Monday, June 27, 2016

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 70.3

After the last two years of weather disasters for athletes attempting to compete in the Ironman CDA event, I remember thinking to myself as I'm registering for the inaugural 70.3, It will only be half as far to endure twice the normal amount of heat and wind. Perfect.

Imagine what my thoughts primarily revolved around about 10 days out from race day? Just how accurate is this Weather App anyway? It seemed with each passing day, the weather only improved. Where once the temperatures hovered in the 90s, they suddenly started to plummet into the 80s. As a result, coming off a relatively good race for me in Victoria just two weeks prior, I felt relieved that I'd have the chance to use my fitness to my best abilities. Not having to contend with Mother Nature made my job slightly less unpredictable.

Race morning had arrived, and walking from our parking spot at NIC toward the Bandshell, I gazed I ntently upon the water. Just last weekend we had come over for a training day to run the new course and hop into the water, but the choppy and rambunctious conditions dissuaded us from starting with our swim. Today, however, the water looked calm and enticing. Perfect. 

Compared to the horrendous swim start at Victoria 70.3 just two weeks prior, CDA race staff had it figured out. Volunteers used the entire beach to organize athletes into their desired start position. Each start position was accessible from all sides so as not to cram athletes into some chute designed for cattle. Bryan and I started toward the front of the group so as to allow us the chance to better know our position relative to our competitors once out of the water. Volunteers ushered us over the timing mat in a single file, which I thought made for a stellar and seamless entrance to an already perfect lake surface. No flailing arms, no kicking feet to knock off my goggles, and no jostling for position when plenty of water awaited us in whichever direction we opted to swim.

I exited the water feeling confident I'd swam my fastest 1.2 miles yet. Sure enough, I ran out of the water with a time of 29:51, checking a goal off my list that I've not yet seemed to achieve for the past 3 years, until today. Once on land, I embarked upon a significant transition run toward the transition area itself. I'm confident this run wasn't nearly as long as the one I'd encountered in Mont Tremblant two years ago, nor the one in Henderson for the World Championships in 2012 and 2013, but it left my legs numb and my lungs burning before I'd even mounted my bike.

Once on the bike, however, I focused sharply on my effort. My power meter reined me in, but having a girl pass me before reaching the turn around at Higgin's Point made me push harder than I should have. Yet my mental "refresh" button helped to keep me from going too hard, and I eventually let her have the lead as we made our way back into town.

Having my parents spectating today really meant a lot. I had to take an extra gulp of air to hold back my emotions when I spotted the two of them waving and cheering for me as I flew out of town to make my way toward Highway 95 and the grand ol' Cougar Gulch climb. By the time I'd reached this hill, I had this gut feeling that my legs weren't quite with me. I'd been burping a lot coming out of the water, which I normally do initially. Generally, though, I'd have been through with that in the first 20 minutes of the bike ride. Today, however, I'm convinced my nutrition wasn't settling, and therefore, my legs might be attempting to pedal on an emptier tank. Regardless, you pedal onward (and upward in this case). My wattage numbers held steady up the hill, and they continued to hover around 200 watts. Yet as the ride progressed, they began to fall, and any effort to keep those numbers where I wanted them to stay seemed difficult.

I hit the turnaround and distinctly remember a 27 year old woman pass me at about the 40 mile mark. She ignited a small spark that left me telling myself over and over again, Meghan, you have to push your effort. That's what it takes to win. We toggled back and forth a couple times, but in the end, she maintained her lead. By that point, she had been the 4th woman to pass me on the bike. Generally, I'm not used to that. I'm the one passing other women.

I rode into transition feeling incredibly aprehensive. On the bike alone, I knew I had slipped about 5 positions. I donned my Clifton 2's, which had been smothered in Ruby's Lube the night before, and headed out of the transition area, fully aware that I'd beat at least one of those women out of the chute. It didn't take but a mile for me to find the one lady I'd vied for position with out at Higgin's Point. Just as I'd thought, she didn't look like a runner. That left three more women to track down. One of those women had the 27 written on her calf.

Photo by Craig Thorsen
Including McEuen Park in this year's run course proved to be a great way to include spectators and to give families the opportunity to cheer us on from a great spot to sit. Despite all the sharp turns to start the run and make our way past the first aid station, I appreciated using the park as one of my goal destinations when trying to mentally break this run up into smaller portions. The hardest part of the run for me proved to be the long slog out to the turn around. It was here, however, that I caught two of the three ladies that had past me on the bike. Imagine my relief when I saw the distinctive "P" on their calves.

From then onward, I ran as though I had everything to lose. I let these two professional women dictate the pace, which seemed to match my goal pace anyway, until one of them began to slip away. She kept motioning me to follow her and try to keep up, but I couldn't. Eventually, I pulled away from the last professional also, and before I knew it, had started my second lap.

I saw the 7th mile marker before I knew what had happened to miles 5 and 6. Up until now, I don't think that has ever happened. My legs felt incredibly heavy as I started to rely more and more on the aid stations for water and coke. By mile 10, I had also eaten a couple gels, thinking that perhaps some electrolytes would calm my cramping quadriceps muscles. My heart felt excited when I ran past the 11th mile marker, because despite my failing legs, I knew I could survive those last two miles. Craig Thorsen, sitting calmly under a tree just before Sanders beach, asked me how I felt. At that point, I couldn't tell him anything verbally. I simply raised my arms as if to say, I have no idea how much further I can go.
Ahhh... Sherman Avenue!

Approaching McEuen park again, my mind had left my body. I could no longer formulate any clear thought. I could, however, decipher the sign that directed me to the finish line instead of out for another lap. The road to Sherman Avenue took an eternity to traverse. Turning onto the road itself, though, brought back the same memories I'd had when I had finally brought my 11+ hour day to a close in 2013, completing my first full Ironman. It all seemed the same. Ecstatic spectators, beautiful hanging flower baskets. Loud music. Cheers from family and friends. And yes, the announcement that Meghan Faulkenberry, from Nine Miles Falls, Washington, is our second amateur woman finisher of the day.

Definitely not my fastest day, but a day of learning and achievement, nonetheless. In the near future, I look forward to recovering and then working to gain strength in areas I find lacking. Ironman Calgary 70.3 will allow me to once again test myself in my efforts to prepare for the World Championships in September.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Victoria 70.3

For the second year in a row, Bryan and I enjoyed a great weekend up in Victoria, BC, where the skies remained clear, the winds calm, and the temperatures mild so as to prepare a beautiful race venue for us to enjoy. Despite the few changes from last year's course, namely the two-loop bike course turned into one loop and the site of the transition area and Athlete village moved to the opposite end of the lake, virtually everything else felt the same.

This race boasts an early start time. Both Bryan and I found ourselves scrambling to find a parking spot, get through transition, and then make the long walk down to the water. We must remember to bring cheap flip flops next time, as the walk on the gravel trail proved to feel a little too tough for our tender feet. Compared to last year's wave start, race organizers changed the swim to a rolling start, in which (ideally) athletes would self seed into a chute based on their predicted swim finish times. What organizers did not account for was the number of people they'd be corralling into this chute. No one could move between the two fences designating the chute in efforts to get to their desired position. Bryan and I couldn't either. So while our intentions had been to self seed ourselves in the Under 30 minutes starting position, we found ourselves in the 45-50 min position. Just something for race organizers to consider next year.

Also, this end of the lake is notoriously weedy. So much so that attempts to swim in it result in limbs being tangled and snarled and efforts to breathe pretty much futile because of what also floats at the surface. For three days leading up to the race, a lake "lawn mower" of sorts worked to cut down the weeds in the course. Volunteers took rakes to what had floated to the top. Regardless of their efforts, the weeds won. As a result, the swim course was cut about 300 meters short (my Garmin displayed my swim distance to be just under a mile), and what felt more like an Olympic distance swim ensued.

I swam through numerous athletes I should have started in front of, but I still felt happy about my final swim time of 22:09, which meant I'd swam a 1:18min/100yd pace, a significant improvement from last year. What will be telling is if I can hold this pace for a full 1.2 miles in a couple weeks at CDA.

Moving out on the bike course, I prepared myself for a flatter first half, followed by a hillier second half. My coach encouraged me to ride conservatively for the first half, which I tried to do. I warmed up quickly traversing Mt Douglas Cross Rd and continued to enjoy my ride as we made our way up into Sidney and toward the tip of the island at Lands End Rd. Ironically, my efforts to remain conservative kept me at my goal race effort of about 200 watts. Once into the hills on the west side of the island, my normalized power only slightly increased by about 3 watts.

I couldn't help but think to myself as I rode on West Saanich Rd, making my way back to transition how good my body felt for the effort I was putting forth. Generally, it is at this point in a half ironman distance event that my low back starts to ache, my hamstrings start to cramp. Yet I didn't have any of these niggles, and I credit the recent bike fit by Wade Pannell at Fleet Feet for finally getting my position correct using his Retul system. Of course, the ride itself felt smooth thanks to the tune up by his son, Grafton, of VeloFix. I'm pretty sure I've never had quite as an enjoyable race ride as I did yesterday.

Back into transition, I had no idea where I stood in relation to my fellow female competitors. I remember passing several ladies in my age group on the bike, and now I needed to start out on the run. I remembered to grab my PhD nutrition flask that I distinctly remember forgetting last year, and headed out for my first lap. My legs initially felt sluggish, but they picked up a rhythm by the 5km marker. Regardless, I still wasn't hitting my goal pace, and my quadriceps seemed to want to spasm. I tried to focus on my steps and the sounds of those athletes around me to shift my mind away from my quads. That worked pretty well for the first lap, but I remember shaking my head as I passed the finishing chute to make my way out for the second lap because my body just seemed to want to crater.

My pace had slowed significantly, even finding comfort in an 8-min mile at one point. So I started to pay attention to landmarks along the course that I wanted to "just get to." Just get yourself to the park. Or, the hill and turnaround are next. Finally, look for that 20km marker. You're almost there. 

At the turnaround, I was able to spot the ladies in front of me. At this point, I could tell I was fifth woman coming down the hill toward the finish line, but I had not the confidence to do much peering around my shoulder to look to see who was PRO and who might be in my age group. In the end, I remember veering left to make my way into the finishing chute, thankful I didn't have to go out for another lap. I finished in a time of 4:42:22, 3rd in my age group, 4th amateur woman.

Compared to last year, I raced slower this year. My bike split was about 2 1/2 minutes slower and my run split was almost 6 minutes slower. I suppose I expected a slower run this go-around, simply because of the injuries I fought through this winter didn't allow me to run those extra miles at nearly as an intense pace as last year. I don't have much explanation for the bike ride, as I felt I rode stronger this year than last year. And, we didn't have nearly the elevation gain to tackle this year (less by about 800ft.) Regardless, I'll take this race for what it was, reap the fitness benefits I hope it provided as I make my way toward Ironamn CDA 70.3 in two weeks, and I'll feel grateful to have had the opportunity to secure my Worlds 70.3 Championship slot yesterday.