Monday, June 25, 2012

Top Ten Reasons To Do The Dino Tri

This past weekend I drove over to Vernal for the sixth running of the Dinoland Triathlon. It's a small local Utah race---that's part of it's charm---but it SHOULD be a much bigger race. And here are the Top Ten Reasons why:

10. A great host hotel in a prime location.

9. Free Subway meal!

8. Friendly volunteers who are THRILLED to be out on the course.

7. The fun, challenging race course with distinctive pterodactyl signage.

6. A passionate race director who announces every single athlete across the line.

5. Ice-cream and a party atmosphere at the finish line.

4. Location location location! Vernal is growing, and it's a stone's throw away from real live (okay, used-to-be-live) Dinosaur tracks, Steinaker State Park, Red Fleet State Park, and Flaming Gorge. It's a great place to play.

3. Finishing the race with a lap on the track is a very cool thing.

2. Cash and rocks for prizes---who could ask for more?!

And the Number One reason to do the Dino Tri is....

1. The race director will give you a FREE pre-race haircut. Who DOESN'T want a mowhawk?

See you there next year!

Special thanks to: Mark Mason for the hospitality and for organizing another great event; Tyler Cloward at Fezzari Bicycles; Matt Howard and the crew at The Bike Shoppe for getting my bike in tip-top shape; and my sponsors REV3, Pearl Izumi, Powerbar, Recovery Pump, Blueseventy, Rudy Project, and Maxxis for the continued support.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sweet Redemption

So my little science experiment of racing half-iron races six days apart was an odd mixture of success and failure. The success side of the story is that I had a great performance in Boise, particularly on the run, which completely redeemed my abysmal run from Quassy the previous Sunday. The failure side was due to the weather, which obviously was completely out of my control. I'm sure most people who are tuned into triathlon have heard by now about the wacky conditions on race day---the rain, the cold, the winds, and the snow in the foothills. It was WILD, so wild in fact that the race organizers made the call to shorten the bike segment from 56 miles to 15 miles because of concerns of hypothermia. That is a rather significant amount to put it lightly; it equates roughly to 2 hours less of racing in an event that for the ladies is in the four-and-a-half-hour range. So technically I failed to complete my science experiment, but I'm okay with that because what I learned from yesterday's outing was likely much more valuable than what I would have gained from completing the intended "dirty double". But let me backtrack a little to give you the whole story.

I have to admit it was a crazy turnaround from doing Quassy and visiting my relatives back east, what with the travel, the time change, working a couple of days, then packing up the gear and driving to Boise EARLY in the morning Friday to make the mandatory 10am pro meeting. In mulling things over during the week I became progressively disgusted with my Quassy performance and when Friday rolled around I wasn't exactly in the most upbeat mood. (If you read the post below recapping the Quassy race you might detect a bit of that displeasure.) The fact that the race was in driving distance from home also contributed to a more low-key (read: less excited) feeling about racing...and then there were the weather reports! I hadn't really thought too much about it before the race meeting but afterwards I began to get a little nervous about what the conditions on race day would be. But I kept telling myself that we have no control over the weather so it's no use worrying about it and that everyone has to deal with the same thing. So just deal with it!

Race morning was cold and wet as predicted. Boise 70.3 is unique in that it has an afternoon start time rather than the usual butt-crack-of-dawn send off. Usually I would revel in having a more casual morning, but on this day the prolonged wait for go-time just allowed the sinking feeling in my stomach to drop all the way down to my toes. The rain was not letting up and it seemed to be getting colder by the minute. Luckily Albert and the doggies came along to play sherpa for me so I was able to steal some extra time staying warm in the car before having to set out on the half-mile trek up the dirt road to T1 with my bike and gear bags in the steady rain. Everything was a sodden mess and there were (smart!) people who had worn their wetsuits to the transition area in order to stay warm. It was the most hectic pre-race set-up I have ever experienced, very much like the nightmares I sometimes have about rushing around last minute and discovering that I'm missing a vital piece of triathlon gear---like my bike or my wetsuit. Luckily I had all my gear, but the trick was to keep things as dry as possible for as long as possible, while staying as warm as possible. I did a bit of a run warm-up, visited a my secret bathroom, then it was time to put on the wetsuit. Sometime during this time frame the call was made to shorten the bike from the original 56 miles to a straight shot into town, roughly 15 miles or so. So we would be doing a 1.2 mile swim, 15 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run. Hmm. It was when this announcement was made that the seriousness of the weather conditions really hit me and I began to realize that the day was going to be less about racing and more about surviving.

The Swim
I was not a happy camper in the water. I started off well but then my goggles almost immediately fogged up and I had no idea of where I was going. It would have been ridiculous for me to try swimming blindly, so I paused to clear them out and almost got run over from behind. I got going again and then found myself in the exact situation that I was in the previous weekend, stuck in a side-by-side stalemate with another swimmer. I HATE that, especially when I'm on the right, so I took the initiative this time to cut across behind the other girl and get a little bit of space. Ah, that's better! But then my goggles fogged up again. I think it must have been the differences in air, water, and my body temperature that caused this because I'd only worn the goggles once before. I actually stopped to clear them out two more times throughout the swim. Irritating, but not a deal breaker in this sort of "survival" race. The swim itself got choppier further out from shore and the back stretch was really pretty horrendous. I think I drank about half of the reservoir on that middle leg, and I swear the buoys kept moving. I kept telling myself that if I was having that tough of a time in the water that the weaker swimmers must really be hating life, so I should just "suck it up, princess"! By this point my extremities were reaching the numbing point, and I was really happy to round the final buoy and head back towards shore. I hit the ramp in 2nd place with 3rd right on my tail, and about 2:30 behind super-swimmer Jodie Swallow.

The Bike
Before the swim start some of the guys had been debating whether or not to wear their wetsuits on the bike. It was THAT cold, and apparently a good number of them did it. I really wasn't sure what I would end up doing until I got close to the end of the swim, when I knew that my core temperature was going to be just fine on the bike. It was my hands and feet that were numb, which made the transition into helmet, arm-warmers, and bike shoes rather clumsy. In retrospect I could have done without the arm warmers but I don't think that the time spent putting them on really impacted the end result. I started the bike very tentatively right behind the girl who came out of the water with me, then passed her once we had made it down the big hill from the dam. From that point there was just the one tricky section on the bike path under the bridge, then it was pretty clean sailing into town. The roads were wet but the rain stopped and the sun started peeking through the clouds. I couldn't feel my feet at all and my hands felt like they were frozen to my aerobars (I hadn't bothered with gloves because I realized in transition that I lacked the dexterity to pull them on) but at least I was able to shift and control my brakes when needed. The best strategy seemed to be to just push really hard on the bike to get warmed up, and because the distance was so short that a hard effort would still leave plenty in the tank for the run. By the time I hit the neighborhoods going into town I was actually enjoying myself and had a big smile plastered on my face.

The Run
The overwhelming sensation I had during T2 was the complete LACK of sensation in my feet. Somehow I managed to guide my feet into my running shoes and I took off in pursuit of the leader. It felt like I was running on pegs for the first three miles, and then I wondered for the next two miles if I had accidentally left a sock bunched up in the bottom of my left shoe. Finally after about 5 miles my feet thawed out. The run was two flat loops on a bike path along the river, with a nice out-and-back section at one end where you could get a good look at where everyone was. I felt great and was pleasantly surprised to see that my lead over 3rd place just about matched the lead that first place had over me. I've learned to never count anybody out though---including myself---so I focused on maintaining my rhythm and pushing hard to keep away from the pursuers and to try to whittle down the leader's advantage. The run was great for spectators and it was AWESOME to see so many familiar faces and have so many people cheer for me by name (& pronouncing it correctly!). Lap #1 flew by, and by the time I started Lap #2 there were tons of age-groupers out on the course which also helped to give my feet wings. It was when I hit the out-and-back section for the second time and got a look at my advantage over 3rd pace that I knew I could do it. The finishing chute was bliss, and as you can see from the pictures I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.

The Lesson
Finishing 2nd was a pretty awesome feeling, but even better was the feeling of validation in my running ability. I've worked hard at becoming a better runner this year but while it has shown in open running events, I have struggled to pull it together in a triathlon. My run split was twelve minutes faster than what I ran last weekend, it was the 3rd fastest of the day in a field of strong runners, and I set my own personal half-marathon record in the process. Granted, the course was less hilly than Quassy and the shortened bike made for fresher running legs, but there is a key lesson to be learned from that. If I can learn to swallow my pride and tone it down on the bike somewhat, then I can conserve energy for the run and be competitive with the top girls. A little more training and the courage to take that leap of faith should do the trick.

...go to my sponsors, to Albert and the doggies for sharing the trip, the race organizers for making a good call to keep us safe while still allowing the show to go on, the volunteers for standing out in the cold rain, Kevin Robson for inspiring me to commit to the race, Miriam and her girls for making the trip up to cheer, and to all the other friends/acquaintances/athletes/random spectators who cheered me on my way to the finish line. It was an epic day!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Quassy Pics

Enjoy the shots from Quassy! The "thumbs up" photo is thanks to Eric Wynn/Rev3, the rest are courtesy of my wonderful hostess Kim DuBord. She cut 13 minutes off her time from last year in the Quassy Olympic (in horrific conditions too!)...we're chalking part of it up to the fact that she wore the Recovery Pump Boots the night before. :)

Quassy Redux

With a few days to consider the 2012 edition of REV3 Quassy from the rear view mirror, I've realized that I basically recreated a mirror image performance to what I did at this event last year. The funny thing is that the events of the past year have completely altered my perspective. In 2011, I was over the moon with coming off the bike in second place---it was at the time "hands-down the most thrilling moment of my triathlon career"---and landing in 8th place at the end of the day in a race that has been informally dubbed the "June World Championships". This time around I took 9th place in an almost identical time, with remarkably similar splits, and quite frankly I'm not too pleased with the result. On one hand, it's reassuring to know I'm on track compared to last year because I was able to achieve some pretty big mid- and late-season breakthroughs in 2011; it's an indication of good things to come in the long run. However, with greater success comes a higher level of expectation. I do not want an exact repeat of last season, I'm looking for an improvement upon it. Armed with a little more experience and confidence this season, along with some improvements to my training, I simply expect better of myself. I came into Quassy prepared to be competitive but I simply didn't execute. The good news is that I can learn from the mental and tactical errors that I made. The even better news is that I have a shot at redemption very soon---this weekend in fact! Yep, that's right. I'm performing my own personal science experiment on racing and recovery by doing two half-iron events 6 days apart. Wish me luck! But first, a quick breakdown of what happened at Quassy:

The Swim
It was a non-wetsuit swim in Lake Quassapaug for the pro field which suits me just fine. I figure that as a "bigger" girl a colder swim in cool air temperatures is better for me because it bothers me less than some of the smaller ladies. I got off well in my Blueseventy swim skin with some quick dolphin dives, but then found myself stuck in a stalemate with another swimmer which essentially blocked me from catching the feet of the leaders. We were swimming side-by-side at the same pace which doesn't do either swimmer any favors and try as I might I just could not break out of this vortex. We continued in this maddening fashion until finally the other swimmer must have gotten tired of it too and she cut behind me. From then on it was clear water but the lead pack was gone. I exited the water in 5th place about 1 minute down from the leaders. Not insurmountable by any means, but definitely not the smartest swim I've ever done.

The Bike
My mission once out of the water was to get to the lead of the race as soon as possible. In retrospect this was probably a mistake but I just couldn't help myself, I was having so much FUN. I flew through the transition, mounted my Fezzari T5 and strapped my feet into my Pearl Izumi shoes, then settled down to work. The first pack came back to me pretty quickly and by Mile 3 I had overtaken them. However, my lead was short-lived as Heather Wurtele came motoring by soon after. I tried to key off her for as long as I could but she just kept inching away. Somewhere (Mile 30 perhaps?) bad news came zooming by in the form of Angela Naeth. Last year Naeth did not catch me until about 4 miles into the run so the sight of her Pearl Izumi kit this early in the ride was not especially welcome. Either I was stinking it up out there or she was having an unbelievable ride! At the single out-and-back section of the course I realized that Mirinda Carfrae was right on my tail. I tried to shake her but she was determined and we ended up arriving at T2 within seconds of each other.

The Run
A much as I love the bike course at Quassy, it was the run that I was most looking forward to this time around. I've put a lot of work into my running this spring and I was excited to have a second stab at conquering the legendary hills. The first three miles felt GREAT (as is evidenced by the goofy photo of me smiling with my thumb up and tongue sticking out) and I was able to find a good rhythm. Then the hills started coming and the doubts crept in. A little out-and-back section around Mile 5 gave me a good look at who was coming up behind me and it was at this point that my focus shifted from up the road to down the road. Not good! I could say that the hills kicked my butt, but really it was my own brain that did me in. It was some consolation that I was able to pull it together at Mile 9 and run well over the last four miles but the damage was done.

The Trip
Despite being disappointed in my performance, the thing to do is to learn from it and move on. I've had time to process what went well and what could be improved, and I'm determined to be stronger next time around. One of these years I will conquer that course! I had a great time, I love racing, and REV3 always puts on a good show. I was lucky to have good friends and family cheering and supporting me throughout the weekend. And it was nice to have a couple days afterwards to decompress and spend with my relatives who I don't get to see very often. Overall it was a successful trip and I'm looking forward to the next one! Special thanks to Aunt Candy for whooping, Kim & Sheri for hosting, Rudy & Lucy for making the trip up from NYC; as well as REV3, Powerbar, Pearl Izumi, Recovery Pump, Blueseventy, Fezzari, Rudy Project, Maxxis, and The Bike Shoppe for the continued support.