Wednesday, October 31, 2012

REV3 Finale: Venice Beach

I made my third quick trip of the month to a REV3 event, this time to Sarasota, Florida for the final installment in the 2013 REV3 Triathlon Series. This was a big race with a large prize purse and double points on the line to decide the final standings in the REV3 Pro Series. It drew a strong field with an interesting mixture of athletes which made for an unpredictable and exciting day. Added to that were the unusually high winds from Hurricane Sandy's steady march northeast, presenting a good challenge on what might otherwise have been a more mundane course. In fact, the winds were so bad that riptide warnings were issued and the Coast Guard informed REV3 that they absolutely could not stage a swim. It's a good thing the staff are so nimble on their toes and readily adapt to the challenges that are thrown their way. The solution was to cancel the swim for everyone and do a run/bike/run for the pros and a time-trial started bike/run for the age groupers. This was the third race I've done within the past 12 months that was altered due to weather-related issues so I wasn't really fazed and simply reorganized my gear to fit what the day called for.

Sunrise and wind. Photo by Eric Wynn.

It was really fun starting off with a quick little run first---with the exception of short-course ITU racing you don't often find yourself in that large of a pack on the run in a triathlon. It felt like a real horse-race! I think the purpose of doing a 1.5 mile run first for the pros was to attempt to break up the field somewhat but most of the ladies ended up coming into T1 together anyway. It was a bit frantic with everyone trying to kick off their shoes and grab their bikes at the same time, not to mention that it was a really narrow space to begin with, but I had a good spot and was able to get through without any issues.

The 1.5 mile horse-race. Photo by Eric Wynn.

My strategy on the bike was to ride conservatively for the first half and let the tailwind do a lot of the work for me before pushing the pace and trying to make a move once we made the turn into the wind. Alicia Kaye and Becky Lavelle took it out REALLY hard and established a gap right away, but I hung back in a group that included Nicole Kelleher and Lauren Goss. I felt that I could afford to let Alicia go because she was not competing for the overall series, and while Becky was in the running for the series it was a tighter battle points-wise going into the race between Nicole, Lauren, and myself so I wanted to mark them for a while instead of risking a major blow-up by pushing too hard too early. This plan unfolded exactly the way I envisioned and I was able to bridge up to the leaders while building a gap on Nicole and Lauren in the second half of the ride. There was a short out-and-back section with about 10 miles to go where you could get a good look at everyone---and I liked what I saw! Rolling into T2 in 2nd place just steps behind Becky, I knew I was positioned about as perfectly as I could hope for going into the half-marathon.

Changing shoes...yet again. Photo by Elaine Kratz.

I made quick work of T2 and actually got out onto the run course in first place. My lead was short-lived, however, as Becky came storming by within the first half-mile. I didn't panic because I had done the math and knew that I still had some wiggle room in the overall series in relation to Becky. I've been guilty of taking the run out too fast on more than one occasion this season and my plan was to start off more conservatively and then build the pace. However, when I tried to tighten the screws down a bit there was nothing there. My legs felt really heavy, I could tell my form was not pretty and no matter how I tried I could not seem to get my feet to turn over any faster. Nicole passed me somewhere late in the first lap, then I began a steady slide backwards through the field. The second lap of the run was something of a death march and I'm pretty sure that Mile 9 was the longest mile of my life. By the time I crossed the finish line I had slipped to 8th place, which was exactly where I did NOT want to be: in a position that did absolutely nothing to improve my overall series score and would in fact drop me down to 5th place in the final series standings.

Who looks better in this picture? Photo by Eric Wynn.

To say I am bummed is a major understatement. I was in a perfect position going into the run and I let it slip away from me. I'm not really sure what the root of the implosion was---nutrition, hydration, over-exertion on the bike, or if it was simply all in my head. Whatever the case, it provides me with some good food for thought in the off-season and a project to work on so that I will come back stronger next year. I can't really dwell on it now though because I've got an Ironman coming up in less than three weeks and a reunion with my fan club in Arizona to look forward to!

Post-race with Trish, my high school swim coach's wife. She's a stud! Photo by Matt Rydson.

I'd like to express my gratitude to the following for their support over the weekend: to Ray & Lynn for their incredible hospitality; to Brittany for the good company and introducing me to Ray & Lynn in the first place; to Chris Jarc for the much-need post-race piggyback ride; to Charlie, Eric, Sean, Stu, Ashley, Alex...oh gosh, there are too many to name! To the entire REV3 staff for being the most wonderful, friendly, fun, supportive, and professional event staff around; to the media crew for the great work (can't wait to see the TV coverage!); to the city of Venice Beach for the venue and to all the volunteers who donated their time to make this event a success; and of course to my sponsors who help make it possible for me to get to the starting line in the first place (REV3, Recovery Pump, Powerbar, Pearl Izumi, Rudy Project, Blueseventy, Fezzari, Maxxis, and The Bike Shoppe).

Special congratulations to Brittany Banker for capping off a stellar season and celebrating 8 years of kicking cancer in the butt, to Trish Rydson on her age group win (great to see you Trish & Matt!), to Becky Lavelle & Jesse Thomas on their impressive victories, to Nicole Kelleher and Richie Cunningham for their spectacular seasons and the well-deserved series titles, and to my teammate Jessica Meyers for a great performance and clawing her way up to third place on the day. One day I will be tough as nails like that!

Any excuse to play dress-up! Any guesses as to what I am? Photo by Ray Pecharich.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

REV3 South Carolina

Whew! Another whirlwind of a trip. I'm sitting in the the Atlanta airport (someone please remind me NEVER to fly in/out of Atlanta again!) after a quick weekend trip to Anderson, South Carolina, for yet another REV3 event. It was the next-to-last stop for the 2012 REV3 Pro Series and promised to be a real humdinger of a race. Current series leader Nicole Kelleher was on the start list, as was last year's 2nd place finisher Tenille Hoogland of Canada and a handful of wild-card ITU ladies. I knew going into the event that it was vital for me to have a strong performance to have any chance at moving up in the overall series standings.

I arrived in Anderson on Friday night and was reunited with my friends Todd Lucas, Trish Graham, and Carin VanderKlok at the lake house that we rented for the weekend. It was a really cool house with an outdoor TV and fireplace (never seen that before!) and was located just across the water from the swim venue. Saturday was the usual pre-race business, starting with an interview at 9am with Simply Stu and Dennis and followed by a little bike & swim, the pro meeting at 12:30 and the pro panel soon afterwards. I always like to drive the bike course even if I've done the race before to remind myself of any tricky spots, so I did that in the afternoon before heading back to the house to organize gear and squeeze in a little pre-race Recovery Pump time before winding down for the night. Of course, I got caught up in watching the excitement of the Kona race coverage online so I didn't actually get to sleep as early as I would have liked to---but it was worth it to see the women battle it out on the run!

Race morning was dark and a bit overcast, but I was surprised by the relatively balmy air temperature and lack of wind. The day before had been pretty windy and there was a bite to the air; in contrast race day was perfectly calm. I would have been happy with rougher weather but knew that the course itself was tough and would present a good challenge even in mild conditions. The water was measured at just below 68 degrees so it was wetsuit legal for everyone. After some good A.R.T. bodywork with Dr. Kevin Maggs the day before my arms felt nice and loose for the swim. I positioned myself to the outside for the beach start and had a fast run-in despite a slight stumble when I hit the water, then was able to throw in some quick dolphin dives before settling into freestyle.

The swim start. I'm on the far right in the yellow swim cap with my arm up in the air (it was the stumble). Photo by Nils Nilsen.

The stretch to the first buoy was a bit frantic with jockeying for position, but we mostly got ourselves sorted out soon after the first turn. I found a much better rhythm than last week in Maryland, but unfortunately I wasn't able to hold onto the feet of Tenille or speedy ITU swimmers Jennifer Spieldenner and Anna Cleaver, and I ended up swimming solo for most of the course. I hit T1 between 45-60 seconds down from the leaders, a HUGE improvement over last year on this course so I was happy with that.

Looking like a seal exiting the swim. Photo by Nils Nilsen.

There is a notable uphill within the first mile on the bike and I could see a clump of riders up ahead. Some of them were pro men but I knew the ladies had to be up there in the mix and I settled down to work to catch them. The hills and the rhythm of this course really suit me and I was able to overtake the lead by Mile 10 and held it through the end of the bike. I knew Nicole would be strong on the run, and Tenille and I had run similar splits on this course last year, so my strategy was to build a lead on the bike and try to hold it on the run. By the end of the ride I had a 45 seconds gap over Tenille and about a 4 minute cushion over Nicole. More than I expected, but definitely not enough to breathe easy!

Birds-eye view of the bike. Photo by Nils Nilsen.

The run course this year was a little different, consisting of two constantly up-and-down loops. I enjoyed the run but boy was it tough! I was able to maintain the lead through the first six miles, then Tenille came up on my shoulder right at the end of the first lap. We started the second lap virtually together, then Tenille powered ahead at the top of the first hill up from the parking lot. It wasn't long before Nicole came zipping by and I found myself running in 3rd place. I tried to keep within striking distance of these ladies, knowing that this type of run course can get the best of anyone and that it wasn't over until the finish line, but I wasn't able to make any sort of comeback in the latter stages of the run and had to settle for the bronze.

Tackling the hills on the run. Photo by Nils Nilsen.

Overall it was a great effort, though it fell a little short of what I needed to do to make a big jump in the overall REV3 Pro Series. After this race I'm sitting in 3rd place, less than 200 points out of 2nd and only 45 points ahead of 4th. Talk about not having any breathing room! The grande finale at Venice Beach, FL, in two weeks is shaping up to be a real showdown. The course in Florida is pancake flat which should make for a completely different dynamic from the other REV3 events. Should be interesting---wish me luck!

Running with Charlie, a.k.a. The Ultimate Photo Bomber. Photo courtesy of Charlie Patten.

After the race I got to hang out with my friend Brittany Banker, who I'll be staying with in Florida, and to catch up with some of the other pro ladies including my REV3 teammate Jacqui Gordon. Unfortunately Trish and Carin had to go back to North Carolina, but Todd stuck around and we went to a BBQ at Tenille's homestay and met some really lovely people from the local triathlon scene. I love southern hospitality! It was a really nice way to cap another great weekend.

Post-race funky hairdo with Brittany Banker. Photo by Stu Fitch.

Congrats to Nicole on another stellar REV3 win, to Andrew Starykowicz for a dramatic comeback to the racing scene, and to all the finishers for their achievement on the day. If you haven't tried a REV3 event yet---you are seriously missing out! You won't find a more friendly, helpful, accommodating staff anywhere else, and the organization runs like a well-oiled machine. Thank you REV3 staff, volunteers, spectators, and other athletes for the incredible support along the course; to my sponsors REV3, Powerbar, Recovery Pump, Pearl Izumi, Blueseventy, Rudy Project, Fezzari, Maxxis, and The Bike Shoppe for supporting me in my athletic dreams; to the Sequined Thongs for the AWESOME whoops and hollers; to Brittany for the cheers & pics; to the other ladies in the pro field for a fair and honest race; and of course to Albert for flying solo with the dogs again for the second weekend in a row. Paybacks are on the horizon, I promise!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Are You Half Full?

This past weekend was such a great one that I hardly know where to begin! After not doing as well points-wise for the REV3 Pro Series at Cedar Point as I'd hoped, and subsequently learning that the Half Full Triathlon was actually part of the series, I made a relatively last-minute decision to throw my hat in the ring and book a trip to Maryland. It ended up being a wonderful weekend for a variety of reasons---four days chock-full of good memories with great people!

I flew in and out of Philadelphia because a) it was cheaper and b) it would put me closer to my east coast relatives and give me an opportunity to visit them while in the area. My Aunt Candy (a.k.a. my #1 Philly Fan) and Uncle Brian were kind enough to let me use their house as home base despite having a wedding and a high school reunion (we won't say which year!) going on that same weekend. I arrived in Philly on Friday afternoon, then on Saturday morning I made the drive down to Maryland and was greeted at Centennial Park by the familiar REV3 logos, along with the Ulman Cancer Fund banners flapping in the breeze. It was a beautiful location and I was excited to tackle the course on Sunday.

Race morning skies---photo by Eric Wynn.

The Half Full Triathlon truly is a special event with an atmosphere unlike any other triathlon I have done. The main purpose of the race is to raise awareness and funds for the Ulman Cancer Fund, an organization dedicated to providing support for young adults battling cancer. The name "Half Full" comes not from the distance of the race but from the Ulman Cancer Fund's philosophy of fighting cancer with hope and a positive attitude. Ninety-two percent of the people participating in the event were racing in honor or memory of someone with cancer, and there was a special Survivors Wave which consisted of 30 people who have successfully beaten cancer--including bib #1, a certain Mr. Lance Armstrong. The energy of the event was unbelievable and I am so glad I got to experience it.

Keeping a "half full" attitude---a smile despite the rain. Photo by Eric Wynn.

Race morning dawned with temperatures close to 30 degrees cooler than the previous day and with a forecast of rain beginning at 7am. Like clockwork, the rain started spitting from the sky just as I was heading out of the transition area down to the swim start. It was cold, but in comparison to the Boise 70.3 race in June it felt relatively balmy so I wasn't overly concerned with the forecast and knew that I'd likely be okay in my usual race kit and just toe-covers on my bike shoes for a little extra warmth. The swim was uneventful---a nice smooth start and clean water the whole way. It wasn't a bad swim but it wasn't a great swim either. There was a lengthy run-up to the transition area that was good for building a little warmth before hopping on the bike. I got out of the water in 4th but was able to transition smoothly and start the bike in 3rd place.

Contemplating the swim and the meaning of the day. Photo by Eric Wynn.

Columbia MD and the surrounding area is absolutely gorgeous and I knew it was going to be a fun ride. The addition of rain on the roads made me a little cautious for the first half of the bike: in Utah we've had maybe 3 days of rain total since about May and I was a little out of practice riding in slick conditions. Midway through the ride I bridged up to the leaders and on one of the hills was able to ride through the group into the lead. It was at this point that I started to notice that my fingers were getting cold and that shifting was really clumsy. It was a good time to remind myself of the "Half Full" philosophy and keep a positive outlook. The remainder of the ride was actually quite enjoyable for me---I liked having open space in front of me and not having to worry about positioning off of the other ladies.

Another "half full" grin. Photo by Eric Wynn.

I expected at least one of the girls to stick with me on the bike so I was surprised to roll into T2 with a bit of a gap over the next rider. The funniest part of the whole race was my second transition; my fingers were so cold that I could not for the life of me get the chinstrap unbuckled! I tried and failed, decided to put my shoes on (successfully, albeit with numb toes), then struggled again with the chinstrap. An image of me running with my bright green Wingspan helmet on flashed through my mind but luckily my fingers started somewhat working again and I was able to finally get the helmet off. That would have been hilarious though---almost as funny as the guys who wore their wetsuits on the bike at Boise this year!

Once on the run I tried to keep as much distance between me and the other ladies as possible. I knew from studying the course that it would be hilly and winding through the first half, then more open and downhill in the second part. My goal was to be "out of sight, out of mind". The plan worked pretty well and I held the lead for about 3.5 miles before Nicole Kelleher came up on my shoulder. I was pretty pleased to have held her off so long, she is a stellar runner! Unfortunately I was not able to match her pace but still kept her in my sights for the remainder of the run. It was a good hard effort and I was absolutely thrilled to land in second place; the only better scenario would have been the W-I-N but I gave it my best shot and am pleased with that.

Happy to see the finish line. Photo by Eric Wynn.

I was greeted at the finish line by my dear friend Monica Bailey whom I've known since 5th grade and who lives just outside of Baltimore. It had been years since we've seen each other so when I realized I would be racing in her backyard I had to track her down. It was so awesome of her to come out and cheer me on in the less-than-ideal conditions, and we had a GREAT visit over a nice hot post-race brunch. Thank you Monica for your part in making my weekend a memorable one!

I headed back up towards Philadelphia in the afternoon and had a very nice dinner with my aunt at Steak 38 in Pennsauken NJ where they served us the biggest steaks I have ever seen. Aunt Candy also baked a scrumptious chocolate cake with an icing that rivaled my all-time favorite cream cheese frosting. Thank you for treating me like royalty Aunt Candy!

Monday was another great day, as we drove over to Pottstown PA to have brunch in a diner along the historic main drag with my Grandma Jane and Uncle Rich. After brunch we had time before I had to catch my flight to visit my Pop-pop who is in an assisted living facility in Pottstown. My last visit with Pop-pop was memorable because he recognized me without any prompting; this one was special because we got to serenade him with singing and guitar music. It was a really wonderful day and a memory that I will always hold close to my heart.

This list of people to thank for this great weekend goes on a on, so I just want to mention a few to whom I am particularly grateful: to Candy & Brian for opening their doors to me; to the Zaccagnini family for hosting me in Columbia; to Brian Satola and the Ulman Cancer Fund for creating a wonderful event and welcoming atmosphere; to Charlie and the REV3 team for doing what you do best; to Kevin and Betsy for being my inspiration to keep fighting on race day; to the AWESOME volunteers, spectators, military personnel, and survivors who lined the course on Sunday; to Drew & Monica for treating me to brunch; and to Albert for holding down the fort while I was gone. Also, a quick shout-out to my sponsors REV3, Powerbar, Pearl Izumi, Recovery Pump, Blueseventy, Rudy Project, Fezzari, Maxxis, and The Bike Shoppe for your support.

Next up: REV3 South Carolina---this weekend!!!