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.