Sunday, May 27, 2012

I am an Onion Wo-Man

When the words of Jayne Anderson started to run through my mind, I knew this transition onto the bike would surely resemble the ride we shared out to Liberty Lake last Friday. Bracing myself against 25mph winds, my legs churning with a harder effort than what should have been necessary on nearly flat roads, I asked her how she handled the mental challenge of watching your pace slow to 13mph as a result of moving against the wind. She told me to simply relish the fact that I am on my bike, healthy enough to pedal, as some people cannot even do that. And so the rest of our ride Friday, I had the opportunity to share time and conversation with someone who has not only shown me what real friendship is, but how much it is embellished with time spent outside, along the river, among the blooming bushes, and overwhelmed by flowers whose scents are exemplified as a result of the warm sunshine. On more than one occasion, the wind that made us grip our handlebars a little harder caused us to burst out laughing at how ridiculous the situation felt.

I didn’t have Jayne there with me in Walla Walla today, but when I did have a chance to pull my eyes off the road and my Timex, I couldn’t help but notice the endless fields of grass, the rows upon rows of grapes, and the enormous patch of onions growing in one man’s garden as I passed by, following the men and two women ahead of me on the Onion Man Triathlon course. Heading out on a course that canted slightly uphill to the turn-around point, it was all I could do to keep my heart rate steady while attempting to push over rolling terrain with a headwind. Not until I hit that bright orange cone in the middle of the road to designate my turnaround did I fully appreciate the chance to “let ‘er rip” to reach speeds nearing 30mph. Considering I averaged a measly 17 heading out, I had plenty of ground to make up on my way to the run.

Early morning swim: Looks calm, but at just 54 degrees
this morning, it looked cold to me...and wet...
Pulling up into T2, it felt good to be out of there in just over 30 seconds. That’s because I needed to redeem myself after T1. Apparently, dousing myself in Pam cooking spray, Body Glide, AND Vaseline couldn’t make this stuck pig slip out of her wetsuit any faster than if I’d have been glued into it. Seriously. There was no, “Just unzip the zipper, slip it over your shoulders, pull your arms out, slip it down to your knees, then step on each leg to smoothly run to your bike.” Yeah, no. I won’t go into any more details, but if you can imagine everything that could go wrong—going wrong—then you’d have a pretty good picture of me flailing around trying to come free from my body bag. What I looked like on land probably resembled how I felt in the water. With the wind blowing the way it did, rounding the first buoy made for some pretty turbulent water, though I’m convinced it’s no where near what you guys who swim in the ocean or larger lakes are used to. Nonetheless, it made me a little nervous, and I had to ease up a bit to gain some composure, which eventually knocked on my door as I rounded the last buoy to start my second lap. I didn’t know it at the time, but the girl I raced onto the shore beat me by seconds to take the title of, “first woman out of the water.” I guess I should have raced her a little harder, but I couldn’t have been happier to see that kind of improvement in my swim.

It wasn’t until mile 4 of the run that I began to wish I could hop back into the churning water I had left over an hour and a half ago. Racing out of T2, I quickly overtook the second woman and had the words of James Richman coming back to mind. Take the first mile or so to get your bearings, then gain some speed. I looked down at my Timex to make certain I wasn’t coming out of the gate too fast, yet my heart rate was right where I wanted it, so I let my legs carry me further over the dusty trail, onto the bridge, and out along the river to the turnaround. I quickly sucked down some GU gel before rounding the turn. I could feel my legs beginning to tire, which caused me to question how much longer I could keep this pace and hold that third woman at bay. I thought back to the text message Bryan Rowe sent me the night previous. Swim easy, build into the bike, then run like you stole it. Surely, if Bryan could have seen me slowing he would have told me to, “light a fire under it.” Though, for those of you who know Bryan, his words would have commanded a little more attention. To Bryan’s credit, I told myself to, “quit running like a sissy and get your ass into gear!” That helped.

Salty face, dusty shoes, and a tired body translated to one happy camper. Bryan's ass-kicking in the end carried me to a second place finish, with faster times than I put forth in the Olympic distance last year. Sometimes I find it hard to scrounge up enough belief in myself to overcome all the worries and “what ifs” I make up in my head before a race. (Just ask Matt Beard about our conversation on the way home about how my first half IM could be the race of extremes—Boise 70.3: 5ft swells in the swim, a complete downpour and 25mph-sustained winds on the bike, 90+ degree temperatures on the run.) Funny to talk about, but really, “what if?”

Matt Cantrell placed 2nd in his age group. So nice
to catch up with him during our ride and dinner
the night before.

Me sandwiched between the two Matts. Thanks Matt
Beard for the ride down to Walla Walla. You made 2.5 hours
of driving pretty entertaining. Congrats on your first triathlon
finish! I hope you find time tomorrow for a nice 15-miler :)

Boise lingers on the horizon, and in two weeks I’ll find out how well I’ve prepared and how well I’ve tapered. Let the real fun begin.

The view from Javin and Laura's
house. Quite a sunset!

I also want to extend a huge Thank you to my gracious hosts, Javin and Laura Berg, of Dixie, WA. They are such a genuine, friendly couple to extend such nice hospitality to me during my night in Walla Walla. Both Javin and Laura also competed in Onion Man, and have done so for a number of years in the past. Thank you again!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Shakespeare...and Windermere Half Marathon

It wasn’t until I found myself shivering inside a men’s communal urinal that I began to question the sanity of this sport called triathlon. In fact, it’s no longer satisfactory to race a half marathon in the morning and call your training day complete. I looked over at my friend, Brenna McMahon, and asked if, after contemplating how 6 guys could coordinate mass urination in a sealed-off tent, and after running 13.1 miles at this year’s Windermere half marathon, she would like to join me later for a swim in Bear Lake. She politely declined.

I peaked out from behind the “curtain” that sealed off the entrance to this yurt-type urinal and observed how the congregation of half marathoners dropped off by school buses at Maribou Park had grown since I first sought shelter. Only a few minutes later, a surprised gentleman entered our hut and kicked us out, only to offer that if we’d like to use it, we were more than welcome to stay. No thank you.

We made our way to the start line with about 15 minutes left to go. Jarod Crooks met me and we headed off for a quick warm up run before Mark Hodgson announced it was time to get set. At about this time, the clouds that had threatened to keep the sun from warming our bodies suddenly broke. With that, we crossed the Milliseconds timing mat and our race times had begun.

Jarod, Jeff, and I making our way toward Centennial Trail. Natalie and
Nate are just behind us. Jeff ended up running himself to a 3rd place
Age group win!
Jarod, Jeff Wilcox, Natalie Gallagher, Nate Duncan, and me all started out together and made quite an impressionable wall of Trifusion before stepping into our own paces as we rounded the turn onto the Centennial Trail. I looked down at my Timex and made sure my average pace of 7:30 never waivered far from that mark. For me, this race would not be a typical, physical challenge often created by a longer running event. Instead, it served as a race in preparation for a much bigger goal. Keeping 7:30s in an effort to maintain my half Ironman goal pace proved to be a much greater mental challenge than a physical one. Yet I had Jarod next to me to not only keep me in line, but to keep me entertained.

We passed the marker for mile 6. I had built up enough air to breathe and talk at the same time, and I confided in him how much these events are improved when run with friends. Honestly, the more I race, the more I encounter the people. I’m cheered on from those on the sidelines, accompanied by others keeping the same pace, and inspired to support the ones I pass and those who pass me. Jarod must have agreed, as he nearly started singing the last two stanzas of St. Crispin’s Day speech by Henry V (1599), William Shakespeare. 

Picture this: Jarod and me running through mile 7, me sucking on my GU peanut butter gel, Jarod attempting to recite Shakespeare between his gasps for air:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

At some point, he'd like to taylor this speech to mirror more of what we triathletes experience in this sport. He pointed out several names and families involved in Trifusion who have impacted and inspired him most. I couldn’t help but feel the same way—in that moment, cruising through mile 9—how much the sport of triathlon has influenced me, both physically and psychologically. Physically, I’m a stronger, fitter, more balanced person. Psychologically, I’m healthier (maybe a little more crazy?) knowing I have the support of friends I probably would be more accurate in describing as family. I mean, seriously. Who knew that in one race, I’d be humbled enough to find shelter in a public urinal AND find amusement at being serenaded with Shakespeare? Though I’m still pondering what, exactly, “holding our manhoods” means, Jarod. You’ll have to explain that one to me during our next bike ride.

All kidding aside, Windermere was greatly improved by the guy running alongside me, the new people I met and paced along the way, and the familiar faces who greeted me at the finish line. There’s something so refreshing about running down the homestretch, people you don’t even know cheering you on as if you’re the first one in, and having the announcer say your name—correctly—as you cross the timing mat. (Thanks to Mark, there was no Meghan Falukenberg, Fallenburk, or Fuckenberry as I hit the stop button on my Timex.)

Compared to my performance at Snake River half, I’m happy to report this race was run not only with my legs, but with my head. I raced smarter and felt better for it in the end. I successfully held myself at 7:30 min/mile pace, finished in 1:37:34 (by no means a PR, but a smart finish nonetheless), and only let myself go in the last 5k to see what I had left in my final “kick.” My smarter performance netted me a first place age group finish and far fewer injuries compared to what I sustained after Snake River. Thank you to Moulton Law Offices for your support by helping me get to the starting line this year!


After our run, what I feared most in that urinal had finally arrived, and Jarod and I stayed just long enough to eat some post-race fuel, warm up under the sunshine, and revel in our teammates’ successes before we made the trek over to Bear Lake. We met up with Jenn and Adam Little and Bryan Rowe, donned our wetsuits for the first time of this year, and let the water seep through our zippers and down our necks to remind us just how refreshing…no, cold…it is to have lake water fill your suit (and your butt crack, as Adam put it.) Again, a cold and uncomfortable necessity of training was made better by the fact that all of us were in that lake together. And so we’ll band together—as teammates—and do it all over again...on another day.

My racing companions: Jarod, Jeff, and Brenna.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lilac Bloomsday: Dad and me

I'm all smiles as I watch my dad
accomplish something he didn't
think he would do: a 52:13 PR.
Bloomsday has always crept up on me. Each year I promise myself I'll train more seriously for the next year's race, and each year I find a different excuse to not do so. Usually, I'm injured. One year my left hip flexor was strained. I ran that race with a hip spica to keep the pain at bay. Another year I had knee pain. This year, I had (and still have) my share of little injuries that plague most of us as we near our target race. Knee pain, back pain, some shin pain, and tired legs all kept me in the present. The day previous, Kathi Best and Martin Scates had pulled me out to Liberty Lake to conquer a 70 mile bike ride that started out with hill after hill, continued along the new CDA IM course on highway 95 (FYI: It's a nice steady incline going out about 13 miles, and we had a constant, grueling headwind to top it off), and finished up with scaling the same hills we coasted down on our way out. Least to say, there was no possible way my legs would be anything but mushy mounds of flesh the next morning of Bloomsday. I told my dad my plan involved using Bloomsday as a training day to test my endurance on tired legs. He didn't believe me.

You see, each Bloomsday leading up to this one, I've started in the Second Seeding section, minimizing the hassle of weaving through countless other participants. My dad has always started in the yellow section, the group behind mine, because the qualifying times for men to race Second Seed have eluded him. As a result, we've run each Bloomsday apart, me racing at a slightly faster clip while he runs in an effort to catch me. He never does. Yet we always meet on the bridge at the finish and congratulate each other on another Bloomsday finish.

My dad is more than just a running partner. An accomplished cyclist in his college days, he inspired me to learn how to ride a bike. Not just the tricycle kind, but the road bike kind: the kind on which you go "fast". Living in Spokane has given him plenty of opportunity to teach me to love the hills. Much of his cycling in his youth happened in northern California, where hills abound with every turn. Therefore, he learned to love to climb, and it seemed only natural that he'd teach his daughter to do the same.

We worked pretty hard at planning
our wardrobe so as to clash--royally.
At least I could keep track of him up
ahead of me when he decided to kick
it into high gear after doomsday. 
It hasn't all been about the bike. He'll give himself a hard time about his "slow" running times. What he doesn't understand--and what I keep trying to convince him of--is that for a 52 year old, his average 7:45 running pace is really not that slow at all. In fact, I often run with him during our lunch breaks and feel as though I'm the one slowing him down. Least to say, he's a great runner, too. I remember the first race/run we did together: the New Year's Resolution Run in CDA. I struggled to maintain 9-min/miles, and he could have easily left me to run his faster race. He didn't. I'll never forget that. And so my decision to pace him to his goal finish time of 53 minutes this year felt like the perfect way to show my appreciation for a dad who has taught me how to exercise, how to live healthfully, and how to enjoy activity even when it hurts a little bit.

This year, he signed up to race with Avista in the Corporate Cup section, which placed him right up alongside me in Second Seed. I told him we'd start conservatively and save ourselves so that the last 2.5 miles after Bloomsday wouldn't feel like such a struggle. The first two miles flew by in a whirlwind of activity, music, and the random words spoken by Spokane onlookers. My favorite quote of the day I heard just as we ran out of downtown was, "People actually smell GOOD!" I could only imagine how we'd smell at the finish line.

My dad always pushes himself to the
limit. Nearing the finish line proved
to be no exception.
We neared Doomsday hill after averaging about a 7:06-min/mile pace displayed by my Timex Run Trainer. Without warning, dad took off. I could only watch him weave through the stragglers while I hastened my legs to keep a steady cadence and not slip off to a slower pace. Not a single person passed him as he scaled that hill, and for the next mile, I wondered exactly who was pacing who. It turns out he conquered that hill in under 3 minutes. It wasn't until mile 6 that I caught up to him, breathing hard but pushing along. By then, we had somehow managed to increase our average pace to 7-min/mile, and I wouldn't let him slow down with only a mile and a half to go.

The finish line in sight, I saw the clock time at 51:20. I told him to run and make it in before 52:30. He did--with a time of 52:13. He PR'd by a minute, besting a time he'd posted back in 2009. I couldn't have been happier to see me dad, who's struggled with his slowing pace as he's aged, finish so strong and be so humble about it days after. It was truly a blessing to have had the chance to race with him. What he didn't know is that despite my tired body, despite the fact that I am a faster runner, he pushed me to post a Bloomsday PR. Like I said, I still don't know who was supposedly pacing the other.

Along with Tony Dibartalo, I ran into Bryan Rowe running and Greg Gallagher
taking pictures out on the course. Afterward, I caught up with
Jayne Anderson, Craig Thorsen, Erica Ziemer, and Natalie Gallagher.
David Dennison hooked up with dad and me for a 2-hr bike ride to cool down.

A big thank you to everyone who came out and cheered on the participants, especially the countless volunteers who made the experience of 48,000 participants so much more enjoyable. I raced in my red K Swiss K-onas and still can't find anything wrong with that shoe. So fast and light! My Timex Run Trainer kept dad and me on pace and also reflected my heart rate throughout the run to keep my effort in check. Finally, thanks to GU Energy for the chomps dad and I consumed before the race for that added burst of fuel. The 2-hour bike ride afterward wouldn't have been possible without the continued fuel from my gels.