Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Troika Olympic Triathlon

I had plans to write this post no later than one week post race with the idea that I could say it took that long to let my fingers thaw and regain the dexterity to type again. As I sit in a hotel room in Mount Vernon and prepare to depart for Sidney, BC on a ferry in the morning nearly two weeks after Troika, I realize that now, my fingers have not only thawed but actually sport a bit of bronze from the sunshine that radiated down upon us all last week. Leave it to a busy race schedule to hold me accountable to writing my race reports.

Leave it to Mother Nature to remind me of the unpredictability of Spokane spring weather. I remember thinking last weekend while riding across sun-soaked pavement how hot I felt, sweat trickling down my face. On the wet and cold Saturday morning Troika Triathlon (sprint, Olympic, long and duathlon courses) happened to fall upon, my sweat mixed freely with beads of water, both falling out of the ski and splashing upon me from passing cars. To marvel at the irony only makes me shake my head. Well done, Mother Nature. Touché.

What more need I say? We all hope for stellar conditions on a day we pay significant amount of money for the opportunity to knowingly push ourselves past a level of serious discomfort. We all know the feeling of race officials kicking us out of transition with nothing but our wetsuits on to keep us warm while rain pelts us from above, generally at least 30-45 minutes prior to the time we actually dive into the water. Perhaps what surprised us on Saturday morning more than the misery of swimming in the cold Medical Lake water was how much more pleasant the swim turned out to feel compared to the "swim" we all experienced on the bike ride.

In fact, trying to use my frozen hands to pull out the silicone ear plugs I'd jammed into my ears and remove my wetsuit that seemed to have latched onto my ankles proved impossible. Looking at the results, it appears my slow transition times cost me valuable time overall. Though my less than stellar performance on the bike could possibly have done me in, too.

Photo by Rene Guerrero Photography
The wet roads and sheets of rainfall likely did more for my character than my confidence. As I dismounted my bike after a less than enjoyable paddle over the soggy roads of Medical Lake, I felt nothing but gratitude for a bike course that, this year, more closely adhered to the standard distance for an Olympic distance triathlon. Memories of confusion regarding the extra two miles that weasled their way into the course last year made me think how fortunate we should all feel that the storm had held up those extra two miles in their attempt to entertain us again this year.

My sentiments regarding the weather quickly turned to concern when, upon dismounting my bike, I felt relatively disoriented. I reminded myself that despite the puddles I'd landed in, this was neither the time nor the place to experience the sensation that having sea legs imparts. So I pulled off my swim fins came to my senses and waded haphazardly through the chute into transition.

It turns out unbuckling my helmet proved harder than taking off my wetsuit. When I couldn't make progress with my headdress, I shifted my attention to my shoes. By the time I'd donned my Hokas and bib number belt, my fingers had regained enough function to unbuckle my helmet, but the time spent floundering cost me more precious time I didn't have to lose.

Photo by Rene Guerrero Photography
On the running trail, the rain seemed to have abated. The legs I struggled to feel during the bike ride had shown up for the run. Spectators told me I'd come into transition as third overall woman, which meant I had work to do. I found this particular work comfortably uncomfortable. Running at a sub-7 minute/mile pace felt familiar despite not having spent much time this early season running it because of injury. It also made for a fast first lap around the lake, which, though rewarding, hardly compared to the happiness I felt upon finding my good friend, Craig Thorsen, prior to finishing the first lap. After some gentle encouragement, Craig ushered me onward for a second go around the lake with a quick whip, "Get to work."

I thought to myself how difficult that might actually be given I had not yet tracked down either of the two women ahead of me by the end of the first lap. Yet I should have trusted myself when, after making my way through the park, I spotted the talented Kari Cardon about 100 yards in front of me. At the time, I pondered whether or not I should expose myself so soon. We had two more miles until the finish line, and her form from behind convinced me she ran strong. I don't know what compelled me to go for it, but I decided to maintain my pace, and it proved fast enough to catch up with her.

With just over a mile to go, I passed another woman thinking I'd run my fatiguing self into first place. However, I later found out my competition had actually finished well ahead of me, and the other woman I'd passed had merely finished her first of three laps of the long course race.

Not often do I find myself at the finish line shivering. On this day, I did. Bryan finished a few minutes after me, and we quickly gathered our soaking belongings from transition before seeking refuge in the truck. Though not the most pleasant of race experiences, I remind myself how fortunate I am to participate in these athletic endeavors regardless of the weather and conditions. Now, I look forward to tackling Ironman Victoria 70.3 this weekend, and so far, the forecast looks a little more accommodating for a race.

Photo by Craig Thorsen.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ironman St. George 70.3 Race recap

Even before this race began on what happened to be a relatively calm, Saturday race morning, I 
struggled mentally. After a meaningful conversation with my coach Friday night over the phone, I sat down and wrote out 10 goals that I planned to use to keep myself focused on each part of the race. Because I'm currently reading Joanna Zeiger's book, The Champion's Mindset, and because I just finished the part of her book emphasizing the ways athletes can benefit from writing goals, I felt inspired to do it myself. 

My goals fell into one of three categories related to procedure, performance, and outcome. 

Procedural goals:
  1. Glide through the water; blow water out your mouth. Don't swallow air.
  2. Stroke the bike pedals efficiently; use more of my butt than my quads.
  3. Count my pedal strokes and footfalls when my mind wanders. 
  4. Drink at least 3/4 of your bottle loaded with 800 calories of F2C Glycodurance.
  5. Ignore the heat and concentrate instead on your foot strike, cadence, and core engagement.
  6. Think and speak positively at all times; find optimism in seemingly difficult circumstances, and when I can't do that, smile. 
Performance goals:
  1. Improve my 2013 times:
    • Swim: 32:47
    • Bike: 2:43:24
    • Run: 1:42:00
    • Overall time: 5:02:24
  2. Race smarter, be tougher, and use stronger mentation than ever before.
Outcome goal:
  1. Race like you deserve to stand on the podium.

My ride for the last 4 years, the QRoo is racked in front of a
gorgeous backdrop. 
I wrote these goals because I felt uncertain about my physical preparedness leading up to this race, and I needed something else to focus on when I knew I'd feel terrible. In retrospect, it seems paying better attention to achieving procedural goals allowed me to better pick apart the race and work toward smaller challenges rather than get bogged down by the entirety of the race itself. In addition, it required more effort to concentrate on accomplishing the procedural goals because, instead of focusing on my performance and the ultimate outcome, I needed to take care of the feedback I got from my body by taking constant inventory of all my working parts.

I think back to the swim in the 64 degree Fahrenheit waters of Sand Hollow Reservoir. Because of the high wind advisory for later in the afternoon, course directors had opted to cut the time between swim waves short by about 2 minutes. While this meant more traffic for me to swim through as a result of starting in one of the last waves, my efforts to glide through the water and focus on my timing brought me back to shore in a time of 29:55. Positively speaking, it also meant I hopped on my bike and rode out of transition about 20 minutes sooner than had previously been possible with the initial wave schedule.

Overlooking Sand Hollow Reservoir after ascending the first
of many climbs on this beautiful course.
Once on the bike, despite finding one climb after another almost immediately after leaving transition, I remember thinking to myself throughout the duration how grateful I felt for overcast skies and the winds at my back. I noticed how my fellow competitors took my mind off the course by cracking jokes. Surprisingly, those around me actually followed the drafting rules. By the time I found the 40-mile marker, I realized that, despite my low back and hind quarters registering more than "moderately fatigued" on my internal pain scale, I felt well primed to start the 4-mile climb up Snow Canyon. I remembered this section as my favorite part of the race. It served as an opportunity to exude strength and courage when others around me loathed the crawl up 4% of hill (at least that is what I thought to myself.) Bryan and I had told each other during the drive up it two days before that, from gate to gate, it required about 20 minutes of effort before we could celebrate with 11 miles of downhill to the finish line.

Celebrate, I did. The descent back into transition left me with a bike split a little over a minute slower than 4 years ago, but I will not loathe the result when, upon racking my bike and donning my Hokas, I did not experience the same cramping quad pain I did the last time I escaped this transition area.

In fact, imagine how surprised I felt when my internal "check engine light" I thought for the past 2 months in training would most definitely come on, did not. No pain in my butt, my hamstring, nor my calf. The discomfort the sun radiated upon me did, however, took a considerable amount of wherewithal to ignore. I made the conscious decision to change the screen on my Garmin from current pace to time to prevent me from feeling discouraged when my pace didn't reflect the gut-wrenching effort I was sure to feel.

Upon embarking upon the first significant climb from Diagonal Street, professional woman Jeanni Seymour rushed down the hill, the muscles in her quadriceps bulging out distinctly from under her skin. The concentration on her face gave me courage, and I found myself passing the only woman in my age group who had beat me out of transition. Once I had crested the hill, I found Bryan at mile 3. We exchanged a few words before the distance between us grew to discourage continued conversation, and instead, a more determined focus on my present state of competition ensued.

I heard my footfalls. I felt my arms swinging in time with my churning legs. I counted my steps, one to one hundred, to keep my mind off the sun burning my neck. I rewarded my efforts with a short walk through every other aide station to replenish the ice I shoved down my tri-top. I drank as much water as a 15 to 20 second walk would allow. Though I heard the alerts from my Garmin registering every mile covered, I never looked at it. My pace did not matter. What I saw, what I felt, what I chose to think about, did. As a result, I look back fondly on that run. My body felt stronger with each person I passed. I smiled when the expressions I saw on peoples' faces needed encouragement. I thanked every volunteer and morale-boosting spectator.

In the end, even my cramping right calf that inevitably altered my gait by involuntarily curling my toes could not keep me from running down the finishing chute. Having completely lost all control of my running form, I ambled down the carpet like a monkey: arms flailing haphazardly, hips swaying, knees buckling, and toes curling. I have yet to perfect the iconic, strong, Ironman finish line running stature. Yet in that moment, finishing the run 5 minutes faster than in 2013, a run I once thought two months ago would keep me from competing in this race altogether, felt like enough.

The greatest lessons I learned in all of this? Use my head. Speak and think positively. Exude confidence. The course is only as difficult as I make it; break it down and build into it. Competitive effort is supposed to hurt. Focus on achieving goals rather than what the clock says. Find gratitude in all aspects of my current status, predicament, and endeavor. Greatness will happen. Let it.