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.