Saturday, December 31, 2011

What A Year It Was

I thought it would be fitting on this final day of the year 2011 to sit down and reflect on the events of past twelve months. It's difficult to encapsulate everything that has happened, so I'm just going to list some of my favorite memories/events from the past year. And here's a bonus: it's the illustrated version!

Good times from 2011 (in no particular order):
- Puttering around in the garden and eating the fresh tasty veggies it produced
- Watching Sherman (our black lab) perform amazing acrobatic feats during games of chuck-it
- Seeing Suzzie (our German Shepherd) transform from a neurotic toothy terror to a sweet, playful, and eager-to-please beauty
- Having brand-spanking new windows installed in our house
- Backyard grilling...almost every day this summer, yum
- The liberating feeling of commuting to work on my bike and the Frontrunner train
- Catching up on years of missed reading while riding the train
- Vegas Trip #1: being the impetus for getting my mom to fly for the first time in over 40 years!
- Vegas Trip #2: great shows, great food, great hotel, great memories with Albert
- Learning to surf (sort of) in Costa Rica
- The sweet taste of victory at a big triathlon while smashing my own expectations for a predicted time
- Sharing the above victory with a very special group of family and friends
- In fact, having a faithful contingent of friends, family, and fans at pretty much every race I did this year
- Getting to know the really wonderful people at REV3
- Awesome home-stays along the way
- Long bike rides in Ogden Valley with Rich
- Sunday hikes at Snowbasin with Albert and the doggies
- Trail running, my new love
- Learning to run fast again
- Meeting my new baby nephew
- Watching my niece (successfully) try out for the swim team
- Visiting the Salt Flats & Antelope Island with Val and Gemma
- Happy hikes with good friends
- Many loaves of fresh homemade bread
- A countless number of stunning Ogden sunsets

Here's to another great year in 2012!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Long Distance Worlds Race Report

Last weekend I celebrated my final race of the season at the International Triathlon Union Long Distance World Championships in Henderson, Nevada. It was unlike any other race I've ever done for a number of reasons, including: 1) it was my first time officially being part of a Team USA contingent and wearing our country's colors in competition, 2) the 4K/120K/30K distance was an unknown, 3) presenting my uniform for a pre-race inspection/check-in was a new experience, and 4) I was uncharacteristically stressed out in the days leading up to the race. For some reason there were a lot of little details to attend to, and everything seemed to take forever which got me feeling really edgy. I certainly didn't enjoy being around me---too bad it's hard to get away from oneself!

Luckily I found my rhythm by race morning; the routine of applying the race numbers the night before and then getting up before the crack of dawn for breakfast has become familiar and calming. I must say (and I'm probably going to jinx myself here) I've gotten to be an *almost* pro at applying temporary tattoos! I remembered to take all the plastic backings off first, and only one of my 3's ended up facing backwards. :)

I arrived at the T1/swim start area right about 5am which gave me a good two hours to set up my gear, warm-up, and make the requisite Porta Jane visits. Coach KT White (the Team USA manager) was waiting at the transition entrance and informed me that the ITU officials were discussing cancelling the swim because of the combined cold water and air temperatures; not five minutes later the official announcement was made. Hmm. No swim? That's not really what I prepared for but I think it was the right call----getting out of 55-degree water and hopping on a bike in 37 degree air temps is a great way to get hypothermia, especially for the slower swimmers who might be in the lake for over 2 hours. The new format was to be a 120K bike/30K run with a time trial start going in 5 second intervals in order of your bib number. That meant the elite men would go off first, followed by the elite women and then the age groupers. The span from the first elite woman to the last was going to be about 2.5 minutes and I was seeded somewhere in the middle, about 1:10 behind the first girl. Some of the fastest swimmers started behind me, so the dynamic was quite different than what it would have been with a swim first; in all honesty (and I cannot believe I am saying this!) I think the cancelled swim worked to my benefit. The strongest swimmers probably would have gained at least a 2 minute advantage over me coming out of the water so it was nice to not have any deficit to make up coming out of the water. On the flip side, I would not have the usual cushion over the slower swimmers going into the bike/run so the strategy basically became to race full bore the whole way and see where I landed at the end.

The biggest decision race-morning was figuring out what to wear in the chilly temps. I was most worried about my fingers and toes so full-fingered gloves and toe-warmers were a must; the big debate was if arm warmers would be enough to keep me from freezing or if I should consider some type of vest or jacket over my race kit. In the end I went with just the arm warmers which ended up being perfect. My nutrition basically stayed the same: 8 PowerGels in water, a bento box full of red creamer potatoes, and water on the bike, then 2 gel flasks (with 4 PowerGels each) throughout the run with hydration at every aid station.

I knew going into this race that the course was going to be tough and boy, did it live up to its reputation! OUCH. There were no flat sections anywhere on either the bike or run. With the exception of the Three Sisters (3 short 16-18% grade climbs around mile 60) the hills weren't steep, but they were that special kind of long & steady grind that you find so often here in the western United States. I have a love-hate relationship with this type of hill. I train on hills like this all the time and have gotten strong on them, but that doesn't mean I necessarily like them!

On the bike I passed a handful of girls early in the ride, then was passed in turn by Nikki Butterfield (a former pro cyclist) around mile 20 and then by eventual winner Rachel Joyce just after the Three Sisters. I kept pushing to catch up to USA teammate Meredith Kessler but couldn't quite manage to bridge the gap and eventually lost sight of her once we got off the bike path and headed towards downtown Henderson. Thank you uber-coach Michael Lovato for calling out splits and encouragement along the way! Despite the time trial start the field was relatively spread out and it seemed to be a pretty clean race---thanks in large part to the challenging nature of the course I'm sure.

I started the run in 6th place with the knowledge that my running legs were with me on this day. The course consisted of four loops of out-and-back one direction then out-and-back in the other direction. It was essentially downhill for the first 1/4 lap, then uphill for a 1/2 lap, then downhill again for the last 1/4 of each loop. I've grown fond of looped run courses because it helps me to mentally break them up, plus it's really great for spectators. And I had a fan club with me at this one! My mom, Aunt Candy, and college roommate Courtney all made the trip out to Vegas to cheer me on with signs and cowbells, a vuvuzela and classically-trained singer's lungs! They were great and definitely gave me a boost every time I ran past. Thanks to EVERYONE who cheered for me out there---it was pretty neat to wear the country's colors in a world championship event and hear the shouts of "Go USA"!

The run felt GREAT for three laps; the fourth lap was still strong but I was definitely in the hurt locker by then. I focused on turnover, form, and landing lightly. I was only passed by one other girl at about mile 4 (Leanda Cave---the fastest run split of the day and certainly not someone to be ashamed of being overtaken by) which put me in 7th place, and then somewhere along the run two ladies ahead of me dropped out. I didn't realize this until the last lap, when I saw Meredith storming to third place and gave her a whoop and she yelled that I was holding 5th. I would have liked to have gotten 5th place by virtue of running down a couple of girls instead of them dropping out, but I'm still thrilled with the result. 5th place at Worlds! And 5th-fastest run split of the day. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that would ever happen! Boy oh boy, does that ever get me fired up for next year...

To top off the day, the USA women took home the Elite Team title based on our combined times (Meredith Kessler in 3rd, me in 5th, and Amanda Lovato in 12th). Jordan Rapp nabbed the overall elite men's World Championship title, and Nick Thompson ran his way into 5th place. All around a very good showing!

Check back again soon for a season recap including reflections on lessons I have learned this season. As always, thanks again to my sponsors (PowerBar, Rudy Project, blueseventy, Maxxis, and Wasatch Running Center) and to all my family, friends, acquaintances, and random people who have cheered for and supported me throughout the years.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pics From ITU Long Distance Worlds---5th Place!

Here are a couple of official snaps from the International Triathlon Union Long Distance World Championships last weekend in Henderson, Nevada. The swim was cancelled due to cold water and air temperatures, so it ended up being "just" a 120K (~75 mile) bike ride followed by a 30K (18.64 mile) run. Who would have ever thought that eliminating the swim portion would work in my favor?! But I'm pretty sure it did, and all the hard work I've put into cycling and running this year really paid off. The highlight statistic for me was clocking the 5th fastest run of the day, averaging 6:53 per mile (which is right at 3 hours for a marathon). Woohoo! I can play with the big girls now!

Speaking of playing with the big girls: Meredith Kessler, Amanda Lovato and I combined to win the Elite Women's Team title based on our combined times. Woohoo Team USA!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hopping on a plane...

...and heading to Vegas later today for the ITU Long Distance World Championships to be held on Saturday! Send some positive vibes my way. :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Racing Within and Without

(all photos courtesy of Eric Wynn)

Last weekend I had the pleasure of competing in the final event of the 2011 REV3 Triathlon Series in Anderson, South Carolina. This was a special weekend for many reasons, including that it was a reunion of sorts with my host family-and-friends from REV3 Knoxville earlier in the year. Thank you Toons, Todd, Doc, and Trish for embracing me as one of the gang, and congrats to everyone on their races!

While I'm in the "thank-you" mode, I'd like to also extend my thanks to Charlie Patten and the entire REV3 crew for yet another top-notch event and an overall fantastic series. I've done every single race that REV3 produced this year and can attest that they provide a level of organization, professionalism, and attention to detail that is unlike anything I've ever seen before in my eleven years in the sport. Everyone is taken care of at a REV3 event: the pros, the age-groupers, the spectators, the kids, and the staff. The staff itself is made up of friendly and approachable people who really seem to share a passion for triathlon. I have yet to meet an unhappy staff member or volunteer at a REV3 event, and I think that speaks volumes for the quality of the company. It's been a real pleasure getting to know the "behind the scenes" people this year and to witness the REV3 series really take off. I'm looking forward to what they have in store for 2012!

Back to the race itself. This was by far the largest professional field assembled for any REV3 event, and with a large field comes good depth. For the ladies there was an interesting mixture of ITU, middle-distance, and long-distance athletes on the start line. I knew that it would be tough to pull off another win in this field, but I felt that I had recovered well from the Full Rev at Cedar Point and that a top-three finish was definitely within reach. The relentless rolling hills on the bike and run certainly made it a "strength" course (which suits me) and the windy conditions on race day simply added to the toughness of the course.

The swim was unique in that the course went around a peninsula, so that we entered the water on one side and exited on the opposite side of the point. It was a non-wetsuit swim for the pros which is fine by me, although in retrospect with the speedy ITU girls in the mix I probably would have benefited more from a wetsuit legal swim. With my emphasis on long-distance racing these days I don't spend nearly the same amount of time in the pool as I used to and it becomes glaringly obvious when the short-course ladies come out to play! I exited the water about 2.5 minutes down from the lead group---not great, but nothing to panic about when there are 69.1 more miles of racing to go.

The hills began immediately out of T1. I overtook one of the other ladies on the first hill, then found myself trading back and forth with one of the pro men for a few miles. He eventually made a gap and I rode alone for a while until Magali Tissyre came up beside me. We traded back and forth a few times, and I must say it was really great riding with Magali for a couple of reasons: first, she is a very clean rider with a good understanding of the positioning rules. Secondly, at REV3 Knoxville earlier in the year she came zooming by (on a similar course) and I was not able to hang with her, so it was a good sign of my improved bike strength to be able to comfortably ride with her. I knew, though, that Magali is a dangerous runner and I did not want to get off the bike at the same time as her; I had to make a move at some point if I wanted to have any kind of cushion going into the run.

That move came when we rode up to Lauren Goss, one of the ITU super-swimmers in the field. I got slightly stuck behind the two of them going up a small hill and into a left-hand turn, and to stay legal I had to drop back a bit. It was a little weird how all the traffic converged at once; three cyclists, a USAT official motorcycle, and a media crew all going up this hill and through the turn at the same time. Once we made the turn I accelerated and flew right through the middle of the two other cyclists. I'm not sure if it surprised them or not, but it seemed to have been enough to make a bit of a gap.

Eventually I started catching glimpses of another rider up the road. I didn't know if it was a guy or a girl but that didn't matter: it was someone to try to catch! When I got to the little town of Pendleton I was surprised to find that the rider had suddenly gotten a LOT closer, and that the rider was Meredith Kessler. She is an uber-strong all-around triathlete who rode away from everybody at REV3 Portland in July so it was strange to be catching up to her so quickly. Then I realized why: she was riding standing up WITHOUT A SEAT!!! Talk about perseverance; by the end of the day she had ridden 20 miles standing up, then topped it off with the 2nd-fastest run split and 3rd place overall, only 1.5 minutes back of the win. That is one tough lady!

Once I passed Meredith I was sitting in 3rd place and that's where I stayed for the remainder of the ride. It's funny how I used to look forward to the end of the bike in a half-distance race because I would get so uncomfortable riding for that long, yet at the same time not be especially excited to run. Now I'm usually a little surprised that the end of the bike course comes so quickly but I'm eager to hop off and see how fast I can run. I left T2 about 2:45 behind the leader and with second place in my sights. Time to go fishing! I got a quick look at Magali and Meredith (!!!) coming into transition as I was starting the run, but tried to focus on what was up the road ahead of me.

This was by far the most exciting, competitive, duel-of-a-run that I've ever been a part of. The course was an awesome tangle of hills and turns, with one long challenging out-and-back section that allowed you a good look at where your competitors were. I could tell right away that I was gaining ground on second place; unfortunately just as I caught her she dropped out...I ran a few steps with the "2nd place" lead bike...and then was promptly overtaken by Meredith and Magali! I had been holding a good clip up to that point but they were obviously running faster---but not TOO much faster---so I decided to see if I could match their pace. It was FUN! We stuck in a little paceline for a bit, then Magali made a gap, followed by Meredith, and I just focused on not letting the "string" break. Eventually I saw some signs that Meredith might be cracking and I reeled her back in and made a move just before the far turnaround point at mile 7. I thought for sure that her legs had to be cooked by then, after her phenomenal stand-up effort riding the bike. I could see Magali up the road and it looked like she *might* be coming back to me a bit too. So I dug deep and ran hard...perhaps a bit too hard too soon because I started paying for it in the 10th and 11th miles. Meredith clawed her way back up and overtook me and at that point I couldn't respond. She established a gap that ended up being about 30 seconds by the end. Magali fought to the very end and passed long-time leader, Tenille Hoogland, within sight of the finish line. The final gap between 1st to 4th place was 2 minutes. It was an exciting finish, a great show to cap off the 2011 REV3 series, and I'm so thrilled to FINALLY have the fitness and speed to duke it out with the big girls.

At the end of the day, it was my third time this season (and ever!) cracking the 4:30 barrier in a half-iron race and my second time under the 1:30 mark for the run split. My run is what I'm most pleased with because I went into uncharted territory and actually ran 10 seconds faster than my open half-marathon PR. A little belief and a lot of hard work go a long way! I also wound up second place in the overall REV3 Pro Series which is a nice bonus as it wasn't even on my radar at the beginning of the year. I signed up for the REV3 races because I was ready for something new and I wanted to race in places that were easy for my family and friends to come to. REV3 delivered on both counts, and in so many more ways that I didn't even expect. Thanks again for a great year!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cedar Point Pics

Here are a few pictures from Cedar Point.

1) Joking around with Kate Major at the swim start (photo by Sue Hutter)
2) Caught smiling on the bike (photo by REV3)
3) Focused on NOT getting caught on the run (photo by Sue Hutter)
4) The joyous finish! (photo by REV3)
5) The world's best cheering squad (courtesy of Betsy Evers)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Running Down A Dream: A Big Win at REV3 Cedar Point

Earlier this year I had a "good" triathlon dream where I found myself running down the finishing chute in first place for my first win as a professional at a big race. This was unusual since every single other triathlon dream I've ever had has been more of the nightmare variety where I'm late for the swim start, my helmet is nowhere to be found when I arrive at my bike in T1, or my wetsuit has inexplicably shrunk and I can't fit into it no matter how much I wriggle and suck in my gut. It's funny how the mind works when we're asleep, latching onto our deepest fears and desires and presenting them plainly yet fleetingly during our moments of repose. I haven't been able to rid my subconscious completely of these bad triathlon dreams, but I've held that one rare perfect dream close to my heart all season long; and as I watched my fitness progress through the hours of consistent hard work I allowed myself to believe that perhaps the dream could become tangible reality after all...someday.

Well, "someday" arrived on September 11, 2011 when I surprised myself by winning the REV3 Cedar Point Full Rev (iron-distance) race in Sandusky, Ohio. I'm still over the moon with this outcome! It was one of those rare near-perfect days when everything simply fell into place and it *almost* seemed easy. I had just two minor blips during the bike leg (keep reading for the full scoop) but otherwise things went smoothly and the race ended up being a great celebration of all the hard work that has gone into this year. It was actually a double victory, as fellow Purdue University grad Andrew Starykowicz won the men's race. Andrew and I both got our starts in multi-sport with the Purdue Triathlon Club, and REV3 Cedar Point was the first major triathlon win for either one of us. Boiler up!

Here's how my day unfolded: I led wire-to-wire, which was a scenario beyond my wildest dreams! I fully expected super-swimmer Hillary Biscay to lead out of the water; she is one of the strongest swimmers on the long-course circuit and has more than 50 Ironman races under her belt. I had a great start in the sludge-y shallows of Lake Erie and was able to establish an early lead, thanks to the dolphin dive training from my draft-legal racing years. I felt good and quickly found a solid rhythm. It was a wetsuit-legal swim, which honestly doesn't matter to me one way or the other as long as the water temperature is measured accurately; I'm equally comfortable in my BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit, PZ3TX, or PointZero swimskin. I was waiting for Hillary to come zooming by, but in the meantime I focused on keeping my stroke balanced. By the start of the second lap I had become acutely aware that my goggles were too tight for this long of a distance, so that was a good motivation to keep swimming fast and get out of the water and onto the bike. When I exited the water I took a peek back and was surprised to see a bit of a gap back to the next swimmer. Bonus! To borrow from Chris McCormack's book, I had built myself a nice little "margin of error" early in the race.

T1 went smoothly; my Rudy Project Wingspan helmet was waiting for me right where it should be in transition, I grabbed my bike, did a good flying mount (thanks again to my ITU days!) and settled down to work. One really fun thing about the bike is that I got to ride right by my host family's house at both the start and finish of the course. Thank you Krista at REV3 for setting me up with this homestay, and thanks to Hope and Roger for your hospitality and support the entire race weekend! I really enjoyed the bike course; it didn't have the hills that I loved so much at Quassy, but I grew up only 3 hours east of Sandusky and the gentle rollers through the cornfields feel like home to me. I felt strong for most of the ride, with just one slightly down patch early in the second loop when I wondered if I had gone too hard at the beginning of the ride.

The two blips I alluded to earlier occurred late in the first loop; neither one cost me a lot of time (maybe 30-45 seconds each) but they were momentarily jarring. Blip #1 was a right-hand turn that was marked which should not have been a turn at all; due to an unfinished section of road the REV3 team had been forced to change the course a couple of days before the race and this was an arrow from the original course that had inadvertently been left on the road. Whoops! Several of the pro men rode extra miles, and the two guys near to me at that point (as well as the camera crew) all made the wrong turn. We quickly realized our mistake and turned around to get back on track, and one of the guys (I believe it was Brandon Marsh) stopped and peeled the errant arrow off of the road to prevent the entire field from straying off course. That was a classy thing to do; I'm a bit ashamed I didn't think of it myself.

The other blip was that I was initially given a stand-down penalty for a dropped water bottle---which I didn't drop! Just past the town of Berlin a motorcycle pulled up beside me and the camera crew, and a race official called out "Number 27, pull over and stand down for a penalty!" I slowed down and asked what I had done, and he said that I had dropped a water bottle at the last turn. I looked down at my bike and saw two water bottles---which is all that I had carried the whole day! I was flabbergasted and tried to explain that despite having 3 bottle cages on my bike, I had purposefully only been carrying two bottles all day long, and seeing as I still had two bottles there could be no way I had dropped one of them. I told the official he could look at the race footage if he didn't believe me, that the camera crew had been following me most of the day. I'm not sure why I said that, considering that it would have taken them longer than what my penalty was worth to go back and review the race footage...but I'm glad I did say it because it made the camera guys realize what was going on, and they looked at their own motorcycle and realized that THEY had dropped a water bottle!!! The camera crew then came to my rescue, revealed to the official that it was in fact they who had dropped a bottle, and the race official grudgingly let me go. He even apologized a little further up the road which I appreciated. I have all the respect in the world for the race officials, and in the grand scheme of things it wouldn't have been the end of my race to just keep quiet and serve the penalty...but I knew I was not in the wrong, and that if I let a bad call like that go it would have somehow been an insult to my integrity.

After those mishaps, the rest of the bike went smoothly. I stayed right on track with my nutrition plan (consisting of Kona Punch PowerGels, PowerBar Energy Bites, and boiled potatoes). It cooled down a bit for the last ten miles or so and there was evidence of rain on the roads, but I didn't get caught in any downpours all day long. I was able to build my lead a bit more throughout the bike, so I hit T2 with a decent cushion. The big question mark was if it was going to be enough to hold off the strong runners in the field. 26.2 miles is a long way! Kate Major (a.k.a "Mrs. Consistency") has been running me down all season long, and Kathleen Caulkins was riding well and is a dangerous runner. My run splits the first several miles made me a little nervous; they seemed a bit fast but I felt good and decided to adopt my "zen running" attitude that I generally follow in training. There are a couple of spots at the far end of the run course that give you a look at where the competition is and it appeared that Kathleen and Kate were gaining ground. I tried not to panic, to instead focus on holding my rhythm and remind myself that it's a long day and you never know what might happen. My next look at these ladies was at the beginning of lap #2; Kate had just moved into second place and Kathleen was walking. Her day unfortunately ended early but Kate was still creeping up behind me. I thought, "If I don't blow up I should be able to hold on for second place." At about mile 21 that mantra surprisingly changed. I got a good look at Kate on two successive out-and-back sections, realized she was about a mile behind and losing ground, did the mental math...and that's when it dawned on me: I was going to win this thing!

The last 5 miles were a real pleasure to run. I know that's a little batty to say after already having covered 135+ miles on your own manpower but it's true. I had the best cheering squad of family and friends that you could possibly hope for yelling for me at various points along the course the entire day, plus the incredibly supportive REV3 crew, spectators, volunteers, other competitors, and the positive energy of a whole network of friends and family who couldn't make the trip but were still rooting for me remotely throughout the day. Thank you one and all for your part in making the day so special! Running down the finishing chute, waving the American flag and lifting that finishing tape up above my head was an even sweeter feeling than I had imagined in my dream back in the beginnings of this season.

The breakdown: swim 56:09 bike 5:05:10 run 3:14:12 overall 9:19:15

This is a huge breakthrough for me, with an overall improvement from my lone other iron-distance triathlon by 48 minutes. The biggest chunks of time came off the bike and run splits. I've been known as more of a swimmer/biker so it's especially satisfying to throw down a respectable run split, proving to myself and those who doubted my running ability that I am becoming what I aim to be: an all-around strong triathlete. REV3 Cedar Point 2011 is absolutely the best performance I have ever put together. The momentum is with me now, and I'm excited to see what the future holds!

Thanks to: REV3---you guys are like family to me now!; my awesome cheering section consisting of Mom, Betsy, Zach, Courtney, Lucy, Zuzana, Alex, Mishka, and Jill; Hope and Roger Franklin for hosting me; Albert for accepting the inevitability of early mornings; Rich for his company on the long brick days; and to my sponsors PowerBar, BlueSeventy, Rudy Project, Wasatch Running Center, and Maxxis for their support.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Back To The Midwest

It's funny, people out here in Utah think they live in the Midwest and that where I'm originally from (Elkhart, IN) is "back east". Little do they know! So I'm packing tonight to head back to the true Midwest for an action-packed week of family/friends time with a little bit of racing thrown in for spice. I've been looking forward to this trip all summer long and now it's finally here! Three top priorities for the week: meeting my new week-old nephew Brayden; picking my niece Maddie up from kindergarten on Thursday (she will get a kick out of that!); and venturing over to Sandusky, OH for a little iron-distance triathlon hosted by REV3 on Sunday. Woohoo! I'm currently sitting in third place in the overall REV3 Pro Series and I have a shot at moving up after this race. Can't wait to get out there and celebrate all the hard work I've been putting in! And I'll have a nice big cheering section of family and friends to help me along the way...that is always a great boost. I'm so lucky!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Good Day At The Office

Just a quick recap of the Mountain Tropic Tri held at Bear Lake last weekend and produced by BBSC Tri. I did the half ironman distance with the purpose of using it as a final tune-up race going into the REV3 Cedar Point Full Rev (iron-distance) next month. It was low-key, close to home, and the timing was just about perfect. I have done one or two BBSC events in the past and they do a good job with race organization, and Bear Lake is simply a stunning backdrop for an event like this.

The night before the race was a little hectic. Albert and I had the dogs and were camping---as it turns out, everybody and their mother was also camping at the same campground as us. I have never before seen so many people crowded into a campground! It was a zoo, and with loudmouth Suzzie telling us whenever a little kid ran by or if there was another dog cruising through if was far from a relaxing experience. Next time we're going primitive!

The race itself went really well for me: decent swim, strong bike and run. I chose to swim in my a speedsuit rather than a wetsuit because the water temp. was just on that fine line of being too warm for a wetsuit. The men had about a 3 minute head start so there were definitely people to chase down once my wave got started. I ended up exiting the water just on the heels of another girl and with only a handful of men out ahead of us. My transition was quick and I mounted the bike in first place for the women. The bike course consisted of two out-and-back sections, the first on the busier west side of the lake and the second on the more remote (and more beautiful!) east side of the water. The nature of the course gave you a good look at where you were in relation to the other racers. There were just a couple of men up the road from me so I got to work on trying to close the gap. I caught one of them but was passed by another, so by the time I hit T2 there were still two men up the road from me, the closest one having about a 2 minute lead. I decided to "go fishing" and try to reel them in, using the game to pull me to a good run split. My little game worked and I passed both men by the time we hit mile 4. From there it was a matter of keeping my rhythm and staying on top of fueling, which was really good practice for the times in the full distance next month when I'll be spending a lot of time in my own head.

The end result was 1st place female as well as first overall, with a new PR at the half ironman distance. And it was at almost 6000ft. elevation! All in all a very successful training day and a good indication of things to come next month.

Also a shout out to my client Nate Marcotte for his stellar day, placing 3rd overall male and improving his half ironman time by a good 40 minutes. Way to go Nate, and good luck at IM Louisville next weekend!

Thanks to Albert for taking care of the dogs while I was racing, and to the Philpots for their cheers out on the more lonesome parts of the course.

Next up: REV3 Cedar Point on Sept. 11th!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shooting the Gap

I arrived back home early this morning (the 12:30am type of early) after a quick little jaunt to Illinios/Indiana/Ohio for the Giant Eagle Triathlon in Columbus. This race caught my eye after the Battle at Midway (aka BAM, one of my all-time favorite local Utah races) was sadly cancelled this year and I was left looking for an alternative Olympic-distance event in late July. HFP Racing did a nice job assembling some great corporate support (Giant Eagle, Muscle Milk) and put together a weekend-long multi-sport festival which included a strong professional field in Sunday's race. It was kind of fun to "step down" in distance and test myself against some really speedy short-course specialists at this point of the season when most people are pretty fit.

Unfortunately I was coming down with a bug and never really felt great at any point of the race, but I was able to squeak into the money with a 7th-place finish in a respectable time of 2:01:59. It was a FAST course with the top five ladies all breaking the 2-hour mark; in retrospect I'm pleased to have been in the same zip code on an off day. My swim was horrendous, probably one of the worst open water swims I've ever had. The water was a steamy 84.9 degrees which is bad news for me; I'm not sure if it's having a lot of surface area from being tall, growing up doing 6am swim practices in an unheated outdoor pool, or if I just plain run hot in the water...but I am a much happier clam swimming in cold water.

Whatever the case, it was hot and I swam poorly. This made me mad so I started off the bike like a bat out of hell. The first section of the course was on some nice smooth rolling roads in the area just south of Alum Creek State Park, before continuing onto "The Main Drag" (Hwy. 23/High Street) for a straight shot south into downtown Columbus. It's neat doing a point-to-point course into a big city and I have to hand it to the local police department and race volunteers for doing a great job directing traffic at the intersections. There was, however, a glitch in between the intersections. While the far right-hand lane was coned off for the race the entire way down Hwy. 23, there were still some cars parked in that lane once we got closer to the downtown area. It was feasible to ride to the very left of the coned-off lane to squeeze by the parked cars, or if it was a really tight fit you could even swing outside of the cones into the left lane and still be relatively safe. The real problem occurred when a city bus stopped in the left-hand lane directly beside a car that was parked in the right-hand/bike course lane to let passengers exactly the moment when I was barreling through at 24 miles-per-hour. My choices were to a) slam on my brakes, b) swing suddenly out around the bus on the left-hand side into on-coming traffic, or c) try to shoot the gap between the car and the bus. I wasn't sure exactly who/what was behind me so I made the split-second decision to stay in my lane and try to zip between the two vehicles before the bus door actually opened and people started getting off. I almost made it. No one was hurt and I didn't have to come to a complete stop, but I'm certain that if the bus passengers were not fully awake as they started climbing off the bus they surely were jolted to attention by my yelling! Nothing profane, just a string of loud "heads-up-heads-up-heads-ups"!

Once I got past that obstacle the rest of the ride was uneventful. T2 and the finish line area were in a really pretty grassy square called McFerson Commons in the Arena District. I hopped off the bike with two other girls hot on my heels so I took off hard on the run to see if I could drop them. The first one caught me about a mile in and I wasn't able to match her speed, but when the second girl pulled up beside me I pushed the pace and really raced her for a solid mile on the backstretch of the first loop. It felt good to have the mental and physical strength to be able to do that. Eventually I cracked though and she opened up a gap that remained pretty constant until the finish line.

This race was a good reminder that there are always going to be things beyond your control; it’s a matter of preparing for the more constant variables and then keeping a cool head when faced with unexpected mishaps. I can do things in training to prepare more effectively for swimming faster in warm water and for improving my ability to hang tough in a duel on the run. The bus/car incident, on the other hand, was one of those random things that you don’t ever imagine being an issue during a race. Sure, the event company could have posted “No Parking” signs the night before the race and then towed away any stray cars that were there race morning. But the fact of the matter is that they didn’t and I had to decide how to react in one of those weird perfect storm situations…and then carry on with the task at hand.

Overall it was a fun little trip to the Midwest despite having a sub-par performance. I flew into Chicago, took the Orange Line train downtown, hopped on the South Shore Train bound for South Bend, and then met my mom at the train station for the 40 minute drive to Elkhart. It was a dry run of the same travel arrangements that I’ll follow in 5 weeks when I head back to the Midwest for the REV3 Cedar Point race. It was great having my mom and brother out supporting me, as well as my dear friend Courtney and her 9-yr-old daughter Lucy. Lou---you did a great job blowing the vuvzela!

Thanks to Shannon Kurek and the HFP Racing crew for organizing this event; to Ryan and Jill Cantzler for their awesome hospitality in absentia; to Mom, Adam, Courtney and Lucy for coming out to cheer; to Nicki and Megan for the tasty post-race banquet; to Albert for tending the garden and taking care of the dogs; and to PowerBar, BlueSeventy, Rudy Project, Maxxis, and Wasatch Running Center for their continued support.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

REV3 Portland

It's been seven days now and the dust has settled after my latest adventure in the Pacific Northwest. Albert and I loaded up the car with camping and triathlon gear, settled the dogs down in the way back and headed northwest for a week-long race-cation in Portland, OR. We were lucky enough to have family to stay with for the majority of the trip (спасибо Edward and Valentina!), and even more family and friends to come out and cheer on race day. Many thanks to the REV3 crew for their impeccable (albeit inadvertently so) choice in race locations!

The days leading up to the race were filled with similar activities to what we normally do at home; some swim/bike/run mixed in exercising the dogs. Our "challenged" dog does not have very nice manners around other canines but we're working on improving that flaw. There is a really great dog park close to Gresham where we took Sherman and Suzzie almost everyday for some much-need social skills training and hiking. It was just what the doggie doctor ordered! Suzzie is not 100% cured but she's doing a lot better's a relief to know she's not going to eat every single other dog we come across---just the smaller tastier ones. ;)

Back to the race. I was much more relaxed going into this race than I have been for the last few events and was able to sleep soundly the night before. I chalk it up to being in a familiar place doing familiar things. For once race morning did not come early! A solid night's sleep, plus traveling one time zone west and having a rare 8:00am start time made for a nicely relaxed morning. The big question mark as everyone was setting up their gear was whether or not it would be a wetsuit legal swim for the pros. The answer was no which was fine by me; I had packed my trusty BlueSeventy PointZero swimskin just in case and I prefer a cooler swim anyway. The women's pro field took off at 8:05am, five minutes after the men. I chose a spot to the far right of the field for the beach run-in because I prefer to avoid the tangle of arms and legs and find some clean water as quickly as possible. The sprint to the first buoy was FAST. After the first turn the pace let up and I was able to swing around a couple of girls and settle into a nice rhythm in second place. The leader's feet were too far away to catch (holy smokes Meredith, that was a great swim!) but I focused on keeping my turnover up and my head in the game. Ha---keeping the turnover up is all relative of course; I saw some footage of the swim and compared to the other girls my arms move in slow motion! But then again, my wingspan is about twice as wide as any of the other ladies who were racing...that makes a difference, right?!

I exited Blue Lake about a minute behind Meredith but with another minute lead on the next pack of swimmers. The run to transition was almost a half mile long, the highlight of which was seeing my sister and her husband cheering for me somewhere along the path through the park. Have I mentioned how great it is to race in places where I've got family/friends to come out and whoop it up?! T1 went smoothly and I got out onto the FLAT FLAT FLAT bike course quickly. The original course was going to be extremely hilly with the swim/transition/finish all in downtown Portland but there were some last-minute permit issues and the REV3 crew had to scramble to find a new venue so that the show could go on. They did an incredible job bringing it all together and the REV3 experience did not suffer one bit from the eleventh-hour changes.

The bike was two out-and-back laps on a road flanked by the Columbia River on one side and the Portland Airport on the other. There was a nice view of Mt. Hood on the second half of each loop---if you had the presence of mind to lift your eyes from the road for a minute to see it. (I did.) Some people might assume that a flat course is an easy course, but staying focused and keeping the pedal to the metal for 56 flat miles is not a walk in the park. There wasn't much wind to speak of, but there was a section of rough and "humming" road that took some mental fortitude to endure. I rode a good part of the first lap keying off of two of the slower pro men, trying to control the damage that Meredith was doing to the rest of the field while increasing the gap between me and my pursuers. I knew I would need a considerable cushion going into the run because it is my weakest link and there were some fleet-footed ladies on my tail. On the second bike lap I focused on catching whoever was up the road, which happened to be a string of age-groupers on their first lap. At one point I even tried racing an airplane that was just revving up for take-off...I thought I had it for a minute but then it kicked into a higher gear and left me in the dust. :)

The run: it was probably in my best interest that it ended up being a flat run course. I've been working hard at sealing this chink in the armor but there's still a lot of work to do; at this point it's easier for me to hold my form and pace together on flat terrain. I was greeted at the start of the run by my cheering squad which was a nice boost and put a smile on my face. The first few miles ticked by pretty quickly and I was pleased to settle into a relatively comfortable 6:45 pace. If I held it together I would be able to break 1:30 which would be a first for me in a triathlon. The initial out-and-back section of the run gave me a good look at who was behind me and what kind of gaps there were. Time for some mental math! I figured it would be a real battle to hang onto second place and even third place might be questionable, so I buckled down and kept my feet moving as fast as I could. It took Kate until mile 8 to catch me which is 2-3 miles longer than at Quassy so there's an improvement! Coming back from the far turnaround I got another look at the field and knew that barring a complete blow-up I would come in third. Miles 11 and 12 were long straights that were mentally challenging, but they were followed by the nice surprise of a somewhat short mile 13. Rounding the last bend into the finishing chute was awesome and I'm sure I was grinning like the Cheshire cat. At the end of the day I ran a 1:28+ split with an overall time of 4:25 and change, both of which were significant improvements for me.

It's such a great feeling to FINALLY have gotten my act together in training and to see the consistent hard work paying off. I've definitely got some good momentum going right now and I'm eager to keep it rolling through the second half of the season. Five races down, five to go!

Thanks go to: Charlie, Eric, Krista, and the rest of the REV3 staff and volunteers for making this race happen; Stu, Jen, and the entire camera crew for the great coverage; Albert, Valentina, Edward, Val, Kira, John, Rachel, Nathan, Marie, Daniel, Dave, and Kara for all coming out to cheer; the ladies field for the strong competition; my clients/athletes for understanding the week-long absence; and to my sponsors PowerBar, BlueSeventy, Rudy Project, Maxxis, and Wasatch Running Center for continuing to support my athletic endeavors.

Results so far:
REV3 Costa Rica 8th
REV3 Knoxville 5th
REV3 Quassy 8th
Dino Tri 1st
REV3 Portland 3rd

Giant Eagle Tri (Olympic)
Mountain Tropic Tri (Half)
REV3 Cedar Point (Full)
REV3 South Carolina (Half)
ITU Long Course World Champs (a really weird longer-than-half-but-shorter-than-full distance)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Getting It Done At Dino Tri

Last weekend I competed in the annual Dinoland Triathlon in Vernal, Utah. I must say it certainly is nice to do a "local" race every once in a while, with minimal travel logistics to organize beforehand. Nothing like packing up the tent, hopping in the car with the dogs, hitting the road for a few hours and're there! This race is fun to do for several reasons: it's well-organized, has a nicely challenging course with a unique finish on a high school track, and it features a bit of a prize purse which typically draws in some quality athletes from Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. This year was no exception. There were some slight changes to the bike course due to road construction and the run course was entirely revamped (which I LOVED!), but the heart of the event stayed true. So did the finishing sprint around the track!

I came into the Dino Tri in the middle of a big block of training so I was not exactly fresh on race day, but my mindset was to get out and race hard to get in a good tune-up going into REV3 Portland (on July 10th). The swim is held at Red Fleet State Park in a gorgeous little piece of water with sandstone walls. The elite men and women started together, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the size of the field. This is a smaller race so it made for a relatively friendly swim---not much clobbering going on. I was in a little pack of 3 or 4 swimmers for the first lap, then was able to build my effort and create a bit of a gap on the second lap. I came out of the water in 4th position, with two men and one woman up the (steep) boat ramp ahead of me. I peeled off my BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit and transitioned quickly, hitting the mount line ahead of the girl who out-swam me. So I was sitting in first place among the ladies, a position I was determined to hold for the rest of the day.

The first two miles of this bike course are downright tough; the climbs are reminiscent of the hills coming out of the water at Wildflower, only they occur as soon as you get your pedals moving. This was my third time doing the Dino Tri so I knew what to expect but it's a humbling experience nonetheless. I'm sure the altitude has something to do with it as well---I believe Vernal is about 1000 feet higher than Salt Lake, and coming out of a hard swim and having to tackle those hills right away on the bike makes you acutely aware of your lungs!

The other challenging part of this bike course is the false flats. After the initial climbs out of Red Fleet there is a nice bombing downhill section, then a long section where you wonder why it suddenly feels like your brakes are rubbing. Once you hit the turnaround it becomes obvious that you were actually going gradually uphill the whole time; then you can really turn it on and feel like a rockstar! Overall I was able to put in a solid effort on the bike and built about another minute onto my lead over the next female competitor. Two men had passed me early in the bike leg, so at this point I was sitting in 5th place overall.

Once I hit T2 I was ready for a good run. I had seen at the bike turnaround that my friend BJ (who is a helluva runner) was riding with the second place female; my goal was to hold him off as long as possible. So I took off like a bat out of hell to see if I could be "out of sight, out of mind". It worked until maybe 2.5 miles in when BJ came roaring up behind me. Then my strategy changed to hanging onto his coattails as long as I could...which wasn't long, but I was pleasantly surprised to keep him (almost) in sight the rest of the run. The final 300 meters on the track was a blast, and hitting the finishing tape first among the ladies (and 6th place including the men!) felt great. I found out afterwards that my official run split was 39:45---my first time ever under 40 minutes on a legitimate 10K run course. I know that's nothing compared to what the top ladies in the sport are running, but it's a step in the right direction and a good sign going into Portland.

Thanks go out to the following for this race: Mark Mason and the entire Dino Tri team for putting on a great event; BJ for the extra motivation out on the course; Albert, Suzzie, and Sherman for their cheers and woofs; my training partner Rich for humbling me into running hard off the bike; BlueSeventy, PowerBar, Rudy Project, Maxxis, and Wasatch Running Center for their continued support; and to the community of Vernal for supporting this awesome event. Can't wait to come back and defend the title next year!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

REV3 Knoxville and Quassy Videos

REV3 does a great job with media coverage, including post-race recaps. Here are the links to the Knoxville and Quassy event have to wait until the very end of the Knoxville one for any mention of me (and they slaughter my name but I'm in there nonetheless!) but I get some good coverage on the Quassy video. And they got my name right on that one. :)

REV3 Quassy Trip in Pictures