and coach, and calling Mom and Dad to tell them the news. I think the best way to describe my reaction would be "over the moon."

Dad always said that with the knowledge we have from the first time we raced Norseman, we'd have a much better shot at the black T-shirt a second time around. Emily said that the experience I'll have from the two more years of training and racing will be invaluable, too. I know they're both right, and I know what I have to do.

I have another reason to be motivated for 2016 - I applied and was accepted to the Big Sexy Racing team. BSR is a team of amateur athletes led by 7x Ironman champion Chris "Big Sexy" McDonald. It's an honor to be a part of this team of incredibly talented, motivated athletes, and I'm looking forward to learning a lot from them. I have a feeling that 2016 is going to be a big (sexy) year! Looking forward to putting the work in to make it so.

My 2016, in a nutshell. Big Sexy Racing and Norseman!
Catching Up
Since I haven't blogged much in the last couple of months, I'll provide my excuses in the photos below:

I traveled for work. A lot. First to our office in Indianapolis where we got to see Real Fall Colors...
Then to our office in Virginia Beach. Next stop, California.
I didn't just travel for business - this view from a trail run in Colorado was pretty awesome.
After two months of traveling for work, being distracted by life, and Not Training, this is the only photo I'll post of Austin 70.3, because riding around the corner and seeing this was the best part of the day. Note to self: You know how you're always talking about how hard work works? Well, not working hard...doesn't work. Not a great performance at this race but a lot of fun with friends. Orissa and Linda rocking the donuts as the best cheer squad ever!

On a rainy Saturday last week, it was super fun to be back at it with Dawn. This photo taken post-Norseman drawing, when motivation has kicked back in.
I'm told that an alternative to indoor riding on rainy days is to ride a cyclocross bike, because they're "meant to get dirty." The only problem is, I can't seem to stay upright on mine. (I'm in love with it anyway!)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Why Not? Sharing My Ironman Story

A couple of months ago, I auditioned for CapitalSpeaks, an event at my company that was designed to provide associates with the opportunity to "share, connect, and inspire." I was thrilled to be selected to participate. On October 8, I shared my story with an audience of 300+ people.

It's probably no surprise that I talked about my Ironman journey. What did surprise me is that this experience was not unlike an Ironman - I put my heart and time into preparing for it, I had an amazing coach (Michael Balaoing), I shared the experience with 6 other associates who had the same goal and worked hard to attain it, and I ended up incredibly proud of a job well done at the end. I feel honored to have been a part of this event and thankful to everyone who had a part in it.

Q&A session with all 7 speakers.
Super fun times at the reception afterwards with coach Michael Balaoing!
So happy that most of my friends at work were there to support me. (Selfie by Joanna, Tim, and Mari)
My favorite part of my page of the program is Jordan Rapp's quote: "If you have a dream, pursue it as hard as you can." 
Five years ago, my manager, Terri, gave me good luck balloons before my first half Ironman. She did the same thing before this event - coolest manager ever.
I was beyond happy that Mom and Dad were there to share the day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ironman Lake Tahoe 2015 Race Report

I was registered for Ironman Arizona in November. On my bike at Ironman Texas, in a fit of Norseman nostalgia, I decided to defer my Arizona entry to hilly, beautiful Lake Tahoe instead. While I know that you shouldn't trust anything you're thinking after mile 80 on the bike at an ironman, within a few days I found myself registered for Lake Tahoe. Bonus: Mom and Dad said they'd come to cheer! None of us had been to Tahoe before.

Training for this race felt a lot like training for Norseman - get on your bike, climb every hill you can find, repeat. I felt myself getting stronger this summer. A nagging hamstring injury that I'd had for years was GONE. I was feeling like a fish swimming. I nailed a few tough track sessions and built confidence in my run. When race week approached and the taper madness hit, I thought I was feeling too good, and started inventing things that might be wrong with me. "I think I'm getting arthritis in my left thumb," is something I actually said out loud. I felt great.

Until I arrived in Lake Tahoe and went for a practice swim and realized that the Internet forums were all correct: swimming at altitude was no joke. The lake was beautiful and it should have been a sublime practice swim. But instead I was panicking thinking that I was having to breathe on every stroke on this easy swim - swimming at "race pace" for any period of time was out of the question. Running felt the same way - a much slower pace for the same effort at sea level. Yikes.

Tough swimming at altitude but so beautiful, clear, and little gold flakes washing up on the shore.
Emily had warned me about all of this and said to just go on feel and not worry about paces. The altitude would slow everyone down. The day before the race, I read a Facebook post from pro Chris McDonald, who had won the race 2 years earlier. He commented that racing at 6k feet, patience was key at this race over every other ironman. "Patience" became my mantra.

Race day arrived with some drama - a black bear had broken into the transition on the beach the night before and eaten 5 gear bags! I suppose bears can't resist Honey Stingers either. I realized how foolish it was to store food in our bags overnight, but I hadn't even considered the possibility.

T1: Bear City.
The swim was a rolling start and I was late to the corral. I ended up swimming with the 1:30 group on this 2-loop swim. I spent the first loop trying to get my bearings and breathe. The second loop felt much better, but I had no idea of my pace. I knew that I could accelerate quickly to pass a slower swimmer, but I was afraid to sustain a hard pace because of the altitude. I was disappointed with my effort (or lack thereof) on the swim, but I ended up running out of the water with a swim PR (1:10:55).

The air temperature was around 40 degrees and I opted for a vest, arm warmers, and gloves on the bike. It's hard to get arm warmers and gloves onto numb hands, but a couple of awesome volunteers helped me and I was out on the bike course pretty quickly.

Prettiest T1 in the USA.
Oh my goodness, the bike course. It's 2 loops, which means every beautiful scenic vista you see, you know you get to see twice. You ride through cute beach towns, then up through the hills and pine trees to the town of Truckee, then around this corner where you can look down and see the cyclists weaving back on the path below you in the bright sunshine under a perfect blue sky.

Up the 4.5 mile Brockway climb, which is more Lemmon than Imingfjell, but nevertheless felt pretty tough the second time around. It was filled with spectators who were cheering in costumes, Tour de France style! Descending the other side, my goal was to get to 50 mph, but I only managed 47. It was exhilarating! Then back to King's Beach for round 2.

Photo and relentless cheering by Mom and Dad!
I did have my struggles during the bike. I was cursing the fact that I'd told someone the previous week that it always gets difficult at mile 80. This race was no exception, and I found myself losing energy and struggling to turn my pedals over at 100 watts on the flats. I got through it, but it was a good reminder that even though you get stronger through years of training, this event is never easy. I was happy with a 6:45 bike split at this race.

The run was beautiful too. And a surprisingly challenging course - with only 900 ft in elevation gain, I figured that once you were off the bike, the run would be easy, but there were several steep, challenging hills and an off-road section where you had to go up and down some dirt stairs. You got to run along the Truckee River for part of it. All of it was gorgeous. The air smelled fresh and delicious and even though my lungs were burning, I was loving it.

So happy to see Mom and Dad at every corner.
The best part of the run was that Mom and Dad were there every time I turned around! The loops and out-and-back course allowed me to see them probably 10 times or more. Dad told me pretty early in the run that I was in 11th place off the bike. Patience and forcing myself to hold easier watts on the bike was paying off! I took a tip from Hillary and played Pac Man on the run. I was really proud to run myself into 7th place and achieve an ironman marathon PR (4:43). Almost 10 minutes faster than Ironman Texas and at altitude. Yessss!!

Mom, the relentless cheerleader, on the run course!
The last two miles were a mental struggle but I rushed to the finish line, trying to preserve my 7th place spot. Running down the chute never gets old. I high-fived everyone that I could. I felt so incredibly happy crossing that finish line. Total time 12:49 on a perfect, beautiful day.

I know I left it all out there because as soon as I crossed the line, I felt terrible. Nauseated, couldn't eat anything, and finally got an IV, which didn't really help me feel better, but I'm sure it helped me recover. A week later, I'm finally feeling more like myself.

Even though it was a long shot, I attended the roll down for Kona slots. They got snapped up right away by first and second place. But how cool that I even had a chance!

Dad and I just after roll down in Squaw Valley.
I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, but the day after the race, Ironman announced that they were discontinuing it. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to race here before they cancelled the event.

Thank you to Emily for preparing me so well, to blueseventy for the incredible Helix that just keeps bringing me swim PRs, to Bicycle Heaven for making my Slicey beautifully race ready, and to Tri Bike Transport for getting her safely to Tahoe. Thank you to Mom and Dad for being the greatest spectators and cheerleaders ever! Thanks to Trent for reminding me that racing is fun, and a special shoutout to Hillary and the Smashfest Queen family for unwavering cheers and support all season long. And thank you to all of you for the love and support and virtual cheers that you were sending while I was racing. I felt every bit of it! Loving this journey.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Why Not Me?

There's an opportunity at my company to speak in front of an audience about an inspiring or uplifting story, something that connects with people, sort of like a Ted Talk. Those selected will be coached by a professional storyteller to tell their story in front of 150 people. They've done these talks in 2 of our sites already, and after I watched a video of one of the stories, I knew I wanted to do it.

So I submitted the application and received my invitation to the audition that's taking place in a couple of weeks. Bring your story and be ready for 5 minutes of questions from a panel. And also, watch these other videos to prepare.

As I watched the videos of my coworkers telling amazing stories, I felt doubt creeping into the pit of my stomach. The stories were about overcoming the deaths of loved ones to find deeper meaning in life. Or they're talking about how having cancer has taught them to treat each day as if it's your last. What do I have to contribute? A fun story about a triathlon in Norway? I didn't feel worthy. Why me?

As I agonized over this, I looked at a quote from Craig Alexander that I have taped on my desk. It says that everyone has doubts. Even an Ironman world champion asks himself, "Why me? Why should I be the one to win? But you have to turn it around. You have to ask yourself, why not me?"

At that moment, I knew what I wanted to share. It's the power of those words, "why not me?" I started asking that question almost 2 years ago, and it's changed my life. Once you say it -- "Why not? Why shouldn't I go for it? Why not try?" -- it all starts to happen, even though you may not notice. Changing the way you view yourself is what starts to change everything. There was a day in November 2013, when I said, "I want to be great at something." I made a decision. I asked, "why not me?" And then I started training like crazy.

A few months later, Dawn and I raced a half ironman in Tyler, TX. Our roommate was Maggie Rusch, one of Dawn's teammates. As we made small talk in our hotel room, Maggie mentioned that she was racing Norseman in a few months. "I've always wanted to do that race," I said. Maggie mentioned the blueseventy contest to win an entry that had been advertised on Facebook for several weeks. She asked me if I'd entered it, and I replied that I hadn't yet. "Why not?" she asked.

My journey began at the Tyler Tri.
I couldn't stop thinking about it. Why hadn't I entered the contest? Because I was scared. The race is hard, it's across the world, it's so far out of any kind of comfort zone. But my new self was asking, "why not?"

So I entered the contest. As the days went by, my votes climbed, and it looked like I had a shot at winning. Instead of thinking, "Why me, why do I deserve to win this?" I thought, "why not me?" My change in thought process isn't the reason that I won the contest. But it was a powerful change nonetheless.

A few months later, I raced at Buffalo Springs 70.3  as a "long training day" in preparation for Norseman. Dawn, who was spectating, yelled at me 3 miles into the run, "You're in 3rd place. You need to start running." For the next hour and a half, as I ran, again, the doubts bubbled up, "I'm just not that good a runner. I don't understand how I'm in 3rd place." There was a chance that I was running too fast, that I'd blow myself up and end up walking to the finish line. But I wanted that spot on the podium. I wanted the opportunity to go to 70.3 Worlds.

Buffalo Springs
70.3 Worlds
As the miles went by, my confidence grew, and I thought to myself, "why not me? I deserve a spot on the podium just as much as anyone else here." It's a change in mindset. I held onto 3rd in my age group that day and I earned a spot at 70.3 Worlds. I did it because I let go of fear and went for it.

This doesn't mean you'll always succeed. When I jumped off the ferry to start the race at Norseman, I believed that I had a shot at a mountaintop finish and a black T-shirt. Why not me? I'm fit. I've trained. I'm just as ready for this as anyone else here. On that day, I didn't reach the goal, but the power was in believing that I could. That's what kept me going on a tough, tough day. I believed that I'd make it until I was told at the cutoff that I didn't.
Same thing with my first attempt at qualifying for the Boston marathon earlier this year. I missed it by 7 minutes. But when I started that race in Houston in January, I believed I could qualify. It's the power of positive thinking that gets you moving in the right direction.

As you begin to change your mindset and you start to believe that you can accomplish great things, you lose fear. That's the first step. Fear of failure will stop you from throwing your hat into the ring, and then you don't even give yourself a chance. Someone once said that if you don't try, it's 100% certain that you won't succeed. But if you do try...well, then the sky is the limit. I really believe that.

I love how the lessons from ironman carry over into "real life." In the past several months, I've challenged myself on more than one occasion to say, "why not me?" One of the biggest was when I applied for a position in our Singapore office. I didn't get the job. But knowing that I wouldn't be afraid to take it, to move across the world and start a new chapter in life, was incredibly empowering. Believing that I deserved it as much as anyone else who applied  - well, that was huge too.

I feel lucky that it didn't take a major life event to teach me that life is short and that we should make the most of every day. If I'm selected to speak in front of my coworkers, I'll challenge them with this, and I'll challenge you now with the same question. Ask yourself - why not me? And see what happens.

The next challenge for me is Ironman Lake Tahoe in September.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ironman Texas 2015 Race Report: How Do You Race an Ironman?

I registered for Ironman Texas almost immediately after I crossed the finish line at Norseman last summer. After finishing that event, I knew I was ready to race an Ironman. Not to survive one (IMTX 2013) or have an amazing, one-of-a-kind experience (Norseman 2014), but to Race an Ironman.

So, how do you race an Ironman? I've talked to Dawn about this many times, because for years I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Her answer was simple: it’s just like racing a 70.3. You just have to focus for longer. It sounds a bit ridiculous, but it’s true. My goal at Ironman Texas this year was to race the whole race and to never lose focus.

Since I've done the event before, I knew what to expect. In 2013, I lost focus on the swim, relaxed too much, fell out of the draft pack along the buoy line, and freaked out when I exited the water 20 minutes later than expected. Mentally, I fell apart an hour and a half into that race. After that experience, I knew I couldn’t let it happen again. But this year, I could tell immediately during the swim that I was doing the same thing – there was a train of swimmers zooming along the buoy line, and every time I looked up to sight, I was frustrated to find that I had popped out of it. I had to continuously swim back over, in a ridiculous zig-zag fashion. I could tell by my breathing that I wasn’t working hard enough, but I couldn’t correct it. But experience was on my side, and although I came out of the water at 1:18 instead of closer to 1:10, I didn’t panic or freak out. It’s just the beginning of the race. The swim sucks at this race. Focus. Get on the bike and go.

More than anything else last Saturday, I was determined to race the bike. For me, in full Ironman events, the bike has been more about survival than racing. Just get through it and don't crash (IMTX 2013). Just get up the mountains, the time doesn't matter (Norseman). This time, I was racing.

So focused that I didn't even know my friends were there at Bike Out.
My plan was to ride at 140-150 watts, but it had to feel easy, especially in the first half. After the initial adrenaline-filled excitement of riding out of town, I settled down and realized that in the heat and humidity of the day, 140 didn’t feel easy. Again, experience worked for me – I remembered what it felt like to be at mile 80 on this course, once the sun has come out, and the rolling hills have done their damage, and the wind has picked up like a furnace on that exposed concrete highway. I needed to conserve energy. I dialed it back to 135, forced myself to stay there, and reminded myself not to lose focus. Racing Ironman requires patience.

I realized how much discipline it takes to keep it easy and not burn yourself up in the first half of the bike. There’s a reason people overdo it on the bike – it’s just SO BORING not to. But I forced myself to stick to the plan, stay in my aerobars, and not to chase people as they passed me. The doubts bubbled up. What if I ride easy now, and then I blow myself up anyway, and my entire bike is slow? I had been told that if I raced smart, I’d pass all the people who went by me in the first half of the bike, but what if I didn’t? Would this pay off?

Sure enough, as I turned into the headwind in the second half of the bike, my patience at the beginning began to work in my favor. I was passing people. Lots of them. I was able to hold my watts. I was getting tired, but still able to push. In fact, as I calculated math in my head, I realized that a sub-6 hour bike was possible, and I picked up the pace in the last 20 miles to try to achieve it. (I did! Barely: 5:59:48!)

However, in the last 20 miles, something else happened: I choked on a piece of banana. I ended up violently trying to cough it up for the last hour of the bike. And – my feet started to hurt. Because the transition had been muddy, I opted to run through it without my shoes on. Although flying mounts were allowed, I don’t know how to do them, so instead I ran across the mount line, put on my shoes, and started the ride. I usually wear socks, but to save time, I decided not to use them. This was probably a mistake, because my feet have always been uncomfortable on sockless training rides.

Muddy transition.
As I approached T2, I remembered walking sadly through the transition back in 2013. This time, I tried to run. But the moment I dismounted the bike, my lower back locked up and both feet screamed with pain. I had no smiles for the spectators who were yelling encouragement as I jogged through the muddy transition. When I tried to sit in a chair in the changing tent, my back was too inflexible for me to bend over to put on my shoes. I think all the coughing caused the back pain, although fighting the wind in my aerobars for 6 hours may have also played a part.

With my first few steps on the run course, it crossed my mind that I might DNF this race. My back and feet hurt that much. I had a goal of finishing under 12 hours, and at the snail’s pace that I was running, the goal seemed further away. Everyone just gets slower as the marathon goes on. If I’m running 10:30s in the first mile of the race, I’m screwed. Then I made up my mind to just run until I couldn’t. What was there to lose? Just Run. It felt terrible, slow, painful. But I ran.

A few thing propelled me forward. I knew that my friends were waiting around mile 2 with cheers and love. I had tickets to the Dave Matthews concert after the race, and doors opened at 7 pm; I had to get to the finish line before that. And I was wearing Hillary’s Sunrise kit – I wasn’t about to embarrass her by walking on the run course. As long as I could keep running, I would.

In the first 2 miles of the run, another athlete that I had seen on the bike came running up next to me. Her name was Angie, and she joked that she was running in slow motion. “I think I overbiked,” she said, and I laughed and said that of course I did too. I told her that our job was to run past my friends looking like we were having a great time, so when we ran up to them at mile 2, that’s what we tried to do. Then she left me behind. I know how bad I looked when I ran past them, hunched over and gritting my teeth with every step. I knew they were worried about me. I muttered to Shelly that my back hurt, and then I ran away, my heart sinking as I understood that I’d have to run past this point two more times before I could call it a day.

Lap 1: Me and Angie at mile 2.
Then, something weird happened. After about an hour of running, I started to feel better. Much Better. This shocked me, because it just doesn’t happen. My feet felt better, I was able to ignore my back, and I began to smile. I laughed and high-fived spectators. I looked on in awe as the pro females ran past me: Angela Naeth, Leanda Cave, Rachel Joyce. They were so fast. Leanda even gave me a thumbs up as I shouted encouragement when she passed me, and I thought “How cool is this?!” For an entire lap, I picked up the pace, enjoying the day, singing out loud to myself, “I love this shit!” And laughing. I remembered how Dawn talked about one thing being certain in Ironman: however you feel right now is NOT how you’re going to feel in a few minutes. As always, she was right, and it goes both ways.

As I ran past my friends on the second loop, they swarmed me, offering Motrin, water, (diet!!) coke, and encouragement. I laughed and joked with them and was proud that I felt better than the first loop. But almost immediately after I ran away from them, the pendulum swung the other way and it really began to get tough. I forced myself to keep running. I didn’t want to let my friends down; I didn’t want to make them stand there any longer than they had to – some of them were going to the concert, too, so we all needed to get to the finish line.

I’m so proud of that last loop. I kept it together and stayed mentally tough, didn’t let myself fall (too much) off the pace. When I ran by my friends for a final time before heading into the last 6 miles of the marathon, I had to work hard not to cry. Then I used every bit of positive self-talk to get myself to the finish. I can’t remember a race where I wasn’t talking to spectators throughout the run. At this one, I couldn’t even acknowledge people as they cheered for me. I knew I had the Ironman zombie stare as I ran those last 3 miles.

My incredible friend Bree Soileau ran with me for nearly a mile, telling me everything I needed to hear. And turning heads as she did it. :)
Approaching the finishing chute, I caught up to Angie, the girl I’d run the first mile or so with. We ran together to the line; she encouraged me to beat my PR, and even though I already had by more than 2 hours, I raced for the finish. We crossed together smiling. I finished this race in daylight with a 4:51 marathon. My new Ironman PR is 12:19, and I raced for every single one of those minutes. I’m really, really proud.

Post-race was a blur; I was so happy as I talked with my friends who had both raced and spectated, exchanging stories about the day. Then a few of us headed over to the Dave Matthews concert, where I spent most of my time lying on the grass smiling giddily to myself about the day, reveling in the music of one of my favorite bands. A perfect day.

The thing that stands out most in my mind is that although triathlon is an individual sport, for me, it’s so much about people. Knowing that most of my friends were there on the course cheering for me, and that others were following me online and rooting for me from home – there’s nothing like it. Seeing my training buddies out on the course was amazing too, to share the struggle and joy of the race day with the people I’ve trained with for months – that was incredible. Sharing this experience with the people I've met in various tri events like camp, and knowing all the different battles they were fighting on the same race course as me - some of them trying to qualify for Kona, some trying to win the race, others just wanting to finish - meeting new friends, feeling the encouragement of perfect strangers who are experiencing the same thing that you are – it’s impossibly cool and difficult to explain. I don’t feel very eloquent as I try to describe this, but oh my God, I love love love Ironman.

So lucky to have these girls in my life.
As always, huge thanks to the people who help me in chasing this dream: Dawn Elder, Emily Cocks, Hillary Biscay, Bicycle Heaven, blueseventy, and my incredible family and friends, thank you for being such an amazing part of my journey! Congratulations to everyone who raced last Saturday! And thank you for reading.

I find it hard to explain how I got here
I think I can I think I can
Then again I will falter
Dream little darling dream
- Dave Matthews Band "You Never Know"

Saturday, April 25, 2015

New Orleans 70.3 2015 Race Report: Going By Feel

After chip, chip, chipping away at my half ironman time for the last couple of years, I had a breakthrough race at New Orleans 70.3 last weekend. I improved my PR (achieved at Buffalo Springs last summer) by just under 30 minutes (5:14! Tenth place in my age group!).

Reunited with my 70.3 Worlds buddies. Mary Evelyn and Bree at packet pickup - love these girls!
New Orleans was a "training race" for Ironman Texas, which is coming up next month, and I approached it with the understanding that I would be "training through it." Although last year at Buffalo Springs proved to me that I do best when NOT racing my “A” race, I still refused to admit that I wanted to do well at NOLA. I had some strength and fitness from camp in March. But I was also VERY tired, having completed 2 of the biggest weeks of training of my life under a new and different training plan from a new coach.

I need to be clear here, because I think that when someone says that they switched coaches, the immediate, natural question is, “well, what was wrong with the coach you had?” The answer here is: nothing. For 5 years, Dawn Elder has been, and continues to be, my greatest teacher, mentor, and inspiration in this sport, and is my dear, amazing friend who I love and admire more than I can put into words. We agreed that the move to my new coach, Emily Cocks, would be really good for me.

The last few weeks with Emily have had me working harder than usual on something that I've been fighting for years - going by feel. Put the numbers aside and concentrate on how you feel. Uggh feelings - I hate feelings. I prefer numbers - power, heart rate, pace, minutes per mile, miles per name it, I love it. And I rely on those numbers, probably too much. There's lots of reasons to know how to go by feel. What if your power meter goes out during a race? What if your heart rate reading is inaccurate? ...what if the numbers are holding you back?

At camp last month, as we climbed Mt. Lemmon, Hillary talked about how half-ironman effort should FEEL on the bike. Your breathing and your legs should feel a certain way. Riding over Gates Pass, Maik taught us how to ride easy - to FEEL what easy feels like. I've been trying to replicate those feelings on every training ride and run for the last month or so, and I FEEL (haha) like I'm starting to get it.

Which is lucky, because when I asked Emily if there were parameters I should stay within for NOLA last weekend, she simply told me "race hard, you're prepared." She didn't give me any numbers, and I knew I'd have to go by feel. Whether she intended it or not, this was my lesson for the day.

Pre-race with awesome friend Damie from 2012 Hillary Biscay camp. It was such a treat to catch up with her (socially, not on the race course - this is one fast chicky)!
And the awesome Tri Belief crew - Trent, Chris, and Michael. These guys are going to crush at IMTX next month.
Given permission to Race Hard, I gave it my all. While I usually have no problem doing this on the swim, the bike is where my legs and brain start to work against me. "Save yourself for the run," they whisper, and then scream, as I get tired. At this race, I didn't listen to them. I thought about what Hillary told me about breathing and the pressure in the legs. I didn't let off. And when I had to fight with a draft pack for miles and miles (they eventually all got penalties - yesss), I watched my watts soar as I fought to pass them and stay legal, and I didn't freak out (much). I just kept pedaling, holding the effort. I didn't care that I might be blowing myself up for the run.

I've always had the goal of a sub-2 half-ironman run split. I thought I'd get it this time. But even with 5 minutes to spare at the turnaround, I slowed down enough in the second half of the run to miss it again, by one minute. I did pay for the effort on the bike with some minutes on the run, but it was worth it to know what a good, hard effort on the bike at a race feels like. I'm going to take that feeling with me to Ironman Texas next month.

A huge thank you to Dawn for helping me build to this result through the season, and to Emily for pushing me the last few weeks. Big thanks to blueseventy, whose amazing Helix wetsuit helped me achieve a huge swim PR (of course, it also didn't hurt that the swim course was short) - I'm so proud to be an ambassador for this awesome swim company! Thank you to Bicycle Heaven for setting me up on Roval race wheels that felt so fast and amazing! Thanks to my incredible friend Bree, who gives me the best advice and brings me luck every time we race together. My awesome Tri Belief and Iron Whiner training buddies who have been out there every weekend riding and running and pushing me - thank you! I also want to give a huge thanks to my amazing new friends who helped so much throughout the weekend, the support meant a lot: Christina, Kellie, Chris, and Jen - I know y'all were there to sherpa for other people, and thank you for letting me tag along.

Thanks to everyone for your cheers and support; I really can't express how much it means to me and I just love the positive energy that you all send. Next up...Ironman Texas!

As usual, I made friends on the run. This beautiful Betty (actual name: Chloe) and I ended up having a mutual friend in common, and we shared some miles on the run course and an ice bath in a kiddie pool after the race.

...that mutual friend is Maggie Rusch, first-year pro. I'm not going to lie, I felt pretty badass getting a mention from her on Twitter. 
Bree on the podium!
Had to get a Hand Grenade in Coachie's honor - Dawn couldn't make it to the race and we missed her very much post-race on Bourbon St.
Lots of credit to training buddy Brian Loftin and his lovely wife Orissa for spending a TON of time out on the road with me in the last couple of weeks.

It takes a village - here's Aixa helping me test my race wheels. Love my friendies. Sniffle.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Tucson Tri Camp 2015 - Easy Does It

I have to be honest, when I signed up for a third visit to Hillary Biscay's Tucson tri camp, I wasn't sure what I'd get out of it. In 2012, when Shelly and I attended our first-ever camp, my longest ride up to that point was 60 miles and we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. That year was about surviving all the workouts (we did). I was super excited to go back in 2013 with Aixa, Linda, and Herb to do all the same rides/runs/swims. I wanted to see how much I had improved since the year before (I had - a lot). I didn't go to camp last year, but I did go to Tucson twice to train for the mountains I'd be climbing at Norseman. What more could I learn from training in Tucson? As teammate Chris and I drove towards Arizona last Wednesday, I wondered if I'd get enough out of the experience to make it worth the money and a week of vacation from work.

This year's San Antonio Tri-Belief crew - Chris, me, Dawn, and Kelley
Well, of course I did. It was exactly what I needed, in many ways. Getting out of the rainy, cold weather of San Antonio was a start. Spending several days focused only on swim/bike/run/eat/sleep was an amazing mental break. And as always, interacting with a group of 25 talented, driven triathletes was an inspiring way to kick off the season.

My main takeaway from camp was not at all what I expected, and it is this: sometimes, you're supposed to go EASY.

On the third day of camp, before a 25 mile ride from Starr Pass over Gates Pass and around the famed McCain Loop, Hillary told us that we were going to ride easy. She explained that there's a benefit to doing easy workouts, and that we were going to learn how to do it. Going easy on easy days means you can really go hard on hard days, and that's how you improve. I would guess that many age groupers, like me, tend to try to go hard every day - which means you really go "medium" every day, and that doesn't help you. It just puts you in a "grey zone" where you end up not having the capacity to ever go really hard, Hillary explained.

I was skeptical about how "easy" this easy ride would be. There's some steady climbing for about 8 miles until a huge descent...then a gorgeous rolling loop through a valley filled with Saguaro cactus, then an enormous half-mile climb before a fun descent back to the start. I've done this ride 4 times, and even when it was described as an "easy shakeout ride," it Was Not Easy.

I was assigned to ride with Maik (Twelsiek). The instructions were to stay behind him at all times. The athletes in my group looked at each other and almost laughed - yeah, we'd have no problem staying behind Maik. This is the guy we'd all watched on TV last October as he absolutely CRUSHED the bike at Kona. It might be an easy ride for him, but there's no way it would be easy for me.

Maik and his campers at the Gates Pass scenic overlook. 
To my surprise, we really did roll out easy, five campers like ducks in a row behind Coach Maik. We began the steady climb, spun up the hill in the tiniest of gears, with my power meter reading only 100 watts. And that's how it went for an hour and a half. I had to really concentrate on spinning behind Maik and not trying to crush it up any of the hills. Sometimes I held my brakes because I was terrified to accidentally go around him.

My legs weren't tired, my breathing wasn't labored, and we were climbing easy up towards Gates Pass. And around McCain Loop. And even though it took some work to get back up the other side, that part only lasted a minute or so, and it was back to easy spinning and flying back down to the start without even pedaling. A truly Easy Ride.

Right before the climb back over Gates Pass.
Ironically, the first time we went to camp in 2012, the main takeaway that Shelly and I brought home was that everyone works much harder at this than we ever imagined. We vowed to crush every workout from that day forward. It made sense at the time. I know it made us stronger. But I know now that learning how to go easy on easy days will make me stronger too.

Of course, I also realized that there's always something new to learn. So...see you next year, Tucson tri camp.

Chris checked Facebook on a gorgeous, sunny morning, and we congratulated ourselves for not having to ride in the rain like the folks doing the Castroville time trial that day. The weather in Tucson was perfect this time of year!

I met some of the coolest, strongest ladies on this trip. This is Whiting with me in our "before" picture for the 100x100 swim. We were smiling afterwards too. She, Cherryl, and I had the happiest of super happy fun times switching off leading our lane.
Coaches Emily Cocks and Hillary Biscay providing life-changing instruction (well, swim-changing, anyway) at the technique-focus swim on Sunday.

The L.A. Ladies - Cherryl, Terri, and Lynne at the top of Mt. Lemmon. They may look like your San Antonio matchy matchy Iron Whiners...but with one difference - these ladies race Kona like every year. It was so fun and inspiring to meet and spend time with them.
A trail run with Hillary wouldn't be complete without getting lost - this time we ended up climbing through a barb-wire fence trying to find our way back to the trail.
Super happy fun times on the trail at Starr Pass (before we got lost). 

Camp isn't camp without a visit to Frog and Firkin afterwards to celebrate.