Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ironman Louisville Race Report 2016: Lucky #7

This time last year, I was happily registered for Vineman 2016 and had talked Trent into doing the same. When I won the Norseman lottery last November, plans had to change: Vineman is held a week before Norseman, so it would be impossible to do both races. For the second year in a row I found myself taking advantage of the WTC race transfer program. Ironman Louisville, held 2 months after Norseman, made the most sense, so last Thursday, Trent and I loaded up the car and made the 16-hour drive to Kentucky to race.

Note: Having done both, I can confidently say that I would rather spend 16 hours completing an ironman than sitting in a car for the same amount of time. Then, I realized that's exactly what my Norseman crew did during my race two months ago, and I'm filled with additional love and appreciation for the effort and discomfort that that took. Ouch.

Lucky #7
At dinner one night, Trent and I sat next to a mother and daughter who were also there for the race. As we chatted, I was asked if this was my first ironman, and I replied that it was my 7th. The response was "Oh my god, that's crazy. Two or three I could understand, but SEVEN!? Why do you keep doing it?"

The answer is simple: because I can. Sometimes when you're tired from all the training, or you're suffering during a race, you can forget to be grateful for the ability to do these things. We are lucky to be able to do what we do: swim, bike, run, train, race.

I've had the opportunity for 7 attempts at this distance, from the first one (DNF after bike crash at Arizona), and then 5 subsequent races (Texas, Norseman, Texas, Tahoe, and Norseman), and now Louisville. Each race was a unique experience; each one taught me lessons that extended beyond the sport and allowed me to grow as an athlete and as a human being. This is why I love what I do.

Two months ago, for the first time, I considered that there might be a finite number of ironman races in my future. At Norseman, the pain in my back both during and after the race scared me into wondering how many more of these I have in me. It took a few weeks to recover, and my confidence was shaken. I did what I could in the time I had to build some core strength and prepare for Louisville. But I had no idea how race day would go. I knew I'd be grateful to finish smiling and (relatively) pain-free.

My race goals for Louisville were to focus on the process and smile. Specifically: swim strong and steady and find fast feet. Waste no time in transition. Bike within your ability. Run the whole marathon, and stay mentally tough (nobody else will know if you gave up, but you'll know). I've written a lot here about smiling and being positive and enjoying the process. Although these things have been easy to learn, they're also easy to forget.

Race Day
This race has a unique time trial start. 2500 participants get into a single-file line and then jump in one after another to start the swim. Trent has raced here before, so he knew that it was important to line up early for the swim to avoid crowds on the bike course later in the day. We drove to transition to be there when it opened (5:15) and found a huge line of people waiting to get in. Once we were in, we put air in our tires, loaded our drink bottles onto our bikes, and hurried to the swim start, a mile away.

We got pretty close to the front of the line and settled in with a couple of our Big Sexy Racing teammates to wait an hour and a half for the race to start. At 7:00 the line started moving forward, and at 7:30 the race started. Trent had gone off in search for a replacement for a lost swim cap, and at 7:39 when I approached the start line, he hadn't returned. I didn't know if he was ahead of me or behind me, but I jumped off the pier and settled into my own race. It took until at least 8:10 to get all the athletes in the water, so hurrying to the swim start had been a smart move.

Swim start in perfect temps: 50 degrees outside and 72 degrees in the river.
It's easy to sight using landmarks in the Ohio River. First you travel upstream for .8 of a mile, around an island, and then back down, past the swim start, under 2 bridges to transition. The water was 72 degrees and I felt strong and powerful swimming in my fullsleeve wetsuit, something I'd been nervous about after a bad swim at Norseman. I ran out of the water with a 2-minute swim PR: 1:08. Yippee!

After a long run out of transition with our bikes, we were out onto the gorgeous bike course. You ride out of town along River Road, then start the first of two hilly loops. When I say hilly, I mean that rolling hills come relentlessly at you for two loops, from mile 15 until mile 90, when you begin the return back into town. You ride past countless green fields and barns and horses, and twice through the town of La Grange where it seems like the entire community has come out to cheer. There are more spectators on this bike course than any I've experienced except maybe Mont Tremblant, and they're screaming at you Tour de France style, urging you to get up each hill. It's awesome.

People have said that we don't have hills like these to train on here in San Antonio, and I agree. They're not the short, steep climbs of Amman Road or Boerne. You can't settle into spinning up these like you might in Vanderpool, because they're not long enough for that. They're just long enough that you don't have momentum to get up and over the next one, so there's lots of shifting and difficulty finding a rhythm.

I made errors with nutrition that I tried to make up for, but I ended up taking in less fuel than I needed. I was happy with a 6:16 for the bike split because although it's not my fastest ironman time, it's my strongest yet. I held exactly the watts and heart rate that I wanted - trusting the process was working!

I never saw Trent on the bike. I always expect to swim faster than him, and then I wait to see how far I can get before he passes me. But we didn't start together and I didn't know where he was. My thought process on the bike went like this: "Maybe he started first and swam faster than me. He's probably winning the race! Or, maybe he had trouble on the swim and never made it to the bike, but surely they would have found me as his emergency contact...?" I saw one of our teammates spectating as I ran out of transition to the run course, and while Matt was yelling "Way to go Kris!" I was begging him to tell me if he'd seen Trent. "Yes," he replied, looking confused, as if Trent had gone by hours ago. I felt relieved and happy to focus on my run.

The run is where I gave up at Norseman. On the Louisville run, more than anything, I wanted to be strong, both physically and mentally, and not give up when I got tired. The run course heads up into town from the river, two loops, pretty much pancake flat, out and back. You run right past the finish line on your way out for the second loop. Today, it was a perfect 70 degrees with plenty of shade to run through.

Relentless smiling. It works!
I might have looked like a crazy person smiling so much on my way out on the first loop. Seeing Trent running by the other way and stopping for a quick kiss (swoon) got my legs moving a little faster for a while. I got interviewed by a videographer on a motorcycle, made a few new friends, cheered for my Big Sexy teammates and generally enjoyed myself for the first 13 miles. Although I wasn't running as fast as I'd like to, I was keeping a steady pace, around 10:20 min/mile. It gets dark earlier in Kentucky, and as the sun went down, I started taking advantage of the chicken broth served at every aid station. It was delicious and welcome after all the sweet snacks earlier in the day.

With 6 miles left on my way back in on the second loop, I knew I could get a new PR if I hustled. But each aid station allowed me to walk a little bit more, and I had to reset myself a few times and remind myself to keep running. Emily had told me that if I was "in a race" at mile 24, then I needed to "race," but otherwise to stay steady and take care of myself. This instruction was what I needed. By mile 24, I was in a race with myself. I ran as fast as I could to the finish line, bypassing aid stations and running around everyone in front of me.

Finally, I saw the lights and heard the crowds of the most energetic finish line I have ever crossed. I ran up to the line through what seemed like the longest finisher's chute I've ever been in, with crowds cheering on both sides, and was rewarded with a couple of new personal best times: 4:37 for the marathon, and 12:15 for the entire day. An ironman distance PR by about 4 minutes, and a day that I spent smiling and feeling grateful. Goals met...time to celebrate!

World's loudest finish line led by the world's greatest BSR cheering squad!
Big Sexy Racing
I've been a part of the Big Sexy Racing team for a year, and it's been a great experience. I've met, trained, and raced with some awesome teammates here in Texas, and our team is in daily communication on a Facebook page, encouraging each other, sharing advice and training tips, and generally being a fun and entertaining triathlon support system for 200+ like-minded people.

Louisville is a special race for our team. Chris "Big Sexy" McDonald, our team's fearless leader, has won the professional race here 4 times: the last time in 2014 was the most inspiring sprint-to-the-finish victory that I've ever seen at an ironman. We had 25 teammates racing this weekend, and several others who had come in to cheer and support. Hands down, my favorite part of this race was sharing it with the folks on my team. To race with teammates makes it fun, and to hear countless people yelling "Go Big Sexy!" and "Stay Sexy!" gives that extra boost of energy that you need, especially in the last 6 miles of the marathon.

Big Sexies everywhere, and so many spectators! Here's Trent running in with one of our teammates.
We met so many great people from our team from all over the country at a team barbecue on Friday night hosted by awesome teammates Hannah and Bryan who live in Louisville. And after the race, many of us came back for the midnight finish to cheer in the final finishers. It was an amazing, uplifting experience that made me proud to be a member of this team. Go Big Sexy!

Thank You, 2016
It's been a really different kind of year for me with changes in my personal life and career taking some priority over triathlon training. I'm grateful to still be chipping away at my triathlon goals while being distracted (in a good way) by life. Since my season is over for the year, I want to take the opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has given me so much love and support: my friends who let me go on and on about this sport that I love; Mom and Dad who helped me get to Norseman one more time; Trent, who always encourages me to be my best; Emily, my coach, who has helped me adapt to the changes in life and worked to fit my triathlon goals in - thank you! To Matt, Greg, and the guys at Bicycle Heaven, thank you for keeping the Slicey in good order year after year. To the Big Sexy Racing team and all our sponsors, in particular, Blueseventy, Cobb Cycling, and Newton Running, thank you for the support and inspiration. As always, thank you for reading. Here's to a great off season and a fabulous 2017!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kerrville Tri Race Report 2016: Choosing the Right Goals

Goals can be a dangerous thing. A quote that I read years ago from motivational speaker Harvey MacKay has stayed with me: “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” At the time, it was the call to action that I needed. What’s the point in just sitting around dreaming about something you want? Get out there and work towards it!

The problem is that there are some things you can’t set goals for. Like black t-shirts. Six weeks ago, after I realized that I wouldn’t reach the goal of a mountaintop finish in Norway, I stopped smiling. I gave up. This resulted in a slow, miserable marathon experience on one of the most beautiful courses in the world.

At Norseman, I had set a goal that I wasn't in control of. Other factors were at play, like the weather conditions and the talent of the other athletes who showed up that day. It took me a while to understand what Emily was talking about when she told me to focus on process rather than results. She asked me my goals for Louisville, and I gave her numbers. Emily said instead to focus on process - what can I work on that didn't go well at previous races? She was asking me to set attainable goals and not random numbers.

I figured out last week what the goal would be for Louisville. Smile no matter what. Always find a way to enjoy the experience. After all, this is supposed to be fun! That can be easier said than done, and it takes practice. The Kerrville tri this weekend would be my chance to practice smiling all day before being tested again at Ironman Louisville.

I had two goals for the Olympic-ish distance race (1000 meter swim, 29 mile bike, 6.4 mile run). I wanted to gain some confidence by having a good swim in a wetsuit at a race, and I wanted to keep smiling and pushing forward no matter what.

But...for the first time in 5 years, the race in Kerrville was not wetsuit legal. Goal number one went out the window. Luckily, goal number two was to keep smiling and pushing forward no matter what. Take what the day throws at you: today would not be my day to build confidence in a wetsuit, but it could still be a day to have a great swim.

When the race started, I was in such a hurry to get in the water and begin swimming that I forgot to start my watch. Whoops! This mistake turned out to be a blessing. I swam strong and felt powerful in the water. When I ran out of the river, I didn’t have to analyze my swim time: I had only my feelings to go by. And it felt like a great swim. There's some built-in swim amnesia for you: just don’t start your watch! This is a technique I’ll take with me to Kentucky.

That's the smile of someone who forgot to start her watch.
At this race, my age group was in the unique position of starting in the first wave with a time trial start: athletes started one at a time with 3-5 seconds between them. I started maybe 6th in my age group. Being a strong swimmer and a reasonably strong cyclist, I spent the first 55 minutes of the bike race riding alone. I was passing competitors from the half-ironman race that had started earlier in the morning, but nobody was passing me. It was surreal. I made a game of it: how far could I get before people from the Olympic distance race caught and passed me?

It started to rain 20 minutes into the bike. At one point it rained so hard I thought it was hailing.
Trent’s wave started 12 minutes behind mine. When races start this way, I love to see how far I can get on the bike before he catches me. This time, we discussed beforehand that due to the short distance of the race, he might not catch me until the run. I wanted to see if I could make that happen. Approaching T2, I still hadn't seen him.

I flew into T2 and found an open field full of run bags: only a couple of bikes were there ahead of me. I took off running and vowed to hold a smile and a strong pace. The course was out and back – 3 miles out, 3 miles back, then another little out-and-back in the opposite direction before the finish. I started the run by myself, and as the miles went by, people started to pass me. And - at every aid station I passed, the volunteers complimented my smile. After I turned around and headed back, around mile 4, I saw Trent for the first time; we high-fived and he warned me not to let him catch me. This put extra pep in my step and although I was fading, I ran as fast as I could, still smiling. Having fun. Yippee!

I reached the finish line a couple of minutes before Trent. As our friends started to pour across the line, we all celebrated, taking photos and telling stories about the day. Mom and Dad were there, along with several Big Sexy teammates who were racing the half, and nearly all of our triathlete friends from San Antonio. It was so much fun to be surrounded by friends after the race. It made me remember what fun it is to race locally, and I think there will be more shorter local races on my calendar next year.

What a fantastic day. I had a great race and earned 3rd place in my age group. Perhaps when you focus on process, the results take care of themselves. I know it’s easy to keep smiling and moving forward when things are going well. It’s something else when you have to struggle. But, if you practice being positive when you’re feeling good, hopefully it will translate and help you through a day that isn’t going as planned. I’ll be smiling at Louisville no matter what. Less than two weeks to go!

After the race, we got caught in a ridiculous storm with flash floods. The half ironman participants were still running in this weather.
Another thing that made my day - this guy picked a flower and gave it to me before the swim. I carried it with me during the race and I swear it gave me superpowers.
The beautiful San Antonio Smash girls.
Big Sexy Racing - "We're the shit." So much fun racing with teammates!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Don't Quit

Three weeks to Ironman Louisville.

I didn't set myself up for a successful long run today. With two endurance athletes in the house and an every-other-weekend visitation schedule with Trent's boys, our Sundays have become a long-run juggling act. Today, I agreed to run later in the morning and Trent went early. This means that when I started my run at 9:45 am, it was already 85 degrees outside and the sun was beating down without a cloud in the sky. Not to mention I'm tired from a cold that keeps lingering enough to make me nervous, a long week at work, a tough bike/run yesterday, and a little too much wine last night. Ok, there's all the excuses.

I drove to one of my favorite trailheads on the Salado Creek Greenway at Tobin Park. The workout was to run easy for 30 minutes, push it up to zone 2-2.5 for an hour, and then to run easy for the last 30 minutes.

The first half hour was fine. It was shady and breezy as I ran slowly down the greenway, shaking out a tight left calf/ankle. Then I ran into the full sun up the hill on the way to McAllister Park. A cyclist came by me, "it sure is hot out here." I thought, yep, it's hot. I'm not going to make it out here in the full sun for two hours.

After 45 minutes, I decided to turn around and head back to the car. An hour and a half would be fine. I had already run some extra miles this week. No big deal. My heart rate was in zone 2 without even trying due to the heat. I felt the sweat dripping down my face, thought I'd probably run out of water before I got back. Decided that my head was likely getting sunburned. All these great reasons to just cut it short today.

As I ran back towards the start, I started thinking about a conversation that Dawn and I had yesterday. I know I haven't been training with the heart and dedication that I need to accomplish the goals that I have in mind. Cut one workout short here, relax on the efforts a little bit there...and you end up not progressing, feeling stagnant instead.

That's how I've been feeling since Norseman - stuck. I gave up on the run at Norseman because I wasn't going to reach my goal of a black shirt. I was feeling pain, but I've felt pain on the run at every ironman and I have been able to push through it with a smile. I Gave Up at Norseman, and it doesn't feel good.

Giving up during training just allows you to give up more easily on race day. I've been stronger than that before. I can do it again.

Running back into the shade, I made a decision to run up to one of the trailheads and grab some more water, just in case I didn't give up. A mile later, I took my third Gu, just in case I decided to run past my car. One mile later, I ran purposely past my car thinking, "F you car, I have a run to finish."

Every step you take after choosing not to quit is a victory.

I'm not always super stoked about how I'm feeling in my Newtons, but man, I love these shoes.
I felt so good, so proud of myself for every minute that I ran in the opposite direction from my car. A slow run, but I was so happy to be finishing what I started that it didn't matter how slow I was running. Eventually I reached my turnaround point, and then I smiled all the way back to the car. Two-hour long run complete...11 slow little miles. It felt like racing - smiling through discomfort. I've missed that feeling.

I'm not sure what's going to happen in 3 weeks at Ironman Louisville. But I know that today's workout was a mental breakthrough that will allow me to endure on the run in Kentucky. I can't wait.

Today's run may have been a struggle, but yesterday's ride with Linda was awesome!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Norseman 2016 Race Report

It Gets Into Your Soul
Shopping in the expo on Thursday before the race, I noticed a woman agonizing over whether to buy a jacket emblazoned with the Norseman logo. "I'm afraid I'll jinx it," she said to her husband. I couldn't help jumping in. "Buy the jacket. It doesn't say Finisher on it. You won't jinx anything." She laughed and replied, "We deserve the jacket just for having the balls to show up here!"

My new friend Basia and I started talking, and I revealed that it was my second time racing here. She joked that I must be crazy. As I tried to explain myself, another woman standing nearby spoke up quietly, "I was here in 2014 also, as support. After that day, I knew I had to do the race. It takes over your mind - it gets into your soul."

What an accurate description of what happens here at Norseman. I came back this year with the goal of earning a black T-shirt. But I also came back hoping to achieve something else. In 2014, my eyes were opened to an international community of athletes who boldly chase their dreams across the world, who have a true, deep love for the sport of triathlon, who are not content to stay safely at home, doing the usual. Being around that kind of energy makes you want to go out and really live your life.

My eyes fill with tears as I type this. To quote Basia at Sunday's T-shirt ceremony, "I'm so emotional, I feel like I just had a baby." It's almost bewildering how powerful the experience is.

After watching a 10-day forecast that showed beautiful weather for race day, in typical Norwegian fashion, the night before the race, a cold front began to blow in. As Dad and I set up my bike in the transition area, I noticed noisy waves lapping against the dock. I've never seen the fjord in anything but serene, calm conditions. My stomach flipped over a little, but I brushed it off.

The swim course looking much calmer the day before the race.
The 2.4 mile ferry ride was fun - I sat with 4 new friends and we exchanged stories of previous races and laughed about how we looked forward to eating junk food and drinking Coke on the bike. At about 4:45 am, we walked downstairs in time to be sprayed with cold sea water to ready our bodies for the shock of the cold water (57 degrees). We watched the mouth of the ferry dramatically open, and then jumped off into the unusually choppy water.

Ten minutes later, the horn went off. As we had been directed at the pre-race meeting, I swam along the shoreline; there is a tide against you on this swim, and swimming against the shoreline helps to minimize its effect. When you see the twinkling lights of Eidfjord, you know you'll soon make the right turn towards town, then you swim around one buoy and take a left turn to cut across towards Swim Out. I was swimming with a small group of 3 or 4, and as we made the turn towards the town, the choppy water became more turbulent. The tide was pushing from one direction and the wind came from the other, creating swells and chop that I knew would be against my face on my breathing side after I swam around the buoy.

...if I could ever make it to the buoy. I felt like I would never reach it. I lost contact with the group I was swimming with. I struggled against the water to pull myself towards town. I started to feel tightness in my back that I haven't felt since I was a baby swimmer years ago in Boerne Lake. When I finally turned at the buoy, the water overwhelmed me. I stopped every few strokes just to get my bearings. I swallowed water and choked on seaweed. I knew I was in the water longer than my predicted 1:10 swim.

When I finally reached Swim Out, a crew member offered his hand to help me stand up. As I stood, an enormous cramp shot through my calf, and I dropped back into the water, surprised. He asked me if I was ok, but my leg kept cramping and I couldn't stand up. As I just laid there, helpless, he asked if I needed medical assistance. That got me moving and I made an effort to grab his hand and move towards the shore.

Dad tried to calm me in T1, but when I saw my swim time (1:32), my heart sank. I felt the black T-shirt goal slipping away. Emily, my coach, has been telling me all week to stop thinking about the black shirt and to focus on the process instead. So I focused on the process of getting dressed for the bike. It worked. After a swift T1, I rode out onto the course.

T1: Notice that most of the bikes are gone already.
Rule #1: Have swim amnesia. Once you're done with the swim, remove it from your mind and focus on the task at hand. The task was to ride smart and save energy for the hills in the second part of the course. As I rode up the first 25-mile climb out of Eidfjord, I took note of how my body was feeling. My arms, back, and sides were sore from the swim. My legs felt like they were struggling to turn over the pedals. The wind whipped around me - the rain that would pelt us for the entire bike ride hadn't started yet, but the temperature wouldn't go above 47 degrees all day.

After 7 miles of being seriously freaked out about how hard this bike ride was, I rode around a corner into a break from the wind. In the quiet of that stretch, I could hear my front brake rubbing loudly against my wheel. SERIOUSLY!? I tried to adjust it, but ended up just opening the brake caliper as a temporary fix. Immediately I felt relief, and started laughing. As a rule, I take a moment to check the brakes every time I leave T1. Not today - what a rookie mistake.

The climb out of Eidfjord was lonely. I didn't know my placement in the race, but I knew it wasn't as good as I would have liked. Nevertheless, I remained focused on process, riding within myself, eating and drinking small amounts every few minutes, and enjoying the ENORMOUS TAILWIND that would follow us all day. This year, both the male and female winners set new course records for a reason. The blasting wind was literally pushing us down the bike course.

As I reached the top of the first climb to Dyranut, it began to rain. I'd made plans to meet up with my support at a particular location, and as I rode along I noticed other cyclists pulled over getting dressed for the cold of the day. I was in arm warmers, leg warmers, and my tri kit at this point, but I wasn't feeling cold yet. Once I met up with Mom and Dad and put on Trent's amazing Castelli Gabba jacket and my new Castelli Diluvio neoprene gloves, I was toasty warm as I hit the plateau. This clothing saved my day. I learned later that more than a few people DNFed due to hypothermia on the bike. Although my feet soon became numb, my hands and core were warm, and I felt unstoppable.

Windy, cold plateau.
On the plateau, I was happy to settle into my aerobars and stretch out my back, which was still sore from the swim. But as the ride progressed, discomfort in my lower back became pain, and by the time I approached the halfway point, I was asking for Motrin. I took at least 12 Motrin over the course of the day, and when we ran out of that, I started taking Mom's Excedrin. I took the pills at the top of each of 5 climbs and hoped that the pain in my back would subside, but it just wouldn't. I stood to stretch my back, rode in my aerobars uphill when I could - I did whatever I could do to ease the pain without getting off my bike, but nothing worked.

Climb, climb, climb.
At some point, my shifting went bad and my chain was squeaking loudly in protest with every pedal stroke. I thought, "I wonder what will break first, my chain or my back?" I went through some dark moments - I had a near miss with a car that was impatient to pass on the narrow road, and I started hoping a car would hit me so that I could have an excuse to stop riding.

I stayed as focused as possible on the process and was surprised and happy to see that I was hitting the right power and heart rate numbers on both the climbs and the flats. I'm a much stronger cyclist than I was two years ago, and that is really fun to see. As I approached the top of the final climb, I heard someone else's support tell his athlete, "You are number 168." WHAT?! I may still be in this? That was all I needed to push the final 20 miles downhill to T2. I had practiced this entire descent a few days earlier, and knowing where the turns and bumps were really paid off. I had a strong final hour on the bike, which, aided by the tailwind, resulted in a bike split that was 37 minutes faster than in 2014. I even passed several people on my way into town. (Bike split: 8:15)

After the fastest T2 that I could manage, I hurried out onto the run course and looked excitedly at the crew member who would show me my position in the race. As I ran by on frozen stump feet, my heart sank: the paper read 201. I must have misunderstood what the man at the top of Imingfjell was saying, or he was lying to his athlete to keep him moving.

T2: Dad tried to protect me from view as I was changing, but Mom took the photo from the other side. Haha
This is where experience worked against me. I had been in a similar position starting the run in 2014, and even though I picked off a ton of runners that year, experience told me that I wouldn't be able to pass 41 people to get to the mile 20 cutoff in time for a black shirt. Hope had kept me racing the last 20 miles of the bike, but now that was gone. I was still determined to run as fast as I could, but because of the pain in my back, this wasn't particularly fast. First, I bargained with myself that I could walk up hills, but I had to run the rest of the time. That deteriorated into "run 30 steps, walk 10," which is what I did until I hit Zombie Hill at mile 15. My parents were amazing all day, but during this run, their support was everything to me, and every time I saw them parked a little way up the road, I was able to run a few more steps.

The run course became sunny and beautiful as the day went on!
Finally, we arrived at Zombie Hill. I said to Dad, "Who looks forward to Zombie Hill so that they can walk?" He replied enthusiastically, "We do!!" Mom drove the car up the hill and Dad and I started our 4-mile trek up the 10% grade hill. It may be strange to hear that that was my favorite part of the run course - walking up that hill at a 12:00-18:00/mile average felt almost soothing to my back, and Dad's positive chatter helped me forget the pain.

Even though I felt like I was moving at a snail's pace, I passed a bunch of people and we moved into position 188 by the cutoff at just about 14 hours. The time was well within the 14:30 limit, but of course the placement was not good enough to go up the mountain. I was really happy to have arrived at the cutoff a few places and minutes higher than last time.

As we made the left turn towards the white T-shirt finish line, I tried to muster the enthusiasm to at least beat my overall time from the previous year. We could do it if we ran. But I couldn't. We started running the downhills and walking the uphills, but that deteriorated again into just walking as fast as we could. I was annoyed to notice that I was doing the thing that you always see on Ironman videos of people when they're exhausted: leaning over sideways as I was running. At about mile 22, an innocent little cattle guard became an almost insurmountable obstacle, as my back threatened to lock up when I tried to walk across it.

This year's white T-shirt finish was a small loop that you had to do 10 times; you earned a punch on a card each time you passed a checkpoint. So we walked/jogged/shuffled 10 times past the finish line before we actually got to cross it - Dad and I were both cramping and exhausted when we finally crossed the line together at 15:50:26.

Dad completed the last 10 miles of the run with me - of course he should cross the finish line too.
I immediately fell into Mom's arms and started crying like a little baby. Then Dad and I were both offered a cup of the traditional, delicious finish line soup. A crew member snapped a couple of quick photos, and then we walked over to our little cabin that was located right there on the run course. It was about 9 pm. We'd hear the cheers for people finishing until after midnight.

T-Shirt Ceremony
The next day, I was sort of dreading how I'd feel when I saw everyone walking around in their black T-shirts. Instead, as I walked in to get my second white shirt, the first person I saw was Basia and her family. "I finished at midnight! It was amazing!" she exclaimed, and gestured that we should take a picture. This was what I needed to remind me what this race is all about. The black shirt would have been icing on a beautiful cake. This white shirt represents breaking through limits, perseverance, determination, and doing your best under extreme conditions. I'm proud to wear it.

My new friend Basia at the T-shirt ceremony.
Found this while looking for pics of the race on Instagram. If this doesn't inspire you, I don't know what will.
Claim to fame: Norseman used my photo on Instagram!

I'm so grateful that I was given the opportunity to race Norseman a second time. Not many people get to do that, and I know how lucky I am! If I lived closer, I know I'd want to be one of those people who gets the green 5X-finisher T-shirt, or the pink 10X-finisher T-shirt. There is simply nothing like the ridiculous challenge of this race.

Two 10x Finishers! 
Once again, I walk away from Norseman with new friends who inspire me. Basia, who never stopped smiling and celebrating. Jenna, who achieved an ironman PR (who does that?!) and won the white shirt race. Crew member Bent, who provided relentless positivity all day, starting with spraying us with a hose on the ferry, to directing traffic on the bike course, to cheering and running with us up to the finish line at the end of the day. The spirit of this event will stay with me for years.

I want to say an enormous thank you to everyone for your encouragement, cheers and support. Thank you to my awesome teammates on the Big Sexy Racing team for inspiring me every day and to our sponsors who helped get me through the day at Norseman: blueseventy, Newton, Cobb Cycling! Thank you to Matt, Greg, and everyone at Bicycle Heaven for helping me pack up my bike to get it safely to Norway, and for teaching me effectively how to put it back together again. Thank you to Trent who always knows exactly what to say, and to my amazing friends who believe in me so much! Thank you to Halvard Berg for all the advice - in particular, the jacket and gloves on the bike saved my day. At his request, I'm throwing out the call as well - let's get more American women to sign up and race this race of a lifetime! Thank you to the leadership and crew of the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon for dreaming up and providing an incredible event that just gets better year after year. Thank you to my coach, Emily, for the guidance in this process; I'm looking forward to what comes next. And of course, thank you to Mom and Dad, my incredible crew, who made every part of this happen. My heart is full! Thank you for reading.

My amazing crew.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Gravel Bike Adventures

When I bought my cyclocross bike back in November, I had no intention of ever using it for a cyclocross race. Instead, the goal was to give gravel grinding a try. This relatively new sport with a funny name has consumed my imagination all winter, and after my first actual gravel race this past weekend, I feel compelled to write about it here. So, why gravel?

Here's why, in a nutshell. Look at where you get to ride! (Castell Grind race course)

It's different

After Ironman Lake Tahoe, I was pretty burnt out on riding my tri bike for hours every weekend on the same roads around town. When we started riding the gravel bikes instead, each ride became an adventure to look forward to. Whether we were exploring the greenbelts around the city or riding on gravel roads in surrounding counties, everything was new and different.

Salado Creek Greenway, San Antonio TX

It's like trail running on your bike

Riding in dirt, gravel, sand, and rocks comes with all the same benefits of running trails. It also has a similar learning curve. In trail running, you’ll be most successful once you’ve learned how to pace yourself, find the best line, and take small, nimble steps both uphill and downhill. Riding a bike in loose gravel and soft sand is similar. Finding a good line and getting in a small gear at a high cadence allows you to negotiate through gravel, rocks, and sand. And then, just like trail running, your body gets stronger from riding on the uneven terrain. And you have no choice but to improve your bike handling skills.

It's beautiful!

In the last 6 months, we have found the most amazing routes that have been all around us the whole time, but we never knew they were there. How do you find them? You can ask at the bike shop, or stalk your gravel-riding friends on Strava, and go look at their routes. That’s how we found a gorgeous 70 mile loop starting in Rio Medina (Thank you, Jenny Park!). On a recommendation from the guys at Bicycle Heaven, we rode the most beautiful route on gravel roads from Bandera to Utopia. The thrilling part is that these routes are literally right next to the highways where we’ve been riding our tri bikes for years. But there are no cars!

Outside Rio Medina. Right next to the 471 route I've probably ridden 300 times.
Between Bandera and Utopia, TX.


Through sheer luck, Trent and I picked a really beginner-friendly event to do as our first organized ride - the Holey Roller in Smithville a month or so ago. The Castell Grind last weekend was our first real gravel race. For me, the race was a humbling experience. I'm newbie again, struggling with the very real fear of falling off my bike and hurting myself. I have all the endurance base in the world and I can climb any hill you put in front of me, but put my bike in some wet sand and I want to cry and give up. It's scary. I'm glad to remember what this feels like, to be new and unsure of yourself. We talk about getting comfortable being uncomfortable...well, here I am again.

There's also an element of adventure to these races because the courses are unmarked. They give you a map or directions that you have to be able to read (or, if you have a good Garmin, you can upload the map into that). There are no aid stations - you have to be totally self sufficient on these rides out in the middle of nowhere. There are no cheering crowds, only the company of other cyclists, who you'll make friends with as you try to navigate the course and encourage each other through difficult sections. All of these things make it intriguing and fun, and I'm looking forward to the next event.

Turn-by-turn instructions at the Holey Roller - don't get lost!
Beginning of Castell Grind

How to get started

That's the awesome part. You don't even have to get a new bike. You can just put fatter tires on your road bike and lower the tire pressure. That's what Orissa did, and it worked like a charm. Then, stalk one of us on Strava and find that Rio Medina ride. I promise you'll be hooked!

Very versatile bike - you can also use it to accompany a friend on a run. ;)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Houston Marathon Race Report 2016: You Have To Want It

For a couple of years, I've been saying, "Wouldn't it be cool if I could qualify for Boston at the Houston marathon at age 40, like my Dad did?" Well yes, it would be cool. But saying "wouldn't it be cool if" isn't enough. You have to say "I Want This" to be able to make big things happen.

I've been struggling with this for a week, because I didn't have a bad race in Houston last weekend. I ran 3:51:06, which is a minute and a half faster than last year, a new PR. But I didn't reach the goal of running a Boston qualifying time of 3:45. My body was in shape to run a 3:45, but my brain wasn't.

Standing in the corral before the race, I talked to a guy in front of me, whose cotton "throw away" shirt had a Boston Marathon logo on the shoulder. I asked him if I could touch the logo for luck and he smiled, said yes, and told me "good luck." To verbalize "I'm going for a BQ today" to a stranger made me feel like an impostor; clearly, I'm still struggling with the "I'm not a runner" thing.

When the gun went off and the crowd surged towards the start line, I got teary and thought, "here we go," and asked myself, "how badly do you want it?" which is pre-race habit now (thank you Bree). The answer was, "probably not bad enough." That was my honest truth to myself on the start line of this race.

You know how in the first few steps of a running race, you kind of know how it's going to go? Well, I took the first few steps and thought, "oh man, this is going to be a battle today" because it didn't feel easy like it was supposed to. Sure enough, the first mile was an 8:47 - I needed 8:30s to meet the goal for the day.

I was wearing a borrowed Big Sexy Racing tri top (thank you Trent) and felt a boost of energy when I saw a couple of guys in the same gear ahead of me. I sped up to catch my new teammates and introduced myself. And then things started to look up! These guys (Greg and Matt) confessed to being undertrained and were running the full marathon as a "training run." This means they were actually running at the pace I needed to hold. I was thrilled to jump in with them and their friends and run with them for the next 10 miles. We held the pace and some fantastic conversation and I was thinking, this is pretty easy!

Then, they said they were stopping for a bathroom break and instructed me to run ahead. They told me not to let them catch me. I agreed and kept running, but as soon as I was alone, I started to fall off the pace. The next 15 miles were a constant battle of looking at my Garmin, seeing a number I didn't want, and picking up the pace, only to lose it a moment later.

I felt a boost of energy seeing my awesome family at mile 15 and again at 23. They were all dressed in pink and cheering and it was wonderful to see them. A big shout out to my brother Adam who has spent his last 2 birthdays standing on the Houston Marathon course!

These kids! My awesome niece and nephews - how could you not smile when you run up and see this!?
I've posted this photo of me and Henry a thousand times, but has anyone noticed the man in the cat shirt over my shoulder? You should have heard people cheering for him!
You know it's bad when you're counting down the kilometers because they're smaller than miles. By mile 23 my pace was slower than 9:00 and I had long lost all hope of a BQ.  But then I realized that I might not even get a PR, and that was unacceptable. I didn't do all that running this fall to not even run a new personal best on a beautiful, perfect day. So I pushed through the hills (yes, there are hills) and when I reached mile 25, I decided to run as fast as I could to the finish line. I ran that last mile at a 7:45 pace.

Dad saving my life with a Coke at mile 23. Practicing our handups for Norseman. ;)
What did I learn from this experience? Well, I learned that I'm a stronger runner than I've ever been, which is good, but that I need to push myself further into the pain zone if I want to reach that BQ goal. If I'd run as fast as possible in the last 6 miles, I wouldn't have been capable of 7:45 at the end, so I know I can run faster at the next one.

The next one will be at the end of Norseman in August, and I'll be fully motivated to run as fast as I can, chasing that black T-shirt. There's no "wouldn't it be cool if" about that goal.

And I've signed up for the Houston Marathon again for next year. Third time's a charm.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Motivation: Lost and Found

After 6 years in the sport, I suppose it was just a matter of time before I lost some motivation to train. It’s been a few months, and I’ve found it again (hooray!), which is why I’m writing this today, but, oh my goodness, for a while it was not good.

So what happened? I trained hard last year until Ironman Lake Tahoe in September. I knew after the race was over that I’d have a lot of “life stuff” going on. I came back from California and finished the process of buying a house. I moved into it. I prepared for and gave a huge presentation at work. And then after that, I traveled for work every other week for 6 weeks, which is completely out of the ordinary for me. Then came the holidays…I could go on. It also didn’t help that my most motivating training partner had back surgery and wasn’t available to work out with me for a couple of months.

It’s really easy to let all of those things become excuses not to train, and that’s what I did. For the first time in years, I skipped workouts. A bunch of them. I always had great excuses for it.

So what happens when you don’t train for a couple of months? You lose fitness. You get a little bit fat. You have a crappy performance at a race that you signed up for “just for fun,” and you realize that that isn't very fun. You start to lose confidence in your ability. You don’t feel good about yourself.

Getting into Norseman in November was the motivation I needed to at least show up to every workout, even though at first, I was still just going through the motions for many of them. I’ve been training for the Houston marathon, which is in 2 weeks, and I’ve got a pretty big goal for it: to qualify for Boston. My running times over the last 2-3 months have been ridiculously slow compared to the winter marathon build I did last year. I started to really doubt myself and lost all of the confidence that had grown over the last year and a half. I asked my coach, should I still be shooting at this goal? Is it ridiculous? And she said, let’s just see what happens.

Little by little, over the past 6 weeks, my motivation has been returning. I’ve been working harder and harder at every workout session. I’m watching my diet again. I’m starting to feel like myself. And guess what? My run times are improving. Thank goodness.

Looking forward to the road ahead.
Motivation for this sport takes many shapes and can change over time. At first it’s just seeing if you can train to finish a particular event. Maybe then it’s competing with your friends. Maybe it’s chasing a cute boy on a bike. Eventually though, it all comes back to internal motivation: how badly do you want it? That’s what it takes to be great. That’s what it takes to get out there and do the work every day, even when it’s cold, or early, or dark, or raining.

The best reminder for me came a week ago, from one of my new Big Sexy Racing teammates. Christine Cross, winner of Ironman Louisville last year, posted this on Instagram:

I've heard versions of this before. What I love about this is the reminder that someone at Christine’s level is still thinking this way – it’s never easy, and the only way to excel is to work hard at it every day. Hard work works. There’s no way around it.

I feel recharged and motivated to tackle the challenges ahead this year. And I'll say this with confidence: you might beat me, but it’s not going to be because you trained harder than me. I’m going to do everything I can, in every workout, to be focused and to improve myself for the season ahead, so that I can reach the Big Goals that I’ve set – a BQ, a black T-shirt at Norseman.

Happy New Year! And happy training. Let’s go chase some dreams!