Ironman Chattanooga 2015 Race Report

“How do you know you’re going to do something, until you do it?”

-Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye

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Ironman Village

On a long ride with my friend Laura about a year ago, the conversation turned to Ironman.  I always thought I’d race one someday, but suddenly, what had always been my “maybe someday” race, turned into: “We are going to do this in the fall of 2015!”  It look Laura’s forward momentum and enthusiasm to get the ball rolling, but I couldn’t deny that everything was lining up this year.  Various self-imposed “obstacles” (like my kids not being in full time school yet) had vanished.  I’d done all the other distances – quite a few of them.  It was simply time to go for the 140.6.

Choosing CHOO

So, which one to do?  Local races (Canada, Coeur D’Alene) were out – they seemed too early.  I wanted to do most of my riding in the Seattle summer (which to me starts in July).  Chattanooga and Maryland were the right time of year and good courses for me.  I happen to love the south, had raced in the region before, and other team members were signing up.  What could be better?  Friends, atmosphere, and a long lead time.  CHOO it was.  I talked to my coach, got online, paid my entry fee, and just like that, I was signed up for my first Ironman. I had a feeling of total calm and total excitement, if it’s possible to feel those things together.

One crazy, busy year later I was running around Chattanooga with Laura and Lee Ann, picking up swag, checking out the course, and sampling southern restaurants.  As we kept busy with pre-race tasks, I felt a little bit sad.  For the past year, much of my life had revolved around the date of September 27, and after Sunday, my Ironman year would be over, just like that.  It had been different and interesting to distill my life down to just the basics while my training weeks got bigger and bigger.  Of course, I looked forward to having some room in my schedule for other things after raceday, but I was sorry to see this season come to a close.  Ironman training had been a long but awesomely satisfying process, and I’d definitely miss it.

However, there wasn’t much time to ponder potentially missing something when I had a race coming up in 72 hours.

Pre-race

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Race gear bags ready to go

My type-A friends and I had created a detailed spreadsheet for our pre-race plans, preventing anything from being left to chance. We blew into town Wednesday and started checking things off.  Build bikes, swim at the YMCA, go to athlete check-in and briefing, hit the merch-tent, pre-ride and pre-swim parts of the course, and even try out some of Chattanooga’s cool and fun restaurants.

By Saturday, the tasks wound down, and race nerves took their place.  I swam the end of the course with Rocky in the morning, had breakfast alone, as much as I could eat, then met the girls at bike check-in where we dropped off bikes and gear bags.  By lunchtime I was no longer hungry, and dinner was the same as lunch; I couldn’t eat very much but managed a few bites of pasta with my parents and friend Michelle.  I curled up in bed by eight with my companion: my sheer disbelief about what I was going to do in the morning. The entire year of training passed before my eyes and it was almost too much to think about.  I must have slept, because it seemed like the next minute the alarm was ringing me into my long day ahead.

Race Day

I parked and arrived at transition at 4:20 AM.  Laura, Lee Ann and I had already dropped run and bike bags Saturday, so we quickly looked over very wet bikes (lots of rain overnight), pumped tires and dropped special needs bags off.  Once I started moving through things I was supposed to do, my nerves settled down.  About 4:50 AM the loudspeaker crackled with the announcement that it would be a wetsuit-optional swim with a water temperature of 77 degrees, so I handed off my wetsuit to Drew, our Vo2 support person. We wanted to board the swim-start shuttle bus ASAP to try to line up near the front of the rolling start line, and as planned, we were done in transition in 25 minutes and onto the bus. The shuttle dropped us off at a park along the river (which incidentally was part of the run course, too).

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Lee Ann and I waiting for the swim start

We walked along a paved path toward the water until we reached the end of the line of athletes, then spread out a space blanket and some plastic bags, sat down, and prepared to wait.  It was 5:30, so we had two hours to wait in the dark, and I was so glad to have Laura, Lee Ann, and Rocky there to wait with.  Even that early we were still a hundred yards from the front of the line, but within the hour the line grew after us further than we could see and we were actually relatively close to the front.  We took turns going to the porta-potty, and as the time got closer, I used my swim cords to warm up, put on my swim-skin and packed my clothes in the morning-clothes bag. The sky began to lighten about 7:15.

Go time! At 7:20 we hear the cannon for the pro start and things quickly get moving.  All wetsuit wearers must go to the back of the line and are ineligible for awards, but will still officially finish.  Wetsuit wearers in front of us stand aside and we pass them with our swim skins on and morning clothes bags packed.  I see my mom in the crowd of spectators at the start and give her a quick hug. Then, I hand my bag to a volunteer right before the swim-start arch, walk to the dock and jump in!  I am finally racing in an Ironman, and the feeling is incredible.

Swim

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Swim finish

I begin to swim at a “strong aerobic” pace.  The water feels quite cool at first, but my mind moves on and after a minute I don’t notice the temperature.  It’s a bit crowded, and people seem to be angling in different directions.  Some swim straight down the buoy line on swimmer’s left, and others more toward the center of the river. The course is a large C-shape, so technically the fastest current would be closer to the buoys. I end up “straightening” out the course a bit – further away from the buoys in the middle. I’m not sure if this was the best line, or if it matters that much, because the current was not that fast today. I need to pass quite a few people, and I seem to be getting too close to people or having to alter my aim to go around.  Soon, I sense I’m in the clear.  Yellow buoys are easy to see on my left, and a line of kayaks is visible on my right.  I watch for the buoys to change to red – a sign that I’m halfway done.  I sneak a quick glance at my watch as I pass the first red buoy.  25:52.

I’d swum the end of the swim course yesterday, so I know where I’m going once I see three bridges.  I can hear the spectators as I approach the final buoy.  I turn left, swim to the stairs and volunteers pull me up.  I hear Laura’s husband yell from the bridge and I look up and see him and Wyatt, and then I see Michelle and my dad closer to the transition. I’m smiling, so thrilled that I’m finally doing this!

Swim time: 50:10

Division place: 1

Pace 1:17/100 (downriver)

 

Transition 1

I grab my bike gear bag from its place and head to the changing tent.  Only about three athletes are in it and a huge line of volunteers wait to help.  One of them follows me in and takes my swim stuff as I’m getting my bike shoes on.  I reconfirm with myself that I’m not going to wear arm warmers; it’s in the mid-60s or maybe even warmer out and I’m no longer worried about starting the bike cold.  I do forget to place my white arm coolers in my pocket before running out of the tent.  It’s overcast now though, so I should be fine.  I take a second or two at the sunscreen station to get slathered up and them I’m off to grab my bike.

T-1 time: 4:31


Bike

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North Georgia country roads

I hop on my bike at the mount line and roll out.  I’ve ridden the first part of the course, so I’m ready for the several train tracks we have to cross and generally know where I’m going.  I settle in.  It’s going to be a long ride.  I take the few turns through town to the Georgia state line and then ramp up onto the highway.  I start on my plan: Power and HR in check, eat a gel every twenty minutes for the first two hours, then begin to spread them further out. Drink at least a bottle an hour, skipping just the first feed zone because I’m carrying three.  Take salt every five miles.  I’m apparently hydrated enough because I stop in porta-potties three times in the six hours. I’m super quick at it: a volunteer holds my bike, I dash in and out, and one time someone even gives me a push to get going.

The weather is cloudy and humid, but comfortable.  I watch my Garmin, because I know the second I lose focus my HR will be up to 150, past my designated cap. I’ve done too many 70.3s, and it’s psychologically hard to hold back, but I think I do a decent job of keeping it where it’s supposed to be. I think about pedaling smoothly, keeping my upper body relaxed, and not “working” my muscles too hard.

The course is a lollipop-shape, with approximately 11 miles to reach the start of a 47-mile loop, which you then do twice. The two-lane roads are very clean, and the few bumps are marked with spray paint.  The course is mostly rollers, mostly gentle, but some hills are bigger than others. There’s a nice downhill in the second part of the loop. I keep seeing some of the same guys, though many other athletes, including some fast girls, fly past me.  I’m okay with that.  Being passed a lot early on is part of my plan.  On the second part of the loop is the town of Chickamauga, Georgia.  A shuttle takes spectators out there and the energy is amazing. It’s bannered up and spectators line both sides, cheering at the top of their lungs.  It’s quite a boost in the middle of the ride. It’s also the location of the bike special needs bags, but I don’t need to stop for mine, which contains only a spare tube and an extra clothing layer.

I see Drew on the course a couple times, giving updates and encouragement.  Rocky passes me, looking strong.

The second loop is as good as the first. I’m beginning to feel my legs.  My quads feel crampy and I double up on the salt.  I realize I’m about a bottle behind and begin to drink a little faster.  I look at my watch and wonder if I’ll get under six hours.  When I hit the 11-mile point back to town, I know it will be close.

Bike time (116 miles):  6:01:24

Bike pace:  19.26

Division place:  8

 

Transition 2:

So quick!  Someone takes my bike, I grab my run bag and head back to the tent.  A volunteer packs up my bike helmet and shoes while I get my running shoes on.

T-2:  4:37

 

Run

Here it is. This is the part of the race about which I have had the most fear and respect. As I hand off my bike to a volunteer, I have a sense of entering into the unknown. I don’t want to screw it up and I know that controlling the bike was part of it.  Have I done enough?  Now to run SLOW!  No faster than nines.  I head out of the tent and spectators are cheering loudly.  I see not only my parents, but Michelle, Dennis, Wyatt…. I try to take it easy and get the legs working.  I feel good, very good.  I glance down and my pace is 7:50.  Not good.  8:20.  Still way too fast.  But now it’s a slight downhill.  I consciously relax and slow it down and finally hit close to a nine-minute pace.  My HR is right where it should be so I let my pace hover by 8:55.

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On the run along the Tennessee River

We leave the spectator area and head north along a highway.  It’s warm and humid, but cloudy.  I’m so happy for the cloud cover.  We head down the path where we waited at the swim start and then the run is along the river.  It feels relatively pleasant so far.  Some of the pro women are on their second lap and they fly by.  Aid stations are every mile and they come quickly. It’s a routine: first you see the mile marker for the second lap, then for the first, then the aid station appears in the distance.  I eat my gels every thirty minutes and drink one cup of water at aid stations.  I take my Base salt.  My skin is drenched from the sweat and humidity.  I think about doing this whole loop again and fear strikes me for a minute when I’m around mile 9 and I see the mile 18 marker for the second loop runners.  How will I feel then?  Will I still be okay?  I run on, bringing my focus back to the first loop.

Across the river the course becomes hilly. Up and down, through residential areas, through a beautiful country-club neighborhood.  I don’t walk, though lots of people are.  I am afraid that if I walk it will be too hard to start running again.   I’d rather run than start and stop.  I’m feeling it now.  I have 13 miles to go.  I see Kristie, a friend from Huntsville, as I cross the bridge near transition and I’m super excited to see her and find I still do have some energy as I wave and exchange a few words.  On the second loop, I see Rocky and we chat. I see Ann on the river path. It’s awesome to see familiar faces racing, and Drew is out on the run course, too, offering encouragement.

Soon, I notice that my pace is dropping.  The clouds disappear and the sun blazes out, and a few times I suddenly don’t feel right.  A weird dizziness passes through me.  I think I might faint or throw up but not sure which.  The feeling goes away but I can’t face another gel so I drink coke instead at the next aid station. Despite this, I am still connected to the feeling I had from the very start of the swim: incredible joy and amazement that I’m out here, racing in an Ironman. It even makes me smile at times through the effort.

I jog through the stations while I drink my water, again not letting myself walk.  I start noticing a strange pain in the lower front of one of my shins and I try to alter my gait a bit to make it go away. I try to think about my core and my posture.  In fact, not only my shin hurts, I realize, but my legs hurt.  So strange!  I continue on around the loop, dreading the hills on the back side.  I notice my HR hovering below 140 at times.  I try to move faster but I cannot make myself move faster.  For the first time in the race I feel a note of discouragement overtaking my happiness of racing.  I have to be willing to be uncomfortable.  I must realize that everyone is fading and slowing. I need to fade and slow the least of my peers!  I down a gel, even though I’m worried my stomach will revolt, but it doesn’t, and ten minutes later I sense that it’s picked me up a bit.   I don’t let my head drop heading up the hills because somehow keeping my chin up keeps me going.  I continue to press on and somehow make it up and down those hills again. It’s the lowest point of the race for me, yet at the same time, I start to sense the finish, and start to fully know and understand that I’ll make it.  Here is mile 24, then 25!  I cross the bridge over the Tennessee River again to cheering spectators, and I can hear the announcer in the distance telling racers, You Are an Ironman.  Soon it will be my turn to hear those words.  I head to the finish, and it’s a half mile, all downhill, then the chute is in front of me.  Emotions overtake me at this point, but when I run across the red carpet and under the black arch, I’m too excited and thrilled to do anything but smile.  Robin White, You Are An Ironman!

Run:  4:00:53

Pace: 9:11     

 

Final Time:  11:00:05

Divison Place:  5

Post race

I see my parents first and give them a hug right after my “catcher” helps me through the process of getting my medal, photo and finisher shirt and hat.  My legs ache; there’s no other way to describe it.  It’s just a dull ache.  A Normatec booth is right by the finish and I hop into a chair and they tip me back and I get ten minutes in the inflatable boots. It feels awesome. Food is the last thing I want.  I see teammates and others and share congrats, the whole time feeling faint.  Finally back at the hotel I force myself to eat some cold pizza from my fridge, the only thing that sounds halfway palatable, and then I have a milkshake with Laura and Lee Ann.  I slowly begin to feel better, but that night I can’t sleep until at least 1 AM.

The next day, I feel somewhat sore, but not too bad.  I’ve been in more pain after hilly 70.3s. My stomach still feels queasy. I’m hungry but food makes my stomach feel worse.  My awesome husband had sent a beautiful congratulatory fruit platter to my room and I nibble on some some pineapple and watermelon, which tastes very refreshing but still hard to swallow.

After I get home, I finally start sleeping – eight, nine, ten hours. By Thursday evening I am turning the corner, my stomach feels better, and I even go for a nice bike ride on Friday morning. I run Saturday morning but feel flat and pace is slow, but otherwise I am starting to feel back to normal.  All week I’m on a high that I’ve finished an Ironman.

Thank you!

There are really no words to describe the feeling after doing an Ironman for the first time.  It truly taught me about what I can handle and manage, but also what a community-oriented sport triathlon is, especially Ironman.  I would not have wanted to do all of this alone, and could not have.  Brian never hesitated in giving me that push to sign up as soon as I mentioned it, always jumped in to do more around the house when I was out training early and late.  My girls calmly handled my erratic schedule and cheered me on every day.  On the coaching side, Ben Bigglestone set up my IM year with knowledge, experience and precision.  If he posted a certain pace or distance on my training log, I knew I was ready for it!  And my training buddies!  Seventy, eighty and hundred-mile rides, not to mention chilly early swims, track workouts and long runs, were a breeze with awesome friends and Vo2 Multisport teammates alongside me.  It was awesome to have my parents in Chattanooga to support me!  Thanks, Mom and Dad!  Loved the camaraderie of racing with Laura, Lee Ann, Rocky and Ann.  My parents, Michelle, Kristie, Laura’s family, and Drew out there on course kept me going a little faster at all points in the race.  And, everyone at home who cheered for me – knowing that you were tracking me put a spring in my step!  During the race, I thought a lot about my good friend Stephanie, who is fighting breast cancer.  Thinking about her challenges inspired me to keep it going when it got tough, and this one was definitely for her.

Somehow, after this race, triathlon (and maybe even life!) will never be quite the same.  I don’t doubt that another 140.6 is on the radar in the near future, and knowing a little about what’s in store will make it both more exciting and more challenging the next time around.

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The finish line
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Top five in the 40-44 age group

Ironman 70.3 World Championship 2015 – Zell am See

Zell am See, Austria – August 30, 2015

Race Report

The 70.3 World Championship has been on my calendar since racing at Ironman 70.3 Augusta last year. I qualified with a 3rd place in my age group, and then had a slight panic attack about signing up for such a huge thing as a championship race in Austria.  Brian practically had to push me up to the stage to get my spot, with me saying, “We can’t go to Austria!”  But, yes, we could and would go, and somehow I got up on the stage and took the spot. I also owe a thanks to the winner of my age group, who convinced me that I had to take it, that I’d absolutely love it.  Now that it’s done, I am so incredibly grateful and thankful for everyone who supported me in making that decision, training for it, and cheering for me as it took place.  It was so much fun!

Note:  It’s the first time that the 70.3 Worlds has been held outside of North America.  (Clearwater, FL, Henderson, NV, Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, and now Zell am See, Austria.)  Next year it will be in Brisbane. (“I can’t go to Brisbane!”)

Pre-race
This is probably be the most drawn out pre-race portion of any race report I’ve done.  It involves such things at getting lost in dead-end calles in Venice while running, near-whiplash from looking at the stunning scenery everywhere, and also trying to maintain a kind-of high volume training schedule due to Ironman Chattanooga four weeks later.

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Last beer before race day

Our journey started a week before the race when Brian, the girls, and I flew to Munich.  I ran on the neat and pretty running trails there after an evening at the famous public drinking hall, the Hofbrauhaus (where I drank a pint, if not a liter, and ate sausages and apfelstrudel).

After obligatory pics at Marienplatz and the Glockenspiel, we hopped in our rental minivan and drove to Venice, stopping to look at amazing alpine scenery on the way. The drive took all day, and we arrived in Venice at sundown, parked our car in the huge garage where everyone parks before walking into the historic city of Venice, and then rolled our suitcases over bridges and cobblestones until we found our little apartment on a canal.  (We left my bike in the car, packed in its box under the rear screen, and hoped it would be there when we returned.)

Venice is a story for another post, but the race-report highlight is an incredible hour-long run through the Fondaments, Calles and Ponts of the old city.  I was supposed keep my effort at Z2, which was easy to do with all the turns and obligatory stops for pictures.  I jogged along through the ornate brick buildings, narrow alleyways, open squares and cobblestone streets, just trying to keep heading the same general direction.  You can’t just follow a canal because sometimes the walkway ends and the canal backs straight up to the buildings.  I would turn and try a different way, and sometimes run into a dead end or back at the same place.  It was a perfect way to explore Venice for the first time, and then when we walked around later I felt like I knew a little of the layout.  It was one of the coolest runs I’ve ever done.

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Heading out for a run
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Some of the morning sights
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GPS of my run

After two nights, much marveling at the history and scenery, and celebrating our 14th anniversary, we headed north into the Alps to our rented chalet high up on a hillside near Zell am See (thank you Kelly Larson!), and I began to mentally get into race mode.  First up after check-in was a ride of the full course because I needed the volume for Ironman CHOO.  I headed out with Paul and Molly for a ride that I couldn’t believe.  We weren’t the only ones riding the course:  a pack of at least twenty other people of various nationalities joined us as we cruised out of town and headed for the hills.  Highway 311 heading out of Zell am See was crowded with cars and cyclists, but it seemed that the Austrian drivers knew what to do, and I never really felt unsafe even with the speedy traffic.  We soon left the highway to begin our climb up the Hochkönig road.  (According to Wikipedia, Hochkönig is the highest mountain in the Berchtesgaden Alps and also refers to the area of three small ski towns surrounding it.)  We ascended a hill nine miles to reach the ski town of Dienten (Dienten am Hochkönig).  When we crested the hill, in front of us was the mountain itself, an enormous, broad limestone peak, and in front of it, a white church and steeple sitting on a green meadow.  It was stunning.  How could anything be so picturesque?

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View from Dienten

Paul and Molly only had part of the ride on their schedule, so after much picture-taking and many “OMGs,” I continued on, down the switchback descent and back around the course, stopping to refuel with a Bavarian pretzel in the town of Maria Alm.

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A data roaming glitch captured my feelings perfectly. This text to Brian kept repeating itself.

Over the next two days I swam the course and ran and we even managed a tourist day in amazing Salzburg.  I was feeling prepared, aside from dealing with the time change and trying to eat healthily and drink a lot (of water).  Over this last season, my pre-race nerves have stayed more under control than they have in the past.  I think I know some of the reasons for this, but that’s something for another post too.  One of my main goals for today was to be able to execute my race plan without errors.  When I raced Worlds last time, in Lake Las Vegas, my race didn’t go all that well.  My nerves were too much and my body didn’t seem to respond the way it needed to.  This time I was feeling better prepared and less nervous.

Race Morning

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Run bags ready to go

My race started at 11:46 AM, so the morning felt relaxed.  I woke up around 8 AM, had toast, peanut butter, coffee and a lot of water.  The day was already hot!  The forecast was for 32C/89F.  I reminded myself that it had been hot back home and I do have some heat training in me.  Hope it works!  Mat drove Molly, Jeremy and I into the transition area and dropped us off.  I checked my bike over, put on some sunscreen and then lounged in the shade by myself to go over my race plan one more time.

Swim
The swim course, in the cold and clear Lake Zell, was a narrow rectangle shape.  For the swim, I was supposed to be a little more conservative today, so I decided that it would help to start to the side, rather than front and center.  When I did Las Vegas Worlds, the swimmers in the front and center were so incredibly aggressive that I expended a lot of energy at the start to try to get into a rhythm and break away.  There was another woman starting beside me who said “I’m over here too because I’m staying away from that,” pointing to the center of the lineup.  Staying away from that worked today.  I sailed off the start line nice and smoothly and not too fast.  Nobody was in my way as I angled toward the first buoy, keeping my strokes smooth and regular.  I found some feet to draft here and there, and was so glad I’d swum the course the day before – it all felt familiar.  The sun was in my eyes on the way back, but the buoys were placed every fifty feet, so it wasn’t a problem to see them.

Swim time: 27:27
Division place:  4

T-1
Swim over, I jogged and jogged and jogged to the bike bags, grabbed mine from its hook, and dumped everything out by a bench, sat down and threw on my shoes and helmet, and then jogged and jogged and jogged to my bike.  Whew, long transition.

T1: 5:30

Bike
I was also supposed to be conservative on the bike.  I had the opportunity to start the bike right behind Rocky at Victoria and observe how he started so smoothly.  I’m of course temped to just take off as fast as possible, even though I’ve been told not to, and it has taken me a long time to learn how to make myself not do this.  So I started as gently (a relative term!) as possible.  We started on a paved bike path before hitting the highway, and it was a bit crowded, but not bad.  I looked down to grab my first gel and realize that it’s not there!  I still have some in my zip-bag on the top tube, but the ones in the front cup are gone.  Not taking the time to speculate what had happened to them, I counted in my head what I’d put in the bag and I probably still had enough.  Soon after that, something else distracted me.  I noticed that everyone had their number bib on.  Everyone!  To back up:  This morning, I’d heard you’d be disqualified if you don’t have your bib on the bike.  Mine was tucked away in my run bag and checked into run transition, but I’d asked an official if I should try to get it before the start.  He told me it’s recommended, but OK if you don’t.  So I didn’t.  And now everyone else has theirs.  What if he was wrong and I really do get DQ’ed?  Would they yank me off the course at the run start or let me finish it anyway??  I stewed over that while I pedaled along and finally realized it had been thirty minutes since I’ve eaten or had any water.  Ugh, what’s wrong with me? I need to focus!  I got back on the food schedule and slowly stopped worrying about the bike bib thing.  I rode down the highway – now closed to traffic – into a tunnel, then exited the highway, down a hill, over a bridge and then The Climb was in front of me.1135_017984

I climbed the first part of the Hochkönig without pressuring my pedals too much.  Slow, slow slow, smooth smooth.  Gotta get through a hot run.  I was so glad I’d biked the course before, it felt familiar and I was ready (kind of) for that descent.  Then after the alpine town of Dienten, I dumped my full lower water bottle to get rid of some weight and began to climb the last two steep kilometers.  I stood up a few times to change up the muscle work and got myself to the top while trying not to get my HR above its cap.  Then, the summit and tons of people cheering:  Super Super Robin, Huppa!  Brava!  I felt like I was in the Tour de France!  The descent came quickly:  it got steep and steeper, like going over a bowling ball, and then began to wind to the left then right, back and forth.  I wish I’d had a little more practice, but I did the best I could with a new bike and wheels and a hill I’d descended only one time before.  They’d installed huge padded crash walls on the bike course to prevent you, if you lost control, from going over the side and down to the next part of the road.  Scary!  I would have needed a few more times on the hill to really open it up, but I tried not to ride my brakes too much and enjoyed it as much as possible.  The view was as incredible as during the pre-ride, and so glad I’d gotten to take pics then.

My arms felt shaky from descending but I leaned on my aero bars and relaxed as the road finally straightened out and I could let it fly.  Whooshed past the adorable town of Maria Alm where I’d had the pretzel, and back down to the valley.  I knew the rest of the ride would be flat and fast – and hot.  It was now approaching 3 PM and the sun was really beating down on us.  I drank and drank, ate salt and the rest of my Gu’s.  So far so good.  I cruised into transition wrapping my head about the hot run to come.

Bike time: 2:52:28
Bike pace: 19.5 MPH
Division place: 13

T-2
T-2 is always quick.   I dropped the bike on the rack, stopped in the porta-potty – exactly 15 seconds!! – grabbed my run bag and dumped it by a bench.  Shoes off, shoes on, finally have my bib! and I take off running, but not too fast.

T-2: 4:55

Run
Uh oh, tummy.  Sloshing and feeling a little nauseous.  Okay, this has happened before, especially Augusta.  It will go away.  I keep running, keeping my HR in the 150s, steady and smooth.  I pass Brian and the girls – awesome!  Norah squirts me with a water bottle and it feels good and cold!  Then we head into the town of Zell am See.  Spectators are unbelievable, lining the streets three and four deep, yelling for us and calling us by name.  Super, super Robin!  Huppa!  Brava!  The course is crowded with runners, too.  I head through the cobblestones and cute buildings.  Now I come to a three-way chute.  Ooh, quick, which way do I go?  Not to the finish, not the middle, but to the far right.  First loop.  A volunteer slaps a green wrist band on me and I take off to the north on the paved lake trail.  I drink water and take salt at each of the aid stations.  I cruise along, the blue lake and mountains to my right.  I’m supposed to cap my HR at 160 but I can’t get above 155.  That’s weird! I’m working so hard.  And it’s hot!  Why am I not fighting to stay away from 170?  (Later Ben informs me that this is the result of the Ironman training – ah, that makes sense!)  I grab handfuls of ice and throw it down my top and shorts but then I realize that I just put wayyy to much ice in my pants.  BRRRR!  Too cold.  But other than that, I’m feeling good, which is a relative term because I’m hot and starting to fatigue and still have nine miles to go.  But I don’t feel sick and not cramping and all these spectators! And I’m in Europe on a beautiful lake, and there’s Jeremy, and Todd, and Alycia zooming by.IMG_8070

Second loop, get a red wristband, and I know I’ll be able to maintain.  I see Heidi on the out-and-back, and we wave, but too far away for high-fives.  I look for Brian and the girls but they must have missed me.  There’s Annie – Jeremy’s mom – and then Mat and the Larsons cheering.  Love it!  That gives me another boost as I run through the cobblestone streets of town to the second loop along the lake.

I keep eating and drinking and round the turnaround at the top part of the loop and it’s only three miles back to town.  I’m going to make it!  My calf begins to cramp with a mile to go.  What??  I am not usually prone to cramps; this feels really strange.  I don’t even know if it’s a cramp or something else, but I seem to be able to keep running.  I keep going with a slight limp and finally run through the finish chute, so happy to complete another race, especially this amazing one in Zell am See!

Run time: 1:47:37
Run pace: 8:13

Total time: 5:17:57
Division place: 19

Nutrition details
Pre-race dinner: pasta and salad
Breakfast:
toast, peanut butter, coffee
Bike nutrition
6 gels, banana, 5ish bottles of water (maybe 4.5), salt every 5-10 miles
Run nutrition
5 gels (!), water every stop, one cup of coke, salt 4 times

Post race
Because of the IM training, most likely, this was the easiest race recovery I’ve had so far, with no soreness, just some tightness in my quads.  The girls and I caught a plane home the next morning, and spent the rest of the week trying to recover from jet lag and sleep through the night.  I’m the least tired I’ve been after a half-ironman distance race, which is good because it’s back to training and 3 weeks to CHOO!1135_049755

Huge thanks to Brian and the girls for coming all the way to Austria, as well as putting up with all of my training time at home and my neglect of some of my regular mom-duties. 🙂

Enormous thanks to Ben.  His coaching has allowed me to sail through all of this training, reaching volume and pace goals that I was anxious about a year ago, as well as manage an Ironman buildup, travel, and a 70.3 just a few weeks before Ironman.

Much appreciation to Sam and Quintana Roo.  When I unpacked my bike in Austria, I discovered I was missing a tiny but very important piece of my bike seat post assembly. They found one for me just in time.

And last but definitely not least, thanks to my running and biking buddies – couldn’t have done all this without you awesome ladies!!

Getting used to the Ironman training schedule

One of the things that has surprised me most about Ironman training is how all-consuming it is.  Once I’m out the door each day, with all the right gear, the workouts are tough but doable.  It’s the rest of life that’s being squeezed in between larger and larger chunks of training time.  If I’m not running, riding or swimming, I’m commuting to and from the pool or trail, uploading workouts, running to the bike shop, or organizing gear.  At home, the natural chaos of kid-clutter has taken over with nothing and nobody to stop it.  Meals are starting to be on-the-go.  I go to bed before my girls, almost every night.  Stuff is piling up on my desk, stuff that needed to be taken care of days ago.

Maybe this crazy-feeling schedule is because it’s my first Ironman, and I’m experimenting with the best way to accomplish everything that needs to be done.  I know plenty of amazing Ironman athletes who hold down full-time jobs, marriage, and kids of various ages, and still arrive at the start on race day fully trained and prepared for their race.  I don’t feel quite that organized yet, but at least I’ve scheduled my race during a year when a bit of slacking outside of training won’t have dire consequences.  My girls are old enough to get their own breakfast and do laundry, and I’m also willing to slack a little on screen-time limits – at least it’s summer.Untitled1

It’s ten weeks out from race day, and I’m still struggling to find the right balance.  A few things that have always worked for me in the past still work.  Doing workouts early in the day, prepping all gear the night before, and not planning to do much of anything around 8 PM are all small strategies to make life easier when I’m training during a regular season.  For Ironman, these things still work, but they just become exponential:  Don’t even speak to me after 8 PM – I’m done!  Prepping gear the night before gets magnified ten times: prep for three different workouts, plus an unrelated meeting (clothes and makeup!).  Don’t forget the girls need to be in two places at the same time I need to be somewhere else.  My car is loaded up as if I’m gone for a week.  When I manage to get everyone where they need to be, including myself, I feel just as satisfied as when I hit my paces on a run workout.

Yet, I’m excited to forge on with all of it!  I believe this has a lot to do with how much I really want to do this.  Two or three years ago, I was still unsure I’d ever do an Ironman.  I was busy meeting some other racing goals along the way, and busy with the rest of life, too.  Then, suddenly it was time to start thinking about which year and season would allow me to be successful at full Ironman training.  My girls’ ages and school situations, my husband’s work schedule, ending a three-year volunteer commitment, and being settled in a new house all contributed to my decision.  2015 was it.  But also, almost twenty years after doing my first triathlon, it’s just time.  There is not another year or season I would have wanted to start this journey, crazy schedules and all.

Ironman 70.3 Victoria

Victoria 70.3 Race Report – June 14, 2015

Pre-race

Victoria has been on my radar since last year when I heard how much fun people were having there.  It worked with my Ironman training year, so Victoria it was for the first 70.3 of the season.  I’ve done a few half-iron distance races by now (six), and was feeling more comfortable with each one.  My goals were to have a successful day, test the training so far, and maybe get a 5-8th place in my age group. I was looking at it as a stepping stone to Ironman CHOO, so I didn’t have a ton of pre-race nerves and wanted it to be all about fun.  I was also feeling more easygoing because I was traveling with a group. I’d be on someone else’s schedule for warmups, check ins, etc. – a sure way to relax and go with the flow.IMG_1205

I traveled up to Victoria with a racing friend on the Victoria Clipper, bringing my bike along on the boat for a small extra charge.  When we arrived, we walked a couple of blocks to our hotel, which completed our long but super-easy race commute.  We met some of our tri team for dinner at Olo in downtown Victoria, and enjoyed the delicious farm-to-table food, even if some of the portions were too small for a table of triathletes.

My disc wheel sometimes tends to make me nervous because I can’t personally handle a successful tire change 100% of the time.  (Or pump the tire enough because it has a tiny access opening and air leaks out when I take the pump valve off.)  I needed to change the tube to a different length valve, so I did that Friday night after dinner, and sure enough, it was flat again when I woke up Saturday morning.  I had the race bike tech change it again for me when we got to the transition area for check-in, and I then rode about 35 minutes. The roads were rough, but not as much as in Augusta.  After I checked in my bike, I swam part of the course in smallish Elk Lake.

Race morning, the weather was cool, in the sixties.  As yesterday, it would warm up but not be hot.  My friend’s husband drove seven of us to the course, which is about 15 minutes from downtown, and dropped us off in the dark.  I saw that my bike Garmin had been on all night and only had a 10% charge, but that was the only unexpected thing that happened during setup, and I could still use my running watch for the whole race.  Everything was ready to go, so I topped off my tires (again, trying to get the pump off the valve without leaking all the air out), used my swim cords to warm up and then swam a few minutes in the lake.

Swim

I started just to the left of the right-side start buoy, which was the most direct line down the course, and also not crowded. When the gun went off I started as strong as possible, got on someone’s feet and decided to hang out there for at least a couple of the buoys.  Once I felt “warmed up” I went around her and continued on, feeling good and smooth. When we turned around the far end of the course, the sun became a problem and I couldn’t really see the buoys though the direct sunlight. Every three sightings or so I could catch the outline of a buoy and that was fortunately enough to keep me relatively on course.  The swim didn’t feel as smooth heading back as it did heading out because of the extra energy expended in getting around people and trying to sight through the sun.

Time: 28:50
Div. place: 1

T1: 1:42

1078_027765Bike

I grabbed my bike and headed out just as I had in warmup the day before. The bike course was two absolutely gorgeous loops with incredible views of the water, and lots of short, steep hills and some flat areas.  The small hills were a little bit of a problem for me the whole time. My chain was prone to dropping, and after it happened once I tried to not shift to the little ring unless I had to, even though I knew that it was causing me to pedal too hard at times.  Hoping that since it was just for short periods of time I’d be okay. But, the rear cassette wasn’t doing all that well either, not catching properly.  I began to feel stronger and was able to ride more smoothly once we got onto the flat sections of the course.  I was able to keep my pace up without worrying about shifting.

Time: 2:46:30
Div place: 2

 

T2: 2:17

Run
The run is two loops on a nice, shady trail around Elk Lake.  I started the run feeling really good and it felt easy to keep my pace to 8:30 for the first mile, as prescribed in my race plan. I was tempted to go faster. After the first mile I brought it down to around 8, like I was supposed to, and kept my heart rate in the 150s. The trail was narrow in places, but nice and shady. On the second lap, I opened it up a bit more, but really couldn’t push my HR past 160. I thought that was kind of strange, but my pace seemed good, so I just did what I could. With about 4 miles to go, I downed a gel and prepared to push for the finish.  I ran through the finish line, not knowing there was a woman in my age group only 7 seconds behind me!

Run time: 1:43:33 (12.9 miles)
Pace: 8:02

Final Time: 5:02:52

Div. Place: 2

Nutrition Notes:

Pre-race dinner: Italian (pasta, salad)

Bike: 3 bottles, 5 gels, 2 salt tabs

Run: 3 gels, water at each stop, and 2 salt tabs.

Post-race:

Some soreness Monday, dead tired Tuesday, turned the corner Wednesday. No colds/illness during the following weeks.IMG_1239IMG_1244

Ironman 70.3 Augusta

Ironman 70.3 Augusta – the largest 70.3 in the US!

September 28, 2014


Augusta was a fun, low pressure half-iron distance race for my friend Laura and I to do together. We’d picked Boise before, which turned out to be hot and difficult. Augusta would be nice and easy!  Georgia had mild September weather, southern charm, a downriver swim, and would be an awesome way to close out the season.  Brian and the girls would meet me there after visiting family in Kentucky.

All of race morning, though, I’d been feeling off. I’m usually nervous before a race, but this one was low key with no expectations. So why were my nerves still killing me?  During the morning’s setup, I couldn’t seem to follow my routine. I lost my bento box and didn’t know how I’d carry my salt tablets. It was too dark to see anything, and by the time we needed to get to the swim-start shuttle, I still didn’t have my transition area set up. And then when we finally got in the shuttle line, Laura noticed that I didn’t even have my wetsuit with me. I had to run back into the now-closed transition to get it. I was a mess.

Just the day before I was enjoying being in the Southern atmosphere. There’s nothing like visiting a town you’ve never been to before on a race weekend. It’s full of energy and new things to see, all magnified by race anticipation. Augusta is right at the head of the navigable portion of the Savannah River (the part that the alligators supposedly DON’T live in). It’s one of the oldest cities in Georgia, maybe a little more unassuming than it’s fancy neighbors Savannah and Charleston, but still packed with charm: old brick buildings, fountains, and restaurants with tons of outdoor seating. We’d get to run back and forth through the historic, old-style downtown. We pass Augusta’s biggest claim to fame – the Augusta National golf club — every time we drive from the hotel to the course.

Swim
I felt better when we queued up for the swim. We 40-44 year old women (and so many of us, they divided us into two waves) shuffled down a long ramp to a dock under a bridge and jumped into the dark, churning water. The physical sensation of hitting the water turns my bad nerves to good at that point in any race. It’s a river, so before we knew it, the current was carrying us away from the start kayaks. I scrambled to take some strokes back to the start line.  I’d lined up on the outside, closest to the middle of the river.  The group began to move, and I realized I was too far away to hear what must have been the starting gun.

One girl took off and I couldn’t catch her feet, but as far as I knew, I held onto second for most of the swim. My plan was to swim this course as hard as possible. (It turned out I was 4th among the two waves). There were few crowds, I stayed next to the buoys and pretty soon caught some people in the wave ahead. Due to the current, I PRed the swim by about 6 minutes.

Swim Time:  22:08
Division place: 4

T1: 3:17
My All-World-Athlete status got me a nice spot in transition: Third row, right next to the pros, para-athletes and the bike-out gate.

Bike
I jumped on my bike and soon crossed the bridge heading for the state line toward my first ever visit to South Carolina. We cruised along the rough and bumpy surfaces of rural roads, under the Spanish moss hanging from the trees, spectators sitting on their front porches, watching the world of cyclists go by. We passed a church set up with a loudspeaker about finishing the “ultimate race.”  I was loving the local ambience. The ride was breezy and my bike seemed to move around on the road quite a bit even though I tried to keep it steady.  My HR was within range in 7 minutes, but I had a hard time keeping it middle of the range, and I saw 160 too many times, though my watts seemed low: 160s. The rollers took us gently up and down. Miles clicked by, and my head felt pretty clear at first.  I was prepared with my food and water consumption and ready to grab the water at the feed zones at miles 18, 35 and 45. A few times I spiked my power too much as I had to get around a slow pack or try to pass someone without crossing the yellow line.

The roads were rural, so they were narrow and crowded, with many people not riding to the right. I got stuck to the right a few times myself while large groups of faster guys passed me. The road surface was rough and cracked in many places.

I leapfrogged the entire ride with people I nicknamed the Ninja and Pink Helmet. Ninja once yelled as he passed me that he always had to wait until the uphills to catch Pink Helmet and I. The whole ride was very social, with people from transition saying “hi” as they went by.  It reminded me of that same generalization about the South.  A Zipp-sponsored guy I’d met in transition recognized me as he flew by said “let’s go for those Austria spots!”  Well, that’s interesting. As I pedaled and focused on my power output, I finally realized that maybe that was it. Maybe my nerves were killing me because I really wanted that Austria spot.

Aside from keeping track of my effort, other thoughts ran through my head: My bike isn’t comfortable. I need to have a fit done. Also, do I really want an Austria spot?  No, I just want sub-5.  I’m halfway through the ride and no mechanicals!  The guy who raced for Zipp told me I’m possibly inflating my tires too much. What if I skid out on a corner? I am not taking the corners as fast as I could. Or should. Everyone is slowing down too much!  Shoot, I just surged to 300W….

I kept my HR steady but it did creep up and I spiked my power a few times. I may have fatigued my legs too much. But, I had good energy coming off the bike, and thrilled when I saw my time!

Bike time:  2:41
Bike pace:  20.9 MPH
Division place: 3


Run
Started the run too fast, in the 7s.  I kept telling myself to slow it down, let the nutrition settle.  I had a little tummy sloshing that went away after a bit.

The run itself was packed with spectators. We came out of transition and headed to downtown Augusta, an old-style wide town street lined with shops and restaurants on either side and a huge median in the middle.

I ran all the way up the pretty downtown, circled around, ran back down, circled by the swim finish, then repeated all of that four more times, one block off each pass.  The only lonely and long parts were when we looped around the end of the road.

I became really thirsty halfway through the run. Actual thirst that presented itself as thirst and not cramps or churning stomach. Never felt such huge thirst before in a race. I gulped water at the aid stations.

During the second lap I was supposed to push my pace, but by then I was fatigued. Just kept trying to go, be steady, focus.  I decided I’d better wait until mile 9 to increase my pace, rather than mile 6 as indicated in my race plan.

Brian, who was spectating with the girls, wasn’t saying anything about how far in front the second place was, and I was getting tired fast. Shoot, will I get that Austria spot, or have I dropped back?  Heart rate holding at 165, but the air temp was rising and my pace was heading downward to 8:30, :40, and :50. Legs didn’t want to move. Should I eat more? Drink more? I began to grab ice in my palms. It helped.  I decided that at mile 9, despite feeling fatigue, I would push it as hard as I could go. I could do anything for 4 miles.

“I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more.” -Tyler Durden in Fight Club.

I swung my arms in rhythm to help me. I knew my sub-5 would be close. There was nothing to do but pick it up.

Coming into the last few miles, you see the blue Ironman finish chute straight ahead and tantalizingly close. but before you get to it, you wind around by transition again for another couple miles or so, which seems long. But I had a close eye on my watch and knew if I could keep it at 8 minute pace or under, I’d be under 5 hours.IMG_7547

I crossed the line under five hours, thrilled! Dying, dizzy, but thrilled.

Run:  1:46:52
Run pace:  8:09

Total Time:  4:57:07
Division Place:  3

This is maybe where my early nerves came from. I really did want a sub-5 hour race and I wanted to qualify for 70.3 Worlds, meaning I’d have to get probably top 2 or 3 in my division. It was all exacerbated by my denial of wanting anything at all out of this race but fun.

We waited for rolldown and my AG was granted a slot that wasn’t taken in a different group, so that left us with 3, and I took it. How could I not?  The winner in my age group, as she walked up to get her spot, told me there’s nothing like riding your bike in Europe.  It seemed a no-brainer at the time to take my spot, but after writing the check, I found I couldn’t discuss it. I felt like it was all too much after a long season of racing and training.  I’ve always been drawn to competing and challenging myself in this way, but I always try to work around others, and do my workouts when it’s not interrupting something or someone else.  Signing up for Austria would be a major family event and I needed time to get used to the idea.  However, Brian and the girls didn’t need time to get used to it – they were jumping up and down with excitement, and their enthusiasm finally rubbed off on me through all of my race fatigue.  So, Austria, here we come!

Laura, her husband Dennis, Brian and the girls and I closed out the evening with beers and a great meal at the Mellow Mushroom, with Laura and I both celebrating our big PRs and talking about the next season – a season that would involve Worlds and Ironman!

ITU Grand Final (Age Group Worlds) – Edmonton, Alberta

Pre-race

Getting to Age Group Worlds has been one of my biggest goals over the past five years, and after what seems like forever, race week is finally here. The past few weeks have been filled with tons of speedwork on the bike and run, trying to hit paces I never thought I could hit, and I’ve warmed up with a couple of local sprint triathlons.  I’m as ready as I’ll possibly be.  I’ve come into this week prepared to work hard, but also to completely enjoy the experience of being a part of Team USA.

The race is in Edmonton, Alberta, yet another place that I likely wouldn’t have the opportunity to visit if it weren’t for this racing thing.  I flew up on a little Horizon Air plane along with a few other triathletes, including to my pleasant surprise, the famous Sister Madonna.*  photo56 I heard that Edmonton is known for hosting these kinds of large events and the Grand Final was held here once before, in 2001.  These are a few other notes I made about it:

  • It has a population of about a million people
  • It’s surrounded by flat plains as far as you can see.
  • The half-mile wide, winding Saskatchewan River separates the downtown and the race venue in Hawrelak Park.
  • Several tall bridges span the river and the banks of it are built up with running trails and green space.
  • It’s very pleasant and beautiful.
  • It has the largest shopping mall in North America, and yes, we checked it out.

My friend and long-time race partner, Heidi, and I spent the pre-race days keeping busy. We used the free-for-athletes public transportation to travel between downtown and the race site, scoping out the course, practicing the swim, and watching some of the Elite and Sprint races that were happening the same week.  I stayed at the Westin Edmonton, home of Team USA and the British national team, both of whom had “office space” set up on several floors of the hotel. Among the things Team USA provided for us were three dedicated bike mechanics, a team coach and a team doctor. The team headquarters distributed gear, daily schedules, maps, daily ride plans with the coach, and stationed USAT employees there to answer all of our questions.  We felt quite pampered and taken care of.

The parade of nations was first up; 6,000 athletes from 70 countries marched through downtown to the opening ceremonies, during which we had a flyover by a Canadian Air Force snowbird to get us excited, in case we weren’t already. The day before our race, we checked in our gear at Hawrelak Park. Each piece of our gear had to be looked over by an official, including our wheels, helmets, and kit. One of the officials told me that if it was windy enough, disc wheels wouldn’t be allowed, and if I chose to check in my bike with the disc, there was no turning back. I stuck with the plan to use my wheel, and took my chances.

Race Day
When the morning of the standard-distance AG triathlon and the last one of the week arrived, I headed to the race venue about 5:00 AM, catching the train and shuttle from the hotel. The temp was maybe low 40s at the race site, and I hoped I’d be able to stay warm enough until my start at 8:30.  It felt really cold!  My bike hung where I racked it last night, covered with dew. I did a thumb-check of my tires, which I’d slightly over-pumped the previous day, and then wiped down my bike. There seemed to be no wind, so I was safe with my disc.

Everything done in transition, I headed back to sit on one of the shuttles to try to stay warm, and ran into my parents. Dad gave me two of his jackets to keep warm and we found a spot to hang out while we waited for my wave. I shivered probably from nerves just as much as the cold.   My one hope, which was mostly out of my control, was that I wouldn’t have a mechanical issue. I’d attached a flat kit to my bike just in case. Normally I wouldn’t carry one for an Olympic distance race, but this was one race I needed finish no matter what.

Swimphoto 1
At approximately 8:00, I warmed up with swim bands, put on my wetsuit, dropped my clothing bag at the staging area, and gathered around with other 40-44 year old women for the start in the small-ish lake in Hawrelak Park.  Our wave had 60 participants. Canadians, USA, Australia and New Zealand made up most of the wave, with Mexico and South Africa also well-represented. There were also a few athletes from several European nations, Russia and Japan.

When our wave was 30 minutes out, a bagpiper began playing, and we marched behind him across the park lawn toward the lake and to the tent where we would chip in. My friend Heidi and I were all smiles as we walked – this is it! We waited in a corral for about 20 minutes while other waves went off, and my HR was elevated to zone 2 the whole time.  Finally, it was time to head down to the lake shore.

Per my plan, when we walked out to the platform starting area at the lake shore, I headed directly to the right. An official said to me, “Go left, that’s where the elites went!” I paused for a split second. Why would he say that? But I’d decided the day before that the right had two advantages: a more direct line to the first buoy, and less pinching at the turn if I didn’t happen to be out ahead by then. To the right it was. I stepped up on the blue-painted platform in spot #59.

I’d practiced the start the day before: Two steps and a dive. When the countdown was one minute to go, I started my watch, pulled my wetsuit sleeve over it and took a deep breath. We were asked to step onto the sand with one foot touching the platform, then we heard the words “On your mark, get set…” and then the horn. False starts were a big deal here, so I made sure I heard the horn before moving a muscle. I took two steps, then dove, then hard strokes. After a minute I could still see people on either side of me but another minute and I pulled away. Another girl also pulled away far to my left and by the first buoy I’d moved in behind her feet along with one other girl. I thought about “fighting” for the feet, but decided to just stay in a triangle pattern with the third girl. By the second buoy the other drafter had disappeared and I had the fast feet to myself for almost the entire first loop of the swim. I was feeling good and almost as if I could pass, but knowing that I’d better wait until the second lap. We caught some swimmers from the wave ahead of us during the second half of the swim loop. When we rounded the buoy near the start to begin our second lap, a bunch of the green caps we’d caught (wave ahead of us) veered too far left and I was caught in a wall of swimmers. I had to correct almost 90 degrees to make it around the buoy. The second lap was uneventful, except that I’d lost the drafting feet. I concentrated on strong but smooth strokes and as usual, when I saw the exit ramp 2-300 yards away, I ran through the swim-to-bike transition in my head. I swam until I was in knee deep water and then stood and jogged up the ramp, past the cheering spectators, along the side of transition and finally to my bike, about twenty steps down the row as I’d practiced.

Swim Time: 21:59

T-1: 3:21 
I put on my shoes and clipped my helmet (ITU rules) before touching my bike. Grabbed the bike and I’m off, ready for that starting uphill. Praying for no mechanical!

Bike20x30-ETBB3376
The bike course followed two loops, starting with an uphill. Per race plan, I didn’t worry too much about my HR as we knew it would be high with the long transition and the starting hill. I stayed in the small ring until the hill was done, and then to the big ring for the rest of the loop. I concentrated on passing those I could, holding my speed, keeping my back relaxed and my HR in target (159-164). I was thrilled that though I was being passed, it didn’t seem like a LOT of women around my age who were passing me. Nobody had their age body-marked here, so it was almost impossible to tell. The roads were rough, with cracks and small potholes marked with spray paint. I worked on staying focused, and the second loop went as well as the first. I sucked down a gel at 20K and another at 35K, plus about 20 ounces of water.

Bike time: 1:07:38
Bike pace: 22 mph

T-2: 2:56
At the dismount, my front wheel rolled over the red line and the official made me roll it back before I could go. As I ran my bike down the row, I glanced around. There were maybe ten bikes already racked, but hard to tell. But I was thrilled that I seemed to be in the top part of my wave at least. Reverse rules at racking: rack bike completely before unclipping helmet. Done, and done. Run transition is always quick. Slip feet in shoes, grab bib, visor and gel and take off running.

Run
I was supposed to run around 7 minute miles on this course, so I was disappointed that my run pace, though I was working hard, was hovering above 7. The run was also two loops, all in the park. One side of the loop was a gravel path through trees, and the other side was pavement and more open. The gravel seemed a bit sluggish and slow and perhaps that’s what slowed me down. It was fun to see my parents and Doug screaming for us at several points on the run. Again, I concentrated on passing anyone I could or staying with someone who passed me (as per my plan). If someone passed me, I’d stare at their back and try to match their pace for a bit.

The second half of the second loop I really began to feel fatigued. I’d already taken a gel but was having a hard time sucking down any water from the FULL plastic bottles they were giving us. I’m used to half-full paper cups! But remembering coach Ben’s words: I’d have to be prepared to work very hard in the last part of the run. It was almost over. I kicked it up a notch. Two Canadians were ahead of me and I would catch them! When I rounded the corner to the finish chute, I saw the grandstand wanted to grin hugely. I’d done it!  And no mechanicals. I didn’t know where I was in the placings, but it didn’t matter, I’d done my best. The Canadians were still ahead of me, and I caught sight of someone holding out the stars and stripes – is that for me? – yes, it was Kris Swarthout, the Team USA coach. I grabbed the flag, he said, “You got it,” and I took off after the one Canadian near me and passed her before the line. YAY! My biggest race ever, finished!photo60

Run time: 45:14
Run pace:  7:07
Total time: 2:21:09

Division place:  5

It wasn’t until after I saw my parents and Doug that they told me I was in fifth place.

Other details:

  • After a bike and run workout two days before the race, I did a ten-minute ice bath.
  • Complete rest the day before as there was nowhere to do a swim workout.
  • Chicken and risotto as pre-race dinner, and the usual bagel, peanut butter and powerbar before the race.

Qualifying note: Trying to qualify to race for Team USA had taken me about five years. In 2008 I tried my first USAT Nationals in Portland, OR, trying twice to get into the race, and then placing 27th in my age group. Two years later, in 2010, I tried again in Tuscaloosa, AL. I thought I’d qualified for Beijing Worlds with a 17th place, but the age-up factor added additional racers who’d be in my category next year and edged me out.  At that point, the fire was lit and I had to keep trying. I raced again in Burlington, VT and didn’t even come close with a place in the 30s for London Worlds.  I began to work with my coach, Ben, from the end of 2012 on, and Milwaukee, WI in 2013 was my ticket with a 13th place for an automatic qualification.

*Sister Madonna Buder is a finisher of over 300 triathlons and the oldest person to complete an Ironman!

Ironman 70.3 St. George – May 3, 2014

May 3, 2014

Race nerves

My friend and I stared at the red cliffs in the distance, lit up by the 90-degree sun.  “I hope we’re ready.  We’re going to be out there a long time tomorrow,” she said.

Maybe the view of mountains baking in the sun, or maybe gusts of hot wind when we got off the plane, or the knowledge that this was one of the toughest 70.3s out there – I was starting to feel nervous.  As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get my head in the game for this race, couldn’t picture myself getting up the next day and putting my entire physical bodily effort into hours under the sun.  It seemed completely impossible.

Ironman St. George has hills, unpredictable weather, and lots of competition. If I wanted to start off the year with a little “test” of my training, it was perfect, and somewhere under the nerves, I was definitely excited for it.

Sometimes I just have to have faith that my nerves are a byproduct of loving this racing thing and wanting to do my best, and if given enough time and allowed to follow enough of a routine, the worst of it will pass.  Three days ago I was beyond excited to travel to the desert again to race.  My daughter once asked me why I would race if I feel stressed and nervous beforehand.  It’s a good question; one I’ve asked myself before.  I said that because the positive emotions – joy, sense of community, overcoming obstacles, realizing a goal – are so worth it that some tension beforehand is a price I’m willing to pay.

Anyway, I finally shook the bad feeling, or I should say, my friend shook it for me, by cracking me up over dinner so that that the nerves had nothing to do but disappear.  So, I was able to go to sleep truly anticipating the next day in the best way possible.

Race Day

On race morning, we got up at four o’clock, ate in the Best Western lobby, whose awesome staff set out an early breakfast for the athletes. We walked over and dropped our run gear in the bike-to-run transition in the historic downtown and then hopped aboard the shuttle to arrive at the reservoir with about an hour to set up the swim-to-bike transition. The sun rose in almost perfectly clear sky while I pumped my tires and went over my race plan. Then, it was time to do the run warmup, swim band warmup, drop off the morning clothes bag and zip up the wetsuit. The reservoir water was calm, deep blue, and, I knew from the previous day, would feel cold. The course stretched out in a long u-shape around the back side of a rocky island. The announcer said the water was 60 degrees.

Swim

As soon as the wave ahead of us went off, we were allowed to swim from the shore to the start buoys a hundred yards away. With thirty seconds to go, I had lots of space and turned to see that some of my wave was still swimming toward the start. At the gun, I kicked forward, into the sun. After a few sightings, I was on my own and swimming hard but had no idea where I was going. With the sun in my face I couldn’t catch sight of any object, until finally I realized I was too far to the left, near the kayakers. The first buoy was way to the right. I corrected my aim and swam on. Once we turned and began the long stretch behind the red rock island, I could see better and swam buoy to buoy. I finally began to feel warmed up and relaxed. By the last buoys, I could hear the cheers of the spectators on shore.

Swim finish: 29:02

Division place:  2

I jogged up the exit ramp, pulled my arms from my suit, and plopped down by the wetsuit strippers who yanked it over my ankles. Wetsuit in hand, I ran to transition, trying to remain calm as I arrived at my bike. After getting sunburned in at the Boise 70.3 last year, I’d decided to wear a sun shrug. I grabbed it and stuck my arms in. Even though it had worked the day before, now, of course, it was taking me forever to stuff my arms into it. One side of it ripped a little as I shoved an arm in. I jumped on my bike with the thing only halfway on.  It cost me a minute or more to struggle with it and I lost a few places in transition.

T-1: 4:14

Bike

Onto the bike and an uphill highway to start. My HR was high as usual. My power meter read in the 150s but jumped around. I let the HR stay at a high rate for about 20 minutes, past the first hill and then some rolls. It began to drop to the range it needed to be. The ride was longish hills and some flats before the canyon climb. I relaxed and spun whenever there was a relative flat and felt pretty darn good. I worked through water and food. I’d forgotten my nuun at the start, so made sure I was also popping salt pills. The temperature was climbing fast and was glad now that I had the shoulder cover.

At around mile 35, we turned into the resort town of Ivins, made up of red adobe buildings that matched the red hills behind them, and then I found myself in Snow Canyon park.   I could see the snaking line of riders winding up between the huge red and white cliffs and sage brush. At first, it didn’t look very steep, but I soon realized it was, as my computer showed that I hovered under 10 MPH. Forty minutes later I reached the top and then dropped into aero-position for an amazing, screaming downhill.  Due to the crowds on the course, it was difficult to go as fast as I wanted to. (I was geared well for the climb with my 12-27, but spun out on the downhills.)  Parts of the ride were windy, so I was also glad I’d gone with my 404 rather than disc.0693_008237

Bike finish: 3:01:53

Bike place: 14

T-2:  Bike to run transition was quick. Quick stop at the porta potty and then I was off, feeling pretty excellent.

Run

The temps were climbing and the run began with a slight grade through downtown, so I just made sure to stay relaxed and give myself a mile or two to get the run muscles working. I rounded the corner at the end of downtown and… wow. I felt myself deflate. A baking, uphill highway stretched out ahead of me, with people crawling (it seemed) up it. Gone was the slight grade. I knew there was a hill, but good thing I hadn’t studied the course elevation too closely. No good would have come of me dreading this. I moved on forward, slogging up the hill, keeping my HR in check, wondering if I could walk faster. Thankfully, the aid stations came quickly every mile, with awesome volunteers and tons to do: get two cups water, throw ice down my top, squeeze a sponge on my arm coolers, and grab more ice water to pour on my head. Once all of that was done, I would fish out a few pieces of ice from my top and hold in my palms. Once that melted, I’d take in a gel or some salt. It seemed to be a pretty good system and things stayed bearable. At around mile four, I noticed runners funneling into a little canyon park. Oh good, I think, we can get off this hot pavement for a bit. It looks nice, trails and change of scenery. As soon as I stepped into it though, I knew it wasn’t going to be as comforting as it sounded. It was steep, hot, sandy, and narrow. We repeated this challenge around mile 9 on our way back. However, after that, things were looking up quickly. The good thing about the uphill at the start is that it made it downhill at the finish, and I saw my first shade in five hours – a couple of small trees off to the side of the road. I veered toward them, catching some shade and some mist from a sprinkler. Then I sped it up (or tried to) for the last couple of miles, glad to be done and feeling pretty good.

Run time: 1:58:31

Run pace: 9:02

Finish time 5:37:25

Division place:  16

Nutrition breakdown

Dinner – take out chicken and rice from Japanese restaurant

Breakfast – Bagel, peanut butter, banana, coffee, lots of water

Pre-swim – water, Powerbar, 1/2 of a 5-hour energy

Bike – 4 bottles water, six gels (3 caffeinated), 5 salt

Run – 2 cups water every mile, 2 gels total (one caffeinated), 4-5 salt caps

Post raceIMG_6381-001

Ironman 70.3 St. George, with its hills, wind and unpredictable weather lived up to its reputation, but also confirmed that I’ve learned some things from last years’ hot races – Boise and Las Vegas. I assumed it would hurt, that it would be extreme, that I would be out there for a long time, but I was happy that I felt prepared for it.

Quads very sore on Sunday, went for a short hike in Zion but really couldn’t walk downhill without flinching. Monday, feeling better and went for a swim and hot tub at the hotel pool. Soreness almost gone Tuesday morning. Went for a 50 minute ride around St. George and although didn’t push it, felt recovered enough for an easy workout. I’ve had intermittent headaches and afternoon sleepiness. Tuesday evening, I feel nearly back to normal, but a bad cold completely knocked me out by Thursday.

Ironman 70.3 World Championships – September 8, 2013

Lake Las Vegas

Three 70.3s in one season wasn’t how I originally planned my racing for 2013, but here I was, tapering down for my third and last one of the year, and feeling if not comfortable, at least familiar with the distance.

The weather was my biggest concern heading into it, because the heat in Boise was literally seared into my memory.  My coach, Ben, and I talked over and over about how I might manage it better here in Las Vegas.  Drinking a lot more water was the biggest thing, and then there were other small things to remember, like your palms being a cooling point and carrying ice in them.  One more piece of sage hydration advice came in from him via text as my two teammates and I were boarding the plane:  “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I strongly suggest no alcohol from now until the race.”

I guess we’ll just have to make up for that afterward.

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T-2 Run Gear

For all that worry, the weather looked like it might actually be mild for Las Vegas, with temperatures in the 90s rather than the 100s.  That was still hotter than Boise, but I’ll take as cool as I can get in the desert.  The race would feel similar in other ways, with long desert climbs and a hot, looping run.  However, this swim would be non-wetsuit, and rather than being flat and shady, the run would take us up and down exposed suburban hills of Henderson, NV.

My friend Kari and I stayed at the Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, an enormous and gorgeous golf resort.  It was the first time I’d been to Las Vegas and stayed anywhere but the Strip.  Henderson is tidy and suburban, with palm trees dotting the sidewalks and has a beautiful view of the the brown mountains and the faraway Strip.  The race start and first transition is at Lake Las Vegas, a resort fifteen miles from Henderson, out on its own in the desert.

Race Day

Well, for all that worry, race morning dawned with rain!  Pouring, dumping, drumming rain. We got up at 3 AM to make sure to find parking at the space-limited start area.  We sat in the car staring at the downpour, and I downed my bagel, banana, peanut butter, and a lot of water.  I began to feel really nervous.

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Rainy morning

Finally, we walked to transition and set up our gear. That took us to 5:15, so we still had tons of time on our hands.  We walked around some more, visited the porta-potties, found my two VO2 teammates, took some pictures, went up to the covered lake bridge to get out of the rain, and watched the pro start.

Per my race plan, I didn’t do a run warmup to avoid getting behind on hydration, but instead just used my swim cords to loosen up. Finally, it was time for us – we were wave 9 at 7:08.  I stood in the corral and looked around at my comrades, the middle-aged fit women.  Something was different here.  Most people are in great shape in any race, but this group… I couldn’t put my finger on it at first.  I watched a woman down a gel and stretch her very toned arms over her head.  There wasn’t a lot of chatting going on.  They were serious, they were jumpy, they were – every one of them – extremely lean and muscled.  Every one of them had to get a pretty high age group place in another 70.3.  I tried to reassure myself that I had done that, too.

Swim

Here we go!  I feel slightly naked and not buoyant with just my swimskin on when I jump into Lake Las Vegas.  The start is about a hundred yards from the swim entrance, so we have a mini-warmup to get ourselves there after we’re allowed into the water.  It’s line up time.  I’m a fairly fast swimmer, and before usual race starts I confidently swim myself up to the front of the pack knowing I’ll get out ahead with some of the lead swimmers, or sometimes I am the lead swimmer.

I take a few strokes, moving myself to the front, but something doesn’t give.  I’m in the front, but then I’m not!  A few people have taken strokes and positioned themselves in front of me.  I move to the side of them to get a clear view of the water and where I’m going to go, but more women elbow me out of the way.  Nobody talks or looks at each other, but there’s a lot of mild shoving going on.  Wow.  I remind myself again that I’m not out of my league, I just need to focus and get myself into position, somehow.  I try to squeeze between two gals, who don’t look at me, and one of them blocks me with her arm.  If this were a different race we’d be chatting or saying “good luck” to each other.RT0466_18649

The countdown begins but again I’m behind the front row!  The start gun goes off and I’m trapped. It’s the first time in a race that I feel like I can’t go anywhere. I try to squeeze through some swimmers, but it takes a few minutes of head-up flailing before I find a path to get out front. Then I’m off, feeling strong and getting into my rhythm, trying not to get the notoriously reddish-brown water in my mouth. (The water doesn’t actually bug me much, because it reminds me of a nice, warm Beaver Lake back home.) The course is long and banana-shaped. Once we reach the first turn buoy, I see someone in my wave that I can’t quite pass, but I can follow. I promptly get on her feet and draft her for most of the rest of the race.

Swim time: 31:35

Swim place: 6

Bike

A huge hand grabs onto my arm.  I’m yanked up between two volunteers so burly they could be bouncers at a Las Vegas nightclub, and then I’m off around the bridge to transition.   I try to soft-jog to prevent my HR from getting too high, but too late, it’s already 170. I grab my wet, slippery bike and slip my feet into my soaked shoes and then run up the long switchback ramp to the mounting area. No need to stop at the sunscreen station today – it’s still a downpour. I hop on my bike and repeatedly try to force my mud- clogged cleats onto my pedals. It takes forever, but once they finally attach, I’m off, still trying to be calm and relaxed. An uphill out of the Lake Las Vegas resort area is next, so I soft-pedal and finally, after the crest, get my HR where it should be. I take it easy on the first rainy descent, testing the roads, and after that I feel more comfortable.  We loop out into the amazing Lake Mead rec area – a desert of craggy red rock and distant foggy mountains. The rain brings out pungent mineral scents, and the raindrops sting my face like needles. I’m actually enjoying the ride, but noticing that I’m feeling a little heavy. I don’t have the same easy-spinning energy that I had at Lake Stevens. Interesting.

RT0466_40784The rain pours down, people get flats, a few ambulances scream by. My teammate passes me early on, asks me how I’m doing, and then says that everyone is being weenies on the downhills. They are.  I’m comfortable flying down the hills and passing people, but unfortunately, every minute or two women are passing me on the flats and inclines – women in my age group.  Too many of them to count.

Finally finished with the desert loop, we pass the Lake Las Vegas resorts again and head into town. The whole ride goes quickly with all the concentration needed to deal with the rain and the descents. I glance at my watch and know that I won’t make sub-three hours. When finally six miles are left through the town of Henderson, I’m relieved. However, the last miles entail a lot of climbing on tired legs and my final bike time, I realize later, is my slowest.

Nutrition on bike:

At least three and a half bottles of water/nuun and about 600 calories worth of gels.

Bike time: 3:08:17

Bike place: 49.  (No wonder I lost count.)

Run

Onto the run. The sun comes out as if on cue and the heat comes out with it.  I’m prepared. I have my arm coolers in my back pocket and I know I am mostly on top of my fluids. I stop quickly at the porta-potty and sunscreen station, and then head out onto the sunny run. It begins with a downhill and I’m already feeling better than Boise. No digestive issues, and I’m feeling, if not strong, at least competent. The run is three loops through residential Henderson consisting of two out-and-backs with the center near the finish line. Each direction has a long uphill and a long downhill. I love the format. Before I know it, I am finished with each branch of the loop and the miles click by. On each loop I see my teammates.  One is about ten minutes ahead, and one is five minutes behind.  I know she’ll pass me, as the run is her strength, and I didn’t think I’d catch the other one (the speedy descending queen from the bike leg), as she looked very strong and solid. Spectators, yelling, cheering, waving signs, and some dressed in crazy outfits line the entire course. It’s very hard to keep my HR down to 165. It creeps up on the uphills or when the sun is especially strongly beating down. I relax on the uphills and try to ease quickly down the downhills. I drink two cups, per Ben’s advice, at each of the many aid stations. I use ice in my palms and my arm coolers. I drink a few cups of coke after the halfway mark, which sits well. My stomach feels great. I know I’m not going to be fast, but the course is hilly and hot, so I’m fine with it. RT0466_32588

When the finish finally arrives, I’m elated, then disappointed and drained.  I know it’s not my best race, and I’m not sure why.  I nearly pass out waiting for pictures and food.  I finally force down some chicken and fruit, find some shade and my teammates, and start to feel better.

Nutrition on run: 

2 cups each aid station (coke after mile 6), three gels. Two endurolytes around mile 8.

Run time: 1:57:14

Total time: 5:44:52

Final Place: 60

Post-race

I admit I was discouraged with my time and placing, especially on the bike leg. But I was truly thrilled to have been able to make it here and compete with so many amazing athletes. I owe a huge thanks to Ben for his intelligent and insightful coaching which got me to a place where I can qualify for not only for these 70.3 Worlds, but also for Team USA next year, not to mention feeling great the entire season and staying injury free. I’m also thankful for my completely, 100%, supportive family who encourage me to do these incredible races, because they know how much I love it.

My friend and I capped off the day at Lindo Michoacan, a restaurant that claims the “best bar” in Henderson.  We looked out over the entire valley and the Strip, drank a couple margaritas and ate house-made guacamole and chips.  After that, we went back to Green Valley, lounged in a cabana under the once-again clear desert sky to write up the race reports and reflect on the end to a great season.

RT0466_49663        IMG_4797 IMG_4790 IMG_4789        IMG_4763  IMG_4771

USAT Age Group Nationals Race Report – August 10, 2013

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The Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee, WI

I’m fidgeting in my zipped up wetsuit, standing on the dock of the lagoon in front of Discovery World. Hundreds of middle-aged, though very fit women are crowded onto the dock with me, waiting to lower themselves into the water. The sunrise lights up Lake Michigan and the air is warm, but not as warm as it could be for Milwaukee. The wavy blue water is very cold – we know because we’ve all just hauled ourselves out of it after warming up.

I’ve lost my teammate somewhere and I feel like I always do before the swim: introverted and jittery. I take a few deep breaths and think through the first part of my race: Strong strokes off the line, then look around for some fast feet to draft, ease up just a tiny bit, then swim smoothly.

I bend my head down, stretching my neck, and then I see something on the ground.

Blood, a spreading circle of it, pools under my foot. A lot of it. I lift my foot and red droplets fall as if from a leaky faucet, splashing onto the dock. I whip my head around, looking for something or someone who could help. The other women, just as race-focused as I am, don’t seem to notice me quietly freaking out. I bend over and lift the flap of severed flesh. It’s hanging off the side of my big toe, and we’re about to start the race.

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The lagoon and bridge

Pre-race

The USAT Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee is my third real attempt at a Team USA slot, after trying in Tuscaloosa and Burlington. It’s become a long-term goal of mine to get that top-18 spot that will allow me to compete in the Olympic-distance World Champs.

Milwaukee on race weekend is filled with people in various kinds of tri gear running around, sitting in restaurants and whizzing by on their expensive bikes.  The city over the past few days has been fun and pleasant, with good restaurants and a charming river walk area, and I’m looking forward to sampling some local beer after the race. Despite the different location this year, I know what I’m in for: A regular triathlon, just hundreds of times bigger and with a lot of incredibly fast competition.IMG_4578

On race day, I drive in from my hotel and park in an open garage facing Lake Michigan, then sit there for a few minutes looking at the sun coming up over the amazing  winged Milwaukee Art Museum. My bike is racked somewhere down below and I feel ready to go. I’d been proud of myself yesterday for finally figuring out how to get my disc wheel pumped up with my adapter quickly and all by myself. (It’s an older Zipp with a tiny access opening, and every time I wiggle the crack pipe out of it I’m sure I’m going to tear the valve off.)

I eat my bagel and peanut butter without the anxiety about 70.3 race nutrition. I still plan to drink a lot on the bike due to the heat here, but I can relax a little bit about calories and water.

Once I go to the transition area and look over everything, I do my run warmup and check in my gear. (This was a “clean” transition. We can have nothing except what was needed to race, and anything else had to be checked in a clear plastic bag.) We are allowed to get in the lagoon and swim for about fifteen minutes before the race start, which benefits us early starters. This year the 40-44 women start in the second wave. Last year, in Burlington, we were the second to last, so this feels luxurious. After warmup, we have to haul ourselves up onto a dock three to four feet above the water surface. Random participants help pull us up, but as I wrench myself onto the dock with the help of someone’s hand, my foot catches on something. I don’t think anything about it until I look down at my foot later and see that I’m standing in a pool of blood.

After a moment of panic, I hop over to a USAT volunteer. “Do you have a band aid?” I ask, knowing that what I really need is stitches or steri-strips. This is beyond band aids. “Or, tape?” He doesn’t have anything and he has no suggestions, and he seems preoccupied, as one would, with starting a three-thousand-person race. I examine it again – it’s deep and blood is still pouring out, and I think about the two-and-a-half hours ahead of me, possible flesh-eating bacteria, tight fitting bike shoes, and I have no idea what I’m going to do.

Since he can’t help me, I look around for anything I can use to close up my toe, and then the loudspeaker crackles with an announcement. There is come kind of traffic delay on the highway, and we will need to wait while it’s cleared. I am saved by a last-minute race delay! I can’t believe it. I sprint, trailing blood, to an event security officer on a bike whose fanny pack looks first-aid-like. All he has are band aids and tape, but we tape my toe as tightly as possible, and a more thorough job can wait until the post-race medical tent.

Swim

So, somewhat rattled, I start the swim. I get in a lead pack of a few girls, and actually find some perfect speedy feet to follow until the first turn. We swim across the lagoon and under a bridge. Spectators crowding the bridge and hanging over are screaming for us and I can hear them with each turn of my head. I love it! I begin to feel wiped out after the bridge, and I feel myself slow down, but I still hang onto my lead group. We turn and head back to the exit ramp. Fortunately, it’s not the same ramp that slashed my toe, and I am pulled up by volunteers and am off running to transition.

Swim time: 22:22

Division place: 7

T1: 2:29

Bike

I pedal out and benefit – again – from being the second wave to start. The course is open and empty.   I spin strongly but let my HR calm down until it’s in the mid-160s and I hold it there. I suddenly feel like I’m working ten times harder than I was in Boise, though my HR is virtually the same. I hope I can hold this. There’s a gradual hill heading over a bridge out of downtown, and suddenly I realize I’m feeling flat. My legs feel unresponsive and slightly achy.  Would this feeling go away? Well, this feels bad for sure, but I have a race plan and there is nothing to do but follow it. I pedal on, willing the lactic-acid feeling to lessen with each revolution of my pedals. I focus on the beauty of the course: the bridge on the ascent has a view of sparkling blue Lake Michigan on one side of us and the sunlit city on the other. And on the other side, a descent helps me get back into the rhythm.

Bike time: 1:09:38

Bike pace: 21.4

T2: 1:21

Run

I fly off my bike, hang it by the saddle, and slip my feet into my running shoes. I grab my visor and a gel, and I’m off. My bike-to-run transition always feels quick and simple. This run is on a flat path along the waterfront park that circles back to finish on the lake road. The sun beats down and the air is already getting uncomfortably warm. I glance at my heart rate, push it up to the mid-170s. Ouch, but I can hold it. It’s just a 10K. The air is getting hotter. I see my teammate up ahead and she looks good and strong. (Later, I find out she was hugely struggling and had thrown up twice – displaying impressive grit to finish the race strongly.) I pass a girl in a Team USA kit after gaining on her for a couple of miles. I maintain my pace heading into the pain cave of the last few miles, feeling nothing but my muscles screaming, my heart racing, sweat pouring off me, and my feet pounding the pavement. I stare at the back of the person I’m going to catch before the finish. I grab a quick drink and some ice to hold in my palms and hammer out the last two miles.20x30-MILB0579

Run time: 45:16

Run pace: 7:17        

Overall time: 2:21:08

Overall division place: 13

It takes a minute to sink in.  I don’t need to wait for a rolldown, or an age-up factor, or a wait list of any kind. I’m IN!!! My teammate Heidi gets in too, and we go out that night and celebrate, drinking a sampling of Milwaukee beer to toast to what we’ve finally done after trying Nationals in almost every other part of the country.  Milwaukee did it for us.  We are heading to UTI Worlds in Edmonton one year from now!

Huge thanks to Ben, whose coaching over the past year has pushed me to new levels of fitness, confidence and commitment.  And to my family for letting me do these awesome and fun races and being excited for me!

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The Riverwalk
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The Milwaukee Art Museum
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Post-race celebrating

Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens Race Report – July 21, 2013

Lake Stevens was out there, waiting, just six weeks after Boise.  I was relatively in shape, but another 70.3 so soon? I’d only raced in two other half-ironman distance races, and I struggled through each of them. I didn’t want to torture myself again and put myself through all of that when they weren’t turning out very well.  The short races are so fun and I know what I’m doing there. But the 70.3 is, if anything, a compelling riddle and I knew I couldn’t let the challenge go. Besides, there was that Worlds spot….

Lake Stevens
The town of Lake Stevens is somewhat in my back yard. It used to be a resort community, I have read, and now is kind of an Everett suburb.  It’s still a drive of over an hour for me, so a friend and I got a hotel room in Everett, which is pretty much the closest place that you can stay to the race venue. The race day weather was perfect with a marine layer of clouds, and temps in the high fifties, a huge contrast from Boise in June.  My nerves were less than before, because my previous race was only a few weeks ago, and I’d had some very good training in-between.

Swim
My pre-swim warmup consisted of ten minutes of jogging followed by a swim-cord workout. Athletes were allowed to swim before their wave, so I jumped in to the swirling muddy water by the shore and swam back and forth a few times. When it was time, I lined up on the dock with my wave of 40-44 year olds. The gun went off. I’m always a bundle of various kinds of nerves up to this point, but once I’m swimming, all the nerves get redirected into action. I love starting!  The weeks and months of preparation come together, the jitters leave me, and there is truly no turning back when I push myself forward in the first few strokes of a triathlon.  I feel right at home, no matter the distance of the race in front of me.

At the Lake Stevens 70.3, there’s a bright yellow buoy line a few feet under the water, and if you can swim near it, you barely have to lift your head to sight. I started the swim in the front of the pack and positioned myself just to the outside of the buoy line. There were two or three girls swimming near me, and after ¼ mile, I found myself pushed to the inside and struggled to find the best place to swim. A few times I worked myself back to the outside, but crowds swarmed as I caught waves in front of me. Staying just to the inside seemed easier, aside from having to pass the buoys themselves, which I ended up hitting with my arm each time. I finished the swim feeling strong.

Swim time: 27:35
Division place: 2

Bike
My bike was racked right next to the swim exit, so that was nice. Once I was on my bike, my plan was to concentrate. I needed to try to get my heart rate down into the 140s during the first ten minutes of the ride. Once I was out of transition, I breathed calmly and spun my legs lightly. I’m doing it, this feels good! Too good, actually. I glance at my watch – heart rate is 171! Ugh. More light spinning, calm breathing and then it finally began to drop. I felt like I was out on a social cruise, but again, I was determined to be relaxed, even if my ride was way slower than last time. I was elated when my HR hit 158.

I continued with the relaxed strategy the entire time, keeping my HR in the 150s.  One of my teammates passed me, moving fast, early on. It was great to see her and many others I knew out there, an awesome benefit of a home race. The course was crowded and there were a few close calls with people forgetting to glance over their shoulder before swerving around someone. I pedaled on, continuing to remind myself that I “wanted” a slower bike time to feel good on the upcoming run. Thankfully, the hilly course didn’t seem as challenging as I’d imagined it to be. Maybe this was my kind of course:  a lot of steep hills, but none too long. I could take advantage of descending, something I like to do, and sometimes cruise all the way back up the next hill.

Coming into mile 45, then 50, I had energy to spare. This was going to work! I saw others I knew and yo-yo’d with them a bit.  The sky remained cloudy and cool, and I drank plenty of water and downed my nutrition according to my plan.

Bike time: 2:53:11
Pace: 19.4 mph
Division place: 7

Run
After transition, I took inventory of myself and realized I felt … awesome! No sideaches, no funny stomach issues. So far, so good. Kept my pace to 8:30s for a mile or two. Dashed into a porta-potty (okay, good, I drank enough this time, but I should learn how to do this on the bike in order to not lose time). I resumed my run and picked up the pace, holding my teammate in my sights about fifty yards ahead and keeping my heart rate above 160 as planned. We cruised along. Although I was pushing hard, there was never a time that I felt actually tortured and in some ways it even felt like a standalone half-marathon. I love the Lake Stevens run course.  It’s two loops, but you get to pass through town and screaming spectators four times, and head out along the lake twice.  There’s a steady hill along the lake just steep enough to take concentration, but then you get to turn and come back down.  I waved to my family and friends and each time I passed them, and it gave me more energy.  During the second loop I caught up to my teammate but couldn’t overtake her.  When we passed my husband, he told us both that there was another girl in our age group just 20 seconds ahead and we could catch her. She sped up and I sped up, latching onto her shoulder by an invisible string.  IMG_1098We passed the girl in our age group, and then one more.  Once, while we rounded a corner, she waved me forward, but it was taking everything I had just to stay with her, and I couldn’t get closer or actually pass.  By the last loop I could tell my smile was fading and my concentration was picking up, but my pace didn’t slow.  We passed one more person in our age group before we sprinted into the finish, me just a few seconds behind her.

Run time: 1:45:04
Run pace: 8:00 min/mile
Overall time: 5:09:33

Overall division place:  5

It was a PR, and a course PR, and by the time the rolldowns were over, I held in my hands my entry for 70.3 World Champs in Las Vegas.


Nutrition notes:

Bike:  60 oz water/nuun on the bike.  One bottle exchange. Three gels, two of which were caffeinated. One Powerbar.

Run:  Water at each stop and three gels, one caffeinated.

No stomach issues during or after the race.