Sunday, May 26, 2013

Iron Fail

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away, know when to run...

Okay, admit it, now you've got the song in your head...and I've got your attention!

Those lyrics are surprisingly apt when applied to my experience at Ironman Texas last weekend. It was my 5th iron-length triathlon and my first DNF at the distance. I am not proud of this and I don't plan to make it a habit---I've always been one of those "old-school" athletes who looks somewhat scornfully at other athletes who drop out and "save it for another day" when they're not having a great race. I always thought I had too much respect for the sport to treat it so flippantly; besides, an Ironman is such a long day with so many ups and downs that you never know what might happen so you might as well keep going and see it through to the end. However, I realized last weekend that sometimes the body simply doesn't cooperate and as a professional you have to decide whether it's worth carrying on and potentially doing more damage, or if it's better to take the long view, fold your cards, and wait for the next round. I knew by Mile 60 of the bike that running probably wasn't going to be a great idea, which meant I had a good 50+ miles to make peace with that decision. I HATED dropping out but I know it was the right thing for me to do. By the time I rolled into T2 and handed off my bike it was surprisingly easy to step off the course. Figuratively, that is----literally it was actually quite difficult! The pavement was burning hot, my back was in spasms, and once I sat down in the change tent I discovered I couldn't stand back up on my own. Luckily the volunteers were great and the sponsoring hospital Memorial Hermann had wonderful massage/PT personnel on hand to help straighten me out and get me walking relatively normally again.

Despite not putting it all together on race day, I really enjoyed the trip to Texas. The Woodlands is a unique setting for an Ironman including swimming in a canal, riding in the HOT lonely rolling Texas countryside, and running along the Waterway. In a way I had the best of all worlds: I was in the thick of things as a participant, put in a good swim-bike training day, then I had a lot of fun cheering at the finish line and being a spectator---with the added bonus that I wasn't sore and hobbling around the next day! Plus my rental car was a lot of fun to drive! It's the small things in life...right?? My homestay, Katie White Reynolds and her family, were really great down-to-earth hosts with a "no muss no fuss" attitude. Thank you for adopting me, trying to teach me how to use a GPS (unfortunately a fail), and showing me how to set my phone so the alarm sounds but everything else is silent---priceless! I made some new friends in Texas and spent some time with old ones. Thank you to Ashley for passing the hours spectating with me, to April for the Gatsby movie date, and to BJ & Chrystel for the VIP banquet seating. Thanks also to my fellow athletes for the overwhelming support in the wake of a disappointing race. Congrats to all who finished on a steaming hot day in Texas, particularly Kim & Ian for their breakthrough performances, BJ for punching his ticket to Kona, and to Todd for persevering and putting one foot in front of the other to get 'er done. And of course, thank you to my sponsors and supporters for sticking with me through thick and thin: Powerbar, Rudy Project, Blueseventy, Reynolds, Fezzari, Recovery Pump, REV3, Maxxis, CycleOps, and The Bike Shoppe.

So what's next for me? I'm not exactly injured, I just have some "issues"---and I have every intention of maintaining my planned race schedule while working through things. I have some underlying structural imbalances that I suspect were exacerbated by trying to do too much too quickly in preparation for an early season Ironman. Lesson acknowledged, and hopefully lesson learned. With the help of my massage therapist and some work with a PT to re-train my body how to move correctly I should be good to go...and it's off to Connecticut next week for REV3 Quassy!

Since I didn't have much of a race to report on, here are some pictures to illustrate the experience:

Swimming here made me feel like a real swimmer again!

Setting up the day before.

Banners along the Waterway.

Cows on course!

Ghost town.

Great for spectators & for runners alike.

So close...just a downhill followed by an uphill to the finish line!

Water features at night.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Just Driving Through...Photos From The IM Texas Bike Course

This is the scenery I get to ride my bike through this Saturday!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Busy Bee: IM 70.3 St. George, Striders 30K, SLC 1/2 Marathon & More

Yesterday marked my third weekend in a row of racing in one form or another---and that's only the beginning! My schedule includes five more races in the next eight weeks, including one full Ironman, three half-iron distance events, and the Utah Spartan Beast 10-12 mile running/obstacle challenge (just to keep things interesting). Two weeks ago I ran the Salt Lake City Half Marathon, partly because I love that race so much, and mostly as a display of solidarity for the running community in the wake of the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. It was a cold and wet day for running which somehow seemed fitting, and I found myself in a real head-to-head battle with a girl named Emily who as it turns out is friends/training partners with my fellow local pro triathlete Ali Black. Small world! It was fun to engage in a real game of cat-and-mouse over the course of a half-marathon, and despite ending up on the losing side of the sprint finish I'm still happy with the effort and the tactical practice. Thanks Emily for pushing me! I followed the SLC Half up with the Striders Winter Running Circuit 30K---that's 18.64 miles for those of you who want to know---the next weekend; I highly recommend this series (which includes a 5K, 10K, 10-miler, half-marathon, and 30K) as a great training progression for people doing the Ogden Marathon or anyone looking to get some early-season running races under their belt. My goal was to run a controlled negative split which I managed to do, and surprisingly I walked away with the win as well! That's a rare occurrence for me in a running event so it's always a nice feeling no matter how low key the event may be.

My string of three-in-a-row continued yesterday when I had the honor of rubbing shoulders with some of the very best in the sport of triathlon at the US Pro Championships Ironman 70.3 race in St. George, Utah. For the past three years this race has been a full Ironman but because of the time of year and toughness of the course it never really caught on, so the WTC decided to shorten it to a half...and voila! It sold out! I read somewhere that the participation of Utahns shot from 300 registrants last year to over 1000 this year which is really exciting to see---having an accessible showcase event like this will do wonders to help the sport grow in our state, and it certainly generated a supportive crowd for a "local" girl like me. Naming it a championship event for the professionals helped draw in a larger, more competitive field as well, and the fact that it's a post-Olympic year made for an interesting mix of short-course ITU speedsters and long-course specialists. In fact, this was hands-down the deepest, most competitive pro field I've ever been a part of, and paired with the toughest 70.3 course I've ever encountered it promised to be an epic day!

St. George Town Square: a great place for families.

If anything, the past three years at St. George have proven that you never know what the weather is going to throw your way the first weekend of May in southern Utah. Heat, cold, whipping winds, frigid water, 10-foot waves...not to mention the challenge of the terrain itself...any and all of these elements could be a factor on race day. However, the weather gods were smiling down on St. George this year and race day dawned to clear skies, calm winds, and relatively mild temperatures. At 60 degrees the water was cool but not frigid, and the stunning backdrop of desert red rock and mountains around Sand Hollow Reservoir made for one of the most scenic swim venues I've ever seen. The pro men were off at the boom of the cannon at 6:55am, followed by the pro women five minutes later. It was a deep water start so we lined up between two small buoys; with a larger-than-normal ladies field, not to mention a faster-swimming-than-normal field, I knew it was going to be a furious pace right from the gun. I really dislike the "contact sport" part of the swim so I chose a starting position to the outside but in this case it was to no avail---there were about 15 of us trying to swim in the exact same spot and the washing machine effect was in full spin mode. A couple kicks to the face, a few tugs on the ankles, and several arm locks later things began to thin out a bit. Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough to extricate myself from the turmoil and I didn't catch any of the faster feet I was aiming for, so the swim was a bit of a frustration. For some reason I also had a problem controlling my left arm and struggled to find a rhythm---I've experienced this a few times before but am just now starting to piece together a theory as to why it happens and what I can do to prevent it. In any case, I felt pretty lopsided swimming and was more than happy to get out of the water and onto the bike.

Swim split: 26:48 (~15th place, in a pack of 8)

Sand Hollow Reservoir

One remnant of my ITU racing stint is that I'm pretty good at transitions (thank you Ric Rosenkranz!) and despite coming out of the water with several other girls I was able to zip through quickly and get to the mount line before a traffic jam built up. I did my classic flying mount (again, thank you Ric), put my feet on my shoes and started pedaling---but when I went to put my feet into my shoes I noticed that the left strap had come completely of the buckle and was flapping in the breeze. Irritating! Once the strap has slipped out it's tricky to work it back through on the fly, and I fiddled with it a few times to see if I could slide it through but no luck. So I rode the entire 56 miles with one shoe unstrapped. I don't think it really affected my performance, it was more of an annoyance than anything, but from now on I'm going to put a safety pin or two through the end of my shoe straps to keep that from happening again! Aside from the strap fumble the ride was super fun and engaging. There were grinding climbs, bombing descents, a fair number of sweeping and hairpin turns, and a large enough women's field that there was always someone in sight to try to track down. I caught some girls, was dropped by a few and passed by others. I never felt great but didn't feel horrible either---just sort of flat, which is not surprising considering where my training currently is---but I really enjoyed the course and couldn't believe how quickly it flew by!

Bike split: 2:32:48 (~12th place with an Olympian and a 2x XTerra World Champ right on my tail)

A view in Snow Canyon---we rode up it!

One benefit of living in Utah is that I have done races in St. George before and had the opportunity to do some training on the course leading up to the race, so I pretty much knew what to expect. A simple description often used for the run is that you go up for 6.5 miles then turn around and come back down, but it's really more "up and over" and then back again---with a few other undulations along the way. It's by far the hardest run course I've ever done and I can't imagine doing it twice like they did the first two years of the full Ironman! As with the bike, my running legs were a little flat but I never felt horrible, just steady. The uphills were definitely challenging, but oddly enough it was the last two miles downhill that hurt the most! The grade wasn't quite steep enough to just let gravity take over, and I knew there were some girls breathing down my neck so I was pushing hard to try and fend them off---but despite my best efforts I got nipped right before the line by my friend Charisa Wernick. Darn! It's actually kind of hilarious to end up in a sprint finish at the end of a half-ironman if you think about, especially on a course like St. George. Kudos to Charisa for charging hard right to the end!

Run split: 1:38:03 (sprint finish and no hamburger feet---my personal victory!)
Race time: 4:40:30 (19th place)

One foot in front of the other.

This was an epic race and it was thrilling to be a part of such a competitive field, and even more thrilling to be one of the thousand-plus Utahns representing our state on race day. It's really wonderful to see how the St. George community has embraced this event. On paper my performance might not look very impressive---the course and the competition pretty much handed it to me---but overall I left feeling mostly good about it. Andy Potts summed up my feelings pretty well in his post-race interview: "Happy but not satisfied." I was happy to be racing, happy with the course, happy to see so many familiar faces and feel the support of the crowd, happy to give the best effort I had on the day, happy knowing that despite a low placing it was amongst a stellar field and there's no shame in that...but I'm definitely not satisfied. I'm aiming higher than where I landed yesterday; I know the potential is there, it's a matter of fine-tuning the art of drawing it out and then putting all the pieces together on race day when it really matters.

First of all, THANK YOU to everyone who cheered for me out there, whether you were racing, spectating, or volunteering---your good will gave me wings! Particular thanks to Albert (& dogs), Mallory, K-Rob ("it's just a little hill!"), Todd & Matt, BJ & Amanda, "Lead Bike" Leslie, Romney, and the girls on Bluff St. with the sign that said "Go Random Stranger". Thanks to all who sent me kind pre- and post-race messages---the encouragement means a great deal to me. Also thanks to my sponsors and supporters: Powerbar, Recovery Pump, REV3, Rudy Project, BlueSeventy, Reynolds, Fezzari, Maxxis, CycleOps, and The Bike Shoppe. Finally, congratulations to everyone who competed and conquered the course. It was a doozy but we did it!

Next up:
IM Texas (May 18th)
REV3 Quassy (June 2nd)
IM 70.3 Boise (June 8th)
REV3 Williamsburg (June 23rd)
Utah Spartan Beast (June 29th)

Funny faces.