Sunday, October 18, 2015

Spokane Half Marathon

A beautiful morning for a race presented itself to the bustling group of participants in this year's Spokane Marathon, Half, and 10k last weekend. Bryan and I have felt pretty blessed by the type of weather that has made many of our races this year so enjoyable. Sunshine, clear skies, and a variable breeze felt better than the cool drizzle that has encased Spokane this morning, just one week after our run.

I don't have much to share about my day, other than I felt pretty good on legs that have already embraced the off season. Three fast ladies sped off the start line ahead of me, and I never crossed paths with them during the entirety of the race. I ran this morning striving to maintain my pace at 6:45min/mile. It would mean a half marathon PR on what many consider to be a hilly, challenging course. Yet I felt optimistic.

Setting out on the Bloomsday course, we veered off into Browne's Addition toward the Sunset highway before finding Government Way and the notorious Cemetery Hill. Instead of turing right to embark upon Doomsday Hill, we ran further out into Riverside State Park before we turned onto Aubrey White. Every time I turn left at this point, I think about all the marathoners that must continue into Riverside. Here, I remember thanking myself for opting out of the marathon and running the half instead. Though I say this every year, maybe NEXT year I'll do it.

By mile 7, my stomach started to urge me to eat. I downed my GU and grabbed an extra gel at an aid station just over Doomsday Hill. Tearing up Doomsday Hill in the 10th mile surely felt different than striding up it at the end of the 4th during Bloomsday. Nevertheless, my strategy to use quick baby steps, keep my chest forward, and work to keep my body falling over my feet helped me to finish the last 3 miles of the race with more strength than I felt I had when I crested Doomsday.

Unlike in years past, the 11th and 12th miles followed the now finished Centennial Trail into the still developing Kendall Yards. Another race I ran earlier this year, the Negative Split Half Marathon, also used this trail. I'm glad these courses take advantage of what I think has grown into one of Spokane's most defining attributes. From this area, not only do you overlook the spectacular Spokane River below you, but also the skyline of the city.

Turning the final turn to run past the Flour Mill and into Riverfront Park, I felt I had successfully paced myself over the course of those thirteen miles. When I looked up at the race clock, it confirmed my feeling. Still well under 1:30, I have grown to appreciate 1:30 as a defining benchmark for me in my running career. Only two other times have I slipped under the 1:30 mark, and this time, I established a new PR with a time of 1:28:41, just twelve seconds faster than my previous PR I achieved on a completely flat course two years ago.

How could I not appreciate the gains and achievements of this year? Perhaps my biggest reason to feel thankful is that my body has embraced more speed and strength this year and not broken down in an effort to attain it. With the help of my coach and a little bit of my own embellishments I can attribute only to my physical therapy background, I think I understand my body better now than I ever have before. Therefore, I am just one month into my recovery from 2015 and already excited to embark upon training for 2016.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Deflated in Santa Cruz

Thank you, Ashworth Awards, for a medal I've
never worked so hard to earn. 
I've struggled for the past two weeks with how to present the story of a race day I'd wish upon no one. Up until Santa Cruz 70.3, my "bad races" involved nothing more than slower than desired split times and bad stomach aches. Therefore, I preface by saying after 7 years of racing, I guess my time for struggle was well overdue. Long story (really long bike ride) short, the three flat tires and one yellow card penalty put me out of the race. Really out of the race.

During my efforts to wait for help (after I'd used all my spare tubes and CO2) and eventually fix my first and second flats, I felt determined I'd finish the race. I remember talking out loud with myself and with God, holding a conversation filled with only optimistic ideals. After having to stop for the third flat, however, I certainly had the feeling of defeat envelope me completely. The cold I felt as a result of the foggy, breezy air encouraged me to find that dreaded car ride and get my sorry butt back to transition. If not for the nice gentleman who left me with an extra tube and CO2, I would not have found that last thread of hope to pull me out onto the run course.

On my way out, before trouble struck.
I'd really rather not bore you with the details of a miserable bike ride. It is not my goal in this blog post to create a "woe is me" tone. I'll take responsibility for the second flat because I did not properly fix the first. Yet the first and third flats could only be attributed to the terribly dirty roads. If I had the balls to confront the race director (knowing full well he'd likely laugh at me regardless), I'd ask why not have the road swept? California traffic forced athletes onto the shoulder, and despite my efforts to avoid riding in it altogether, even Sunday morning traffic scared me. Avoiding glass, trash, and random vegetables seemed daunting. Can anyone say they've crossed paths with a stray brussels sprout? 

Despite my bad luck, the bike course did have its positive attributes. The ride along the coastal highway felt smooth, thanks to relatively new pavement. Never mind all the trash. For a 5 mile stretch, the course took athletes on a side road whose conditions were not as smooth. A steep ascent and descent should have helped to set me apart from weaker riders, but even my strength on the hills couldn't counter the approximate 45 minutes of wasted time I'd experienced during my first two flats. Regardless, athletes rode home on the same coastal highway we rode out on to the turnaround. The views toward the ocean, on any other bike ride, would have kept my mind off the pain of physical exertion. This time, I had too much time to eventually loathe the view while waiting for help after my third flat.

Two flats down, one still to go.
Like I said earlier (sorry for the terribly unorganized post), I made it back to transition. On my bike. Deflated. Cold. Eager to finish off the day. At the time, I wasn't thinking about how such a slow time would look on my resume. All I could say to myself in an effort to keep my mind in the present was, A slow time with a corresponding story will look better than a DNF.

The motivation I felt one mile into the run suddenly disappeared when I crossed paths with the first place female making her way to the finish line. Following her, girls at the top of my age group breezed by in their 11th and 12th miles, me on my second. I felt my pace slow. What a disappointment. Thankfully, the first three miles of this course follow the shoreline, so I used the scenery as a way to redirect my attention. As a competitor, though, my eyes fell on the backs of men and women who had started 45 minutes to an hour after I did. Why not eat them up?

Trying to ignore all the finishers making
their way back to the finish line.
I still have a half marathon to run.
My pace improved as my goals changed. No longer was I running for a higher finisher placement. I ran to see how many girls from my age group (shoot, people in general) I could pass. I seemed to make my biggest gains in miles 4 through 9 when we turned off the road and onto a trail that took us through one of the state parks. We ran out onto a cliff that overlooked the ocean. I thought it ironic that the night prior, I feared the ocean swim more than I did anything else on this race day. Come to find out, it was the only part of this day that went smoothly. No big waves to dive through, no mouthfuls of water, no stomach aches. Just smooth, easy swimming in cool, but tolerable, salty water.   How could the day have taken such a turn for the worst?

Happy to reach the turnaround, I started keeping my eyes peeled for Bryan. Back at my third flat, I wondered if he'd catch me. Perhaps we could have run to the finish line together, which prior to my bike ride, seemed impossible considering he had started an hour after me.

Happy to run on packed dirt. It's what
I train on in my Newtons. 
I think we crossed paths at my mile 8, his mile 6. He looked good, and I continued to push my pace for no other reason than to see how quickly I could finish off this day. My pace slowed considerably when the course's final challenge involved running about a quarter of a mile along the sandy shore to the finish line. For much of this quarter mile, we could find firmer sand at the water's edge. However, the last 100 yards to and through the finishing chute involved the type of sand you normally enjoy walking through barefoot. Running through it on tired legs did not feel as wonderful. Though on his day, I realized it didn't matter.

And so my day complete, my year over, I sat just past the finish line, exhausted. Mentally and physically. On this day, my head hurt worse than my body. Physical pain stops at the finish line; mental anguish does not. It is silly, but I've needed two weeks to realize that what Bryan and my coach said just hours after my flop was true: I can't let one bad race define my entire season.

So, I finish this post. I move on and sign up for another race. I definitely buy new tubes. I take pride in not just PR'ing my fastest 70.3 time, but my slowest time, too. All in one year. The Spokane half marathon awaits me. Thankfully, it doesn't involve my bike.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Smokey and Sweet: Priest Lake Olympic Triathlon

Photo by Priest Lake Multisports
Leading up to today, I can only imagine what Ken and Stephanie Eldore must have thought about how the day would pan out. Combined with the already smokey conditions, there existed a considerable chance of high winds and rain. This morning, though, the winds blessed us by traveling in a direction away from the race site, which meant we could see across Priest Lake and take in the beauty of the mountains that enveloped the water. Breathing in cleaner air also made for a more enjoyable race day. As for the weather? The rain and wind held off until after the awards ceremony. I can't think of any race directors with that kind of control, though if you've ever attended a Priest Lake Multisport event, you wouldn't be surprised by what these people and their devoted volunteers can pull off.

Bryan and I arrived Friday afternoon, and we took the opportunity to assist Ken and other volunteers with some of the set up. If you've not taken the opportunity to experience just what goes on behind the scenes, I highly encourage you to do so. Even in the short amount of time Bryan and I spent volunteering, we couldn't help but be impressed by the organization of it all. We left Friday night with our race packets, pretty convinced that Ken had it all under control.

Today, all those present appeared grateful for the opportunity to test their fitness. Priest Lake waters rival all others, and today's water felt cool, but not uncomfortable. Out of the water and up the long path to transition, heading out onto the bike course felt effortless after I'd made it out onto Highway 57. The smooth road helped convince me the higher power output I put forth didn't feel as bad as it seemed last year. No winds contributed to any psychological meltdowns, which contrasted sharply to the images I imagined with the "High Wind Alerts" that popped up on my cell phone last night. Finally, while the 10k run always feels difficult because of the rolling, gravel road, I couldn't help but feel thankful that the sun didn't beat down upon us like it did last year. 

All in all, this year at Priest Lake felt great. I managed to pull away with a win and a PR on what I think to be one of the best courses in this region. I look forward to returning next year. Thank you, Ken and Stephanie!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Coeur d'Alene Scenic Challenge

Before I started putting words onto this clean piece of electronic printer paper, I found the blog post I'd written 3 years ago that detailed my race experience at that Scenic Challenge in Coeur d' Alene. Not only did I enjoy learning I'd bested my time from 2012 and later in 2013, but I also remember how creative I used to write when it came to blog posts and race reports. 

Now that it's 2015, I'm happy to report that after three attempts, I successfully PR'd the Scenic Challenge by a little over 4 minutes from 2013, and finally, won. Unfortunately, I don't think my creative writing has improved nearly as much as my level of fitness has. Nevertheless, I feel lucky to have had a day that I not only could challenge myself to conquer some of my prior bests, but I could also relish those cheers from spectators calling out my name as I made that final run through the park to the finish line. 

Upon arriving to the park, I remember back in 2012 and '13 thinking just how far those buoys looked, floating out in the water. This year, the distance to the buoys didn't look nearly as irritating as the choppy surface of the water. I swear this lake's water surface is not dictated by the winds, but instead by some underwater motor. Despite the thoughts running through my head, the choppy water only seemed a nuisance getting out to the first yellow buoy. After that, I could feel the surges of waves helping me to the last yellow buoy and finally, pushing me to shore. 

Exiting the water as third woman, I immediately felt at home with everyone's cheers. How wonderful to race where people know you. Even leaving transition on my Quintana Roo, a few people called my name before I made that turn onto Sherman Avenue. How I love this city! 

I watched my power numbers stay relatively consistent around 190 to 200 watts. I knew that upon making the turnaround at Higgins point, they would soon escalate. It didn't take me lone to catch the two girls who had beaten me out of the water. I prayed for safety and composure as I ascended "the hill." 

When I reached the top, I realized how thankful I was for what just two more years of experience will do for you. Instead of feeling like that hill had beat me, I felt like I'd managed to successfully pace myself so that the hills that followed didn't seem nearly as terrible as they had two years ago. In fact, coming down the hill on Sunnyside road, I realized I had just a mere 5 more miles to go. 

Reaching transition, my power numbers had surely reflected the increased effort I'd put forth on those hills. Yet now, I needed to focus on getting out of transition as fast as my Newtons would let me. The priority to put more time between myself and the next few ladies made my steps quicken. My Garmin reflected a pace I can only one day dream of running, so I slowed down to a pace I'd planned on last night. While a 6:25 min / mile pace didn't feel wonderful, it's one that I only knew I could push thanks to the 40 minute build my coach, Derek Garcia, had had me do just two days ago. Despite wondering then about how that workout would affect my race, I found myself thanking him at mile 5 of the run when I realized I had just a mile to go on what felt like tired, but capable, legs. 

I approached the park, running down the trail with the waters of the lake splashing against the shore. How welcoming it felt to hear people cheering for me, many of them shouting my name even though my bib number displayed nothing but my number. Again, I felt grateful for the opportunity to find another win. This time, among friends. 

Finishing in a time of 2:17:01, perhaps I felt most proud of my bike and run splits. What seemed so difficult two years ago felt challenging, but entertaining, today. Hopefully, this race will continue next year despite the advent of the CDA 70.3. My conversation with the Race director, Scott Ward, left me motivated to do a better job of supporting these smaller, local events. While we all have our criticisms  and dislikes of certain aspects of an event (the price, the awards, the quality of the roads, the post race food, whatever), we should not take for granted the hard work that goes into putting on events like this in the first place. At the end of the day, we all appreciate the opportunity to race. So let's race. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ironman Muncie 70.3

Let me preface this report by first clearly stating that this year's race panned out quite differently than what is normally characteristic of Muncie's atmosphere, mostly as far as weather is concerned. This area has received a considerably abnormal amount of rain this year, and combined with cooler temperatures, race morning presented itself with lower than normal heat and humidity. As a result, what is normally a non-wetsuit swim turned into just that when water temperatures that threatened to breach the cutoff last week, dipped down to 72 degrees by Saturday morning. I don't know what other triathletes were doing Friday night, but perhaps you can envision the dancing and hollering that ensued when Bryan and I found this to be the case. Then, imagine the looks of confusion this prompted on the faces of Bryan's non-triathlon familiarized family, and this pretty much summarizes our pre- and post-race experience staying with Bryan's cousin, Gerri Garrett, and intermingling with many more relatives who braved becoming involved (to varying degrees) in what many consider to either be an admirable or crazy and stupid sport.

This race did not offer a professional division and therefore did not attract any professionals (of which I'm aware) except for one female, Nina Kraft, representing Germany. While race directors expected over 2000 athletes, they confirmed race morning that only 1700 had picked up their packets. Because of the wet and rainy weather that I alluded to earlier, I don't think these same race officials anticipated the parking delays that resulted, when fields they'd normally reserved for parking held so much moisture as to cause even the smallest of vehicles to get stuck in mud. Considering that most of us were driving mid- to full-sized vehicles in an effort to transport our bikes and gear, you can get a pretty good picture of what we saw after waiting in a line of cars that nearly spanned two miles out from our parking destinations. Our efforts to time just how long it would take for us to drive to Prairie Creek Reservoir from Gerri's house seemed pointless at 6:45am when we still sat in our cars, when transition closed.

We finally parked, found Jane Alley (Bryan's aunt) volunteering as a body marker, and created our transition areas before grabbing our wetsuits and making a concerted effort to find the line for porta-potties. The urgency of our bladders seemed to mitigate a little when we learned the race start had been delayed 15 minutes. It didn't so much matter for me, being in the 11th wave, as it did for Bryan, who was scheduled to set off in the second one. Regardless, it all worked out, and we learned that in reality, you don't really need 45 minutes to set up transition. Just 10 minutes will do. 

This swim is counter clockwise with a distinctly different entrance and exit. In the 11th wave, I found myself not only receiving elbows and feet to my face by my own wave, but the previous waves didn't seem all too accommodating of those like myself trying to get through the masses. I witnessed some seriously interesting types of strokes by the time I'd made it around the second turn. By that time, some weren't even swimming, just floating, as though their swim strategy was to rely entirely upon the current created by others.

Upon turning, you also look into the rising sun. Yet I managed to maintain my position right along the buoy line despite not actually being able to see them. This contrasted sharply with the way I swam going out into the course in my efforts to avoid slower swimmers/floaters. 

Nevertheless, I escaped the swim in a time just over 31 minutes. It's not a time I'm particularly proud of, as I'd like to consistently be swimming under 30 minutes. By the time I'd exited the water, however, I'd completely forgotten about the swim and transitioned to how I'd introduce myself to the bike ride. Wetsuit strippers greeted us halfway up the chute to T1, and with a little assertive encouragement to my stripper (her daintiness would not suffice in getting my Blue Seventy Helix off), I ran up the chute. Unfortunately, a few shoves ensued when about seven out of ten athletes, by this point in the race, had decided to walk. 

In and out of T1, my Cdo.1 and I made it out onto roads that badly needed resurfacing. Making my way out to highway 35 where much of the bike race takes place required a significant amount of jockeying for position and handling my bike in such a way as to avoid deep cracks, grooves, and holes literally 5 inches in diameter and just as deep. It appeared as though race directors had run out of orange spray paint because after awhile, all you saw was the entire lane covered in one long line of paint as if to say, "Screw it. You might as well fly over to avoid it all."

Once out on highway 35, athletes had complete access to the road, as the Governor had graciously signed a permit to keep cars from making our bike ride hairier than what the poor road quality had already done. The course takes you through fields of corn and soybeans and showcases what it seems most residents in this area value most: huge plots of lawn. Acres of well-manicured, well-watered, grass. I was able to pace myself accordingly and gauge my power output accurately because the course is relatively flat with just a few rollers and false flats. Today, no wind affected my performance. Despite my efforts to maintain my power output, I couldn't. It's a good thing I didn't dwell upon what I thought might influence my set up to run, because I learned later in the day that my bike split was the second fastest of the day among my women competitors. To date, it was also my fastest bike split at 2:26 and change. 

After completing the two loops on highway 35, I had to ride back to T1/T2 with every other athlete, it seemed. Fearful of receiving a card for drafting, I made an effort (one time) to back off, only to have the gap I'd created filled with three other athletes. In other words, because of the narrow and poor-quality roads, combined with the fact I'd started in a later wave, riding in a pack back to transition was inevitable. It also created a significant amount of panic inside me because in reality, there existed no room for error (as far as bike handling skills were concerned) on either my part or the parts of my fellow competitors. 

Regardless, I survived and sighed heavily once I entered transition. I didn't have long to dwell on the bike, as my mind had already moved on to the run, so much so that I completely missed the hollering and screaming of the Rowe clan that Bryan later described as being anything other than orderly and subdued.

It was on this final leg that perhaps we, as athletes, benefited the most from the mild heat (low 70s), low humidity (50-60%), and partly sunny to relatively overcast skies. This run took us out along the perimeter of Prairie Creek Reservoir, showcasing some of the best lawns of not only Indiana, but perhaps the entire United States. So much so that I totally neglected to give credit and due admiration to the mansions those pristinely green lawns encompassed. Wow. 

Not long into the run, my focus began to shift toward the terrain. We'd driven part of the run course on Thursday, but like I said, my attention must have been drawn more to the lawns than the road, because I'd completely neglected to notice how undulating and relatively exposed it seemed. There exists perhaps three flat sections on this course, of which you get to experience six times. The kicker is, no section lasts more than perhaps 200 yards, and if you're really struggling and feeling sorry for yourself, perhaps 100 yards. None of the hills we encountered were steep; they simply presented a constant annoyance that even the down hill on each backside of every uphill couldn't make up for. I stopped counting hills (not that I ever should have been in the first place) and instead began using aid stations at every mile to keep myself running in the present. The typical necessities (water, ice, gels, Gatorade, and coke) were offered by generous and rambunctious volunteers, but past the turnaround and heading back toward home, it became increasingly difficult to get your necessities even when you called them out multiple times upon approaching, and then running through, the station. I think this flaw could have been attributed to the fact that most, if not all of the stations, were supplying athletes running in both directions. 

I held my pace fairly well through the first half of the run to the turnaround. The only girl in my age group I'd been able to keep track of I'd passed in the first mile. I later learned she had positioned herself off the bike as the only one ahead of me going out into the run. However, at the time, my slowing pace despite my efforts to keep on track presented yet another surmounting urgency deep within me. By the 8th mile, my efforts felt so labored that I could have sworn, if not for my Garmin telling me otherwise, that I'd slowed to a 9:00min / mile pace. Instead, despite feeling terrible, I'd only slipped to just over a 7:00min / mile pace from one closer to 6:50min / mile.

Beyond the eighth mile, about the only motivators I had involved the encounters I had with Bryan and my Big Sexy Racing teammates; the reminders of my training sessions to prepare for the race (some of which even my coach didn't want credit for assigning); the Rowe family that, despite not even knowing how to spectate a triathlon, made every effort (and succeeded) in being in all the right places at the right times; the support of my sponsors that I've come to respectfully and gratefully represent; and finally, finding that damn finish line with my dignity still intact. 

On any other day, my slowing pace might have resulted in a disastrous finish. Yet on this race day, I seemed to have found luck through pure mental determination that currently, could use some serious work in the next couple of months for me. Yet with whatever mental toughness I seemed to have had left, I scaled the last hill to the finishing chute and scrambled over ruts in grass that were likely created by any number of vehicles driving over it while setting up the race venue. I knew Bryan had finished well before me, and I later learned that he had positioned himself in such a way as to be able to flag me down for a high-five before crossing the finish line. Unfortunately, I didn't see or hear him (or any of the other Rowe's) hollering for me, indicating that I must have had every emotion and last bit of energy sapped from me when I crossed the finish line in 4:34:11. 

When Ron Rowe declared unofficial online results denoting me as not only first in my age group, but also first overall woman, there rumbled within me an excitement so great that it took a significant amount of control and composure to quell it, at least for the time being. While I knew I was one of the last waves to start the race, and the only other waves behind me were comprised of men and relays, I didn't want to get my hopes up and experience disappointment when all I've wanted to accomplish this year was to finally win a triathlon. 

Finally, with a little bit of time and patience, and with an official announcement of the top times of the day by the race director, I heard my name announced as the top female of the day. The rumble turned into an explosion, and the excitement I'd been holding down for the last 20 minutes finally erupted. Had it not been for my Newtons holding me fast to the ground, I would have flown skyward to the clouds that had graciously kept this day cooler than anything I had prepared to endure. 

It didn't take long for me to understand the impact of my win didn't simply affect me. In reality, I appreciated the opportunity to experience it with family and friends (both near and far), with Bryan, with the support of my sponsors and team BSR, and with my coach, Derek Garcia. All of these people and entities have propelled me further in this sport than I could have ever hoped to go by myself. For all of them, I am grateful. 

I've PR'd more times in this year alone than I have in the last five years combined. I truly didn't think I had the potential to find myself on this kind of podium until the end of last year, and most of the desire was inspired by the support and beliefs of those I credit above. This win further encourages me to look for and fight for more from myself.  Through the remainder of July and into August, I will continue to spend quality time with Bryan by lifting weights and utilizing therapeutic exercises to gain strength and protect against injury as I focus on running stronger. I look forward to competing in some smaller, local races in an effort to tweak and refine my strengths, as well as call out areas in need of improvement. Then, I look forward to toeing the line at Santa Cruz 70.3 in September to chase down a 2016 World Championship slot to Queensland, Australia. 

Thank you for joining me through this very last sentence detailing (perhaps too much) my journey through 2015's Muncie 70.3. I correlate your dedication and perseverance of making it this long through the blog post with your support and interest for my endeavors. To you, I am grateful. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Another close finish: Ironman Victoria 70.3

I looked out over the pristine waters of Elk Lake. Up until this point, Vancouver Island had fulfilled all my expectations as far as scenery was concerned. Never have I felt so engulfed by agricultural beauty in the way of abundant nurseries, greenhouses, and road-side farms and shops. Yet just a short drive and / or walk, and I could look out over the waters of the ocean.

As part of the 5th wave to enter the 73-degree waters of Elk Lake, I felt confident in my ability to sprint toward the front of my wave in an effort to find space. I did, but I also found waves 4 and 3. It seemed my effort to stick to the buoy line was one of insurmountable proportions. In fact, by the time I'd made the second turn to the shore, it proved impossible. I could see my swim time lengthening, but like Coach Derek reminded me the day before, I needed to stay in the present. In an effort to do that, I thought my breathing and strength of my strokes would keep my mind busy.

My transition out to the bike course seemed rather smooth. Having no transition bags to deal with, athletes were instructed to lay out their gear on the grassy ground. I thought it ideal given some of the transition areas I've encountered. However, I found it difficult to find space given the way they had crammed us in the racks.

This bike loop consisted of two approximate 43km loops. The roads felt smooth under the whirring of my Reynolds race wheels and Quintana Roo Cdo.1. The course presented many rolling hills, which I felt arose pretty much throughout the entire course. However, I would say most of the rollers are loaded toward the first part of each loop.

I found myself in several predicaments while on the bike. First, the course is open to traffic in both directions. While coming down a hill full throttle, I had about a 2 foot gap between the gravel shoulder and the car that had come to a complete stop in my lane in an effort to make a left hand turn. (Enter "Jesus save me" talk here). Second, I found myself "dancing" with many of the same riders (aka groups of us) during much of the ride. Perhaps this was the result more of the terrain rather than the fact that it was a two loop course, yet it still resulted in a warning by the official despite my efforts to distinctly make a pass and fall off other riders who'd passed me. Finally, I shouldn't have made it around a sharp turn that, because of oncoming traffic, was made very narrow. My efforts to avoid a pot hole, a slower rider still on her first loop, and a cone resulted in me missing first and second said obstacles, but hitting the third. I can't exactly tell you how I stayed on my bike despite it wobbling ferociously, but I'm thinking that after my first "Jesus save me" prayer, He really did think I needed divine intervention.

The scenery on this course rivaled others I've witnessed. This must be the mecca of gardeners because it doesn't take much looking to find a greenhouse, a farm, or a roadside produce stand. There were times I couldn't remember where I was; Concord, Massachusetts, Lake Stevens, Washington, and Whistler, British Columbia kept playing across my mind. Regardless, the only thing "keeping me in the moment" was my power meter. This race, I think I did a better job of keeping my wattage consistently right on target than I did at Troika two weeks ago.

Coming into transition, I knew two other ladies followed closely. We'd been toggling positions for the entirety of the second loop, it seemed. Despite making it out of transition first, Alicia Hill showed me why she's feared in the Northwest by blowing by me at a quick clip around the first kilometer. You can imagine how this felt when I combined this circumstance with the fact I'd forgotten to grab my run nutrition, which sat back in transition. Again, I stayed in each moment by watching my pace hover around 6:45min/mile to 7:00min/mile pace. Also, by counting off each kilometer as I passed the signs denoting them.

Trees created shade for about 98% of this course. Combined with the early start time, it made for a comfortable run. Unless you don't like running on gravel. There exists only one, perhaps 1/4 mile stretch, of pavement. The rest involved fairly well-packed gravel, with roots and rocks here and there. I don't care that people claim it's flat. It wasn't. However, I've raced hillier courses, and the elevation gain in this run is made up of primarily short, rolling hills and false flats. I'm pretty sure that if you count each kilometer, you'll never notice all the hills. I did, however, notice the sprint runners who, by that time, had reached the turnaround and were running against us heading out on our first loop of the half race. This trail pretty much can be classified as a single track trail. Given the roots, rocks, and women with strollers (the course was also open to the public), I felt too crammed and thought if nothing else, the race directors were asking for trouble.

Like I said before, I'd forgotten my nutrition, which made me rely entirely on coke and water at each aid station. I never felt I needed ice despite volunteers providing it. Lastly, I never caught Alicia. Despite gaining a little time on her, evidenced by my ability to keep track of her from a shorter distance, I never could catch her. I was, however, able to watch her finish just 6 seconds ahead of me. Perfect. Yet another close (too close) finish.

Nevertheless, we pushed each other to the point of complete exhaustion, both falling to the ground after the finish line and later seeking refuge in the massage tent. I'm happy to have met the lady, and I'm thankful for such phenomenal competition in these past three races. I give them some credit for my last PRs.

Finishing second in my age group, third amateur, and fourth female overall, I somehow managed to PR my half Ironman distance again by besting my Troika time by 7 seconds. I'm happy with that, considering I found more hills on this course. I felt very strong on my Quintana Roo, and for that, I am thankful. Embarking on my run, I didn't know how I'd finish without my nutrition, but somehow I felt "better" than I anticipated in my Newtons (can someone say, "Hello!") Finally, I'm enthralled by the artwork on my medal around my neck, created by Ashworth Awards. Well done. Next up, Muncie 70.3 (aka holy hot deathtrap). But first, a ferry ride awaits me!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Troika Long Distance Triathlon: A review

Overall time: 4:41:46 (PR)

Swim: 32:26

Our wait for the swim start included large rain drops from a small system that moved over head of us from the south. The rain felt colder than the water, which Race Director Scott Ward said measured a whopping 65 degrees. So upon diving into Medical Lake, I felt comfortable.

Over the last few months, I've really been working on making my swim stroke more comfortable. The use of my new Finis fins have helped me to better time my kick with my stroke. As a result, I've noticed I swim with a different position in the water, almost feeling as though I can pick up my butt to gain a bigger purchase on the water.

After a quick 200 yard sprint to gain position, I attained a comfortable stroke in clear water relatively quickly. Faster, in fact, than what I'm used to. Around 2 large yellow buoys and keeping the last three orange ones to my right, I navigated the swim course with relative ease, feeling fairly confident I'd swam the buoy line without getting off course.

Bike: 2:32:40 (PR)

Someone talked to me from just outside transition as I pulled myself out of my Blue Seventy Helix wetsuit and donned all my bike garb. They told me I'd exited the water in fifth place. I appreciated whoever took the time to keep me posted, as I did not adequately thank them in the present.

On my Quintana Roo, I sank into my zone fairly quickly, reminding myself to hold onto a wattage that I'd worked to maintain during my training rides on this course in the weeks leading up to today. The headwind going out to the T-intersection (one way leading to Sprague, the other way leading to Edwall) did not even compare to the headwind I throttled through toward the turnaround. I managed to hold a normalized power output of 203 watts before turning around back toward Medical Lake.

The ride home, however, didn't feel nearly as good as I'd hoped it would, especially considering the tailwind I thought I could use. I appreciated the aid stations and the supply of water volunteers handed out to dilute the concentrated PhD Glyco-Durance nutrition drink I'd mixed up two nights before. If I could suggest two improvements, I'd request that volunteers remove the caps and that garbage cans be placed at least 30 yards past the aid stations. I hated the thought of throwing my water bottle out to the side of the road, and I rode with one tucked in my back pocket until the next aid station.

The last little loop around Clear Lake tortured me. Already, my back ached so terribly. I don't think I've ever stood up so frequently in an effort to extend and stretch my back. My power numbers started to waver, and my conscience began racing ahead to the run, where I wondered just how I'd manage to race out of T2 with a sore backside.

Run: 1:34:53 (PR)

Three loops. Relying on my Newtons, I started out at a decent clip that I wondered how long I could hold. The announcer in the park told me I'd biked into transition as second place female, yet I didn't know where third place stood in relation to me.

Clicking off the miles seemed to come easy. Running through the first three aid stations, I educated volunteers to please start putting ice in cups. I felt relieved and thankful that each and every aid station had accommodated my request as I passed through coming back from the turnaround. It was at this point that I could gauge where first place female, Haley Cooper-Scott, ran ahead of me. Being the accomplished and incredibly strong athlete that she is, I resigned to the fact that she ran at an untouchable clip.

Lap two came around, and I could sense my pace slowing slightly. I could feel my feet a little more, and my reliance on water and ice seemed a bit more desperate. Having run the loop already, though, I felt I could break down the lap into smaller bites, making it a bit more manageable. This helped, considering the sun beating down on me aimed to burn me on a fairly exposed course.

The third loop came faster than anticipated. I appreciated that each aid station recognized me as, "the one who asks for ice." I didn't pass up a single opportunity for water and ice, and I felt thankful my stomach didn't retaliate in my efforts to keep downing water. I distinctly remember mile 10 being one that I dreamed about in the first lap when the same spot only marked the first mile. How good it felt this time around!

By the time I'd reached the 13th mile marker, I had already been looking for it for about a half a mile. Happy to have reached it, I felt confident Haley had finished well before me, and third place ran about 2 minutes back. My day was done.

Post-race thoughts

Great race, great competition, great day. I felt happy to have had the opportunity to race against some of Spokane's best athletes in an effort to see where I've improved and where I'd still like to improve. Thank you to all those who cheered me onward, to the volunteers who parked themselves out in the sun to serve us, to the man with the sprayer hose, and to the Race Director, Scott Ward, for a great experience.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Bloomsday--A breakthrough

I had one of those days last Sunday where everything felt good and nothing could hold me back. Yet I went into Bloomsday uncertain about how I'd handle such a difficult course when I considered the fact that I'd pushed myself through a challenging brick workout the day prior. After 4 hours on the bike and a fast 30 minute transition run, I returned to the car feeling completely spent. Even the serenity of Medical Lake couldn't distract my mind from taking inventory of what little I had left.

The greater part of Saturday afternoon involved downing bottle after bottle of PhD Nutrition. Flavored and unflavored. Smoothie and drink. I drank it.

Sunday morning presented itself in the way of beautiful sunshine and a calm breeze. I didn't quite know if I'd replenished everything I burned up the day prior, but the short warm up run to the Second Seed starting corral felt relatively good.

We had about 15 minutes before the 9 o'clock starting gun. I looked down at my purple Motion IIIs by Newton, thankful for the way they felt and, in races past, have helped me run faster and more efficiently. I sported my new Big Sexy running singlet for the first time, thankful the day felt warm enough to wear nothing more than that and shorts.

When the gun went off, the mass of people in front of me started to move forward, cuing me to follow. Yet there existed a tremendous amount of people that even starting in Second Seed couldn't help me avoid. My first mile felt slightly labored, perhaps more mentally fatiguing in an effort to weave through other runners. Mile 2 involved a significant downhill, which made it fast. Uphills followed. I've learned to love the hills, thankful for the hill repeats I'd done each week for about a month leading up to this race.

It seemed as though I gained speed and momentum with each person I passed. Three hills down meant I just had Doomsday to scale. I couldn't remember at the time what my hill repeats up Doomsday had taken me in the weeks prior. All I could think about was how much faster I felt I ran compared to the times I'd struggled up it on Thursdays after work.

In years past, I'd learned I always felt my worst in the mile following Doomsday. So imagine my surprise when I saw that my split for mile 6 was faster than that for mile 1! In an instant, I suddenly had fuel, pure motivation, determination, whatEVER, to make me run faster than I ever have at Bloomsday.

My goal for the last two years has been to run a sub-50 minute Bloomsday. I succeeded this year with a time of 47:49 to place 18th in my age group (behind many women from countries I can't pronounce.)

I sit on the couch, one week later, struggling to balance the triumph of a breakthrough performance with the onset of left piriformis pain that suddenly reared its ugly head on Thursday after an easy run. Of course, my psyche currently feels relatively frail when I consider I'd like to run Bay to Breakers with my family next weekend. Perhaps my biggest concern revolves around the fact Troika is just three weeks away. I can only pray massage, trigger point, and heat calm my throbbing butt cheek.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Just 4 seconds

This weekend at the Grizzly Triathlon, Montana's largest, I had the closest race of my career. It's amazing how these shorter races tend to challenge me more than the longer ones do. Or, perhaps they demand a different kind of finesse and skill that half ironman distances do not. Whatever the case, I found myself very uncomfortable in the 5k run, running as top overall female, yet being chased quite closely by female number two.

The bummer for me? It took just 4 seconds for her to become female number one. The race was done.

I didn't even have time to breathe. After jumping into the University of Montana's small 6-lane pool, all of us Elite women started off at the same time, in the same heat. While age groupers had to share a lane with up to four people, I suppose we benefited by only having to split ours. Thankfully, I started my swim feeling rather composed and comfortable. In previous 1000 yard time trials, I'd known that I always swam a faster 1000 yards when I didn't go out too hard, too soon. This time, my discomfort began at around the 700 yard mark, which left just 300 yards to "blow up."

Blew up I did. I jumped out of the pool with a PR of 14:11, which coincided nicely to a 1:25min/100yard pace I'd been swimming my 100s on in my training. Navigating my way through the first transition, I think about 3 other girls had beat me out of the water. My effort to push my wattage up toward 250 watts resulted in me overtaking all the ladies in front of me, and it amounted to an average 225 watt effort for the bike. I later learned that I had the fastest bike split of all the ladies and the 10th fastest overall. (I'm now convinced all these early morning, balls-to-the-walls, make-me-want-to-puke, trainer rides truly are benefiting me.)

By the time I'd made it back to transition, Bryan had already finished. He stood over me as I changed into my running shoes, concerned that two other girls had already made it into transition as well.

And so it began: the race. I could hear her footsteps behind me she was so close. The first mile hurt in an effort to find my pace on whatever running legs I had left. If that wasn't bad enough, "the hill" lurked just past the 1-mile mark. We ran up this steep and rugged hill on a single-track trail. Over shale, loose rock, gravel... what in the world is a hill like this doing in this course?!?! Looking back, I can't decide if the up hill or down hill felt worse. Upon cresting it, I nearly fell over my feet and plunged down the side before my legs had turned over completely.

Least to say, I made it down. Though, so did the other woman breathing down my neck. Just after the turnaround, she passed me. We exchanged remarks about "the hill," and I followed her back to the finish line. Unfortunately, she had a little more kick than I could manage to find.

I don't have regrets. Each race gives you what you've earned. Therefore, I'll take what I've been given and train hard to earn my next position in the next race. I'm thankful for competition. Those races where wins come easy can feel rewarding, yet they don't quite offer the same stories that close ones do.

Next on my docket is Bloomsday. I don't think I'll be much of a threat to the Kenyans, but I look forward to attaining some goals I've set and have not yet met. I feel, with the help of my coach and the inspiration I've obtained to train smarter, I'll accomplish something this year.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

(Un)comfortably uncomfortable, Part II

I raced uncomfortable. It didn't feel comfortably so, however. I'll save you from my excuses. I don't exactly have any to share. Yet I will say I think I had a bad day (at least I hope I did). Is that an excuse?
Attempting to represent Team BSR. I feel as contorted as I
look in this picture. That finish line couldn't have come
soon enough on a bad day. Photo courtesy of Cecil Williams.

Sunshine graced us upon our descent onto Wawawai Landing. Temperatures hovered around 50 degrees. The day looked spectacular. Wind raced through the valley, but it always does. I'd sipped on PhD nutrition's Glyco-Durance drink on the way down, feeling rather hydrated in strawberry kiwi. After finding a parking spot, I started to don my race garb so I could complete my warmup before the gun sounded to initiate the start of the race. I slathered Ruby's Lube under my heart rate monitor strap, as well as in areas of my shoes I always feel hot spots.

Warm up done, I waited in the group of approximately 750 runners, facing out toward the course and into the oncoming headwind. The gun sounded, and I set off at my planned pace with a pack of runners that I hoped I could work with to cut through the headwind and disperse some of the effort.

My pace started to slip by mile four, which seemed to coincide well with the strength of the wind. My breathing felt comfortable, but my legs ached. This didn't feel right, especially just going into the turnaround to signal the half-way point. I hoped upon turning around the cone, my effort wouldn't feel as great without the headwind to fight against.

It felt just as bad. Uncomfortable doesn't begin to describe it. Heaviness. Lethargy. Giving up. It's as though with the turn of the course, so too, did the temperatures escalate. The games I'd started with myself at the beginning of the race seemed to take a turn for the worse. I lost control when I lost my air conditioner in the way of the headwind. The irony of it all killed me, and it showed in miles six through eight. I downed a gel in an effort to ignite the fire that seemed to have faded to a flicker. It took about two miles of significant effort to trot along at what is normally a comfortable pace. My legs seemed to respond to the gel, just as fire seems to strengthen with more air.

Mile twelve finally rolled into view, and with a strengthened flame, I busted my butt to finish at a respectable pace, the one I'd set out to average at on this day. Of course, my day had finished miles before, but I needed to prove to myself that, really, this was just a bad day.

On my first race of this year, I've been humbled. I set out to PR; I arrived home to analyze the day and determine what needs fixing to successfully move forward in this 2015. These kind of situations make me uncomfortable. Yet they encourage me to look forward. Thankfully, I have another opportunity next weekend to test my speed at a St. Paddy's Day 10k race in Nashville, Tennessee. (Bryan and I don't normally travel cross-country for a 10k, FYI. We simply enjoy turning business trips into race weekends.)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

To be comfortably uncomfortable

Over the last couple of months (hence the lapse in posts...seriously) I've "enjoyed" learning the concept of training to feel comfortably uncomfortable. It seems fitting that I've chosen to partake in a sport that gives me at least three different opportunities to fine tune this ideal. I knew TRIathlon had its perks. Yet don't be fooled by the fact that, because triathlon is comprised of three different endeavors, that I have just three areas where I can push myself to the point of feeling comfortably uncomfortable. Weather, strength training, and micromanagement seem to wiggle their own ways into my life. Suddenly, I realize my coach never explained a significant chunk of my discomfort in the conversation we had last week. I suppose he knew I'd figure it out eventually. I'm cool with that.

Truthfully, I've embraced the learning process. Early morning (I mean starting in the 4 o'clock hour) trainer rides make that cup of coffee taste so much better. There's something satisfying about taking opportunistic sips with each passing rest interval so that I may bust my butt over the course of the next 8 minutes in zone Calgon-take-me-away. It's not until I'm at work, rousing my patients out of bed for physical therapy, that I'm thankful the hardest part of my day is complete. Done by 0730? Sounds good to me.

Patient treatment only truly becomes challenging if it follows an evening of strength training. As if the workouts my coach schedules for me aren't hard enough, Bryan and I take about 30 minutes out of some of our evenings to spend quality time breaking each other down. With weights, of course. What were you thinking? Please, Forty Shades of B**ll**it doesn't even come close. I remind myself the reason I can't bend over for that ankle weight on the floor is a direct result of me getting stronger. Or, the reason I groan in an attempt to demonstrate the next exercise to my patient is simply because I'm learning to cope with (appreciate) what's uncomfortable. Nevermind my patient looks confused by my methods. This is fun.

I usually feel confident that I'll find enough energy for any given workout, even if it means having to build to 5k pace in a 45 minute run after a full day at work. Thoughts of getting home, enjoying the dogs' company, and sipping on a cup of tea usually try to derail my efforts, so I've adopted some strategies to hold me to my discomfort. I don my running gear before I leave work. If I don't run at work, I run before I get home. I drive in the direction of home, and I park just a couple miles from home. This way, the only thing keeping me from home is a short, hard, gotta-get-it-done kind of run. It's a short drive home when I'm done. Nevermind the way my legs feel. I'm getting faster. Bring it.

The weather has treated me well. These mild temperatures almost attempt to make what's supposed to be uncomfortable, too pleasant. I leave it to Sunday workouts to make up for that. This morning's 17 degrees at 0700 felt anything by cozy and comfy. The first of March felt colder than the middle of February. Bryan and I waddled off into Riverside State Park, but soon found ourselves flying down Aubrey White in an effort to maintain balls-to-the-wall effort for 15 minutes. Yet 15 minutes isn't enough, so we do it again for another ten. Sucking on 17-degree air feels wonderful. It'll likely prepare us well for next weekend's Snake River Half Marathon. Secretly, I hope we're in the clear as far as weather is concerned. Today's pain translated into a faster interval split. Right on.

Confidence only lasts a short while. Upon returning to the truck, we sat in Bryan's truck, the cab as cold as the air outside, cursing a heater that only throws out warm air if he throttles it past 2000rpms. Given the drive from Riverside state park to the north YMCA doesn't afford many opportunities for that kind of speed, we shivered our way to the Y so we could wait in line like all the other gym rats eager to get in before it openned. Finally, once inside, we decided to jump in their pool. Bryan says he never warmed up. I reveled in how gummy my arms felt during each 100yard sprint. Somehow, I managed to overlook my unease by imagining the fruit smoothy with PhD nutrition and the peanut butter bonk breaker waiting for me in the car. This, only after my (finally) warm shower with SBR TriSwim to finally conclude the day's uncomfortable training efforts. I'm happy with the results.

I can't wait to see if racing comfortably uncomfortable feels this good next weekend. If there's anything I've learned, Ruby's Lube will take care of any pain the mind can't ignore. And so, I'll look forward to kicking off the 2015 race season next weekend as a Big (comfortably uncomfortable) Sexy racer, with coach Derek Garcia of DG Multisports and Bryan urging me onward.