Saturday, September 28, 2013

Starting the Year with Deena Kastor!

Today is my "Happy New Year." Nope, not January 1, not a new school year, not my birthday, or not even Rosh Hashonah. But it is a year until my next Ironman- Ironman Chattanooga 2014! Being this, I have decided today officially marks the end of my 2012-2013 season and the start of my 2013-2014 season.  So, Happy New Year to me!

I've always loved the start of a new year.  It seems so promising. It seems that you can wipe away the things you disliked about the last year, and more importantly, the person you were in the past year, and start again. I am sure I am not alone in my love for this idea, seeing as how most people at least make New Year's Resolutions.  On Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year, we take it to another level. We judge ourselves and prepare for God to judge us for who we were this past year. While I believe faith is important, I am not a very religious person, however, I find myself flocking to temple year after year on the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur) because, as solemn as these days are, I believe in the important of taking stock of yourself in the past year and preparing for another chance to do it better.  One of my favorite meditations from this time is the story of the Chasidic rabbi Zusha:

"I'm afraid!" said Zusha. "Because when I get to heaven, I know God is not going to ask me 'Why weren't you more like Moses?' or 'Why weren't you more like King David?' But I'm afraid that God will ask 'Zusha, why weren't you more like Zusha?' And then what will I say?!"

I hope no one takes it as sacrilegious to apply this teaching to triathlon, but I see triathlon as a metaphor for life and personal betterment, so I believe it is appropriate.  This morning I ran with Deena Kastor (more on that in a bit).  I will never be Deena Kastor. I will never be an Olympic athlete, and I am perfectly fine with that. I have other important contributions to make. I do have big dreams though (cough Kona cough) and the person I was this past year is not someone who was on the path to those dreams. I am not and never will be Deena Kastor, but I can be the best "Rachel the Imperfect Triathlete" that I can be, and see where that takes me.

I think the heart of all resolutions is respecting yourself. Respect who you are and even respect the mistakes you have made. Most of all, respect who you want to be.  That is the easy part, we all have high hopes for what we might become.  The tough part next is respecting the dream, respecting the process, and respecting that who you are right now is always in flux.  When we break resolutions, it is because we lost respect for ourselves. We started to doubt that we could achieve those dreams, that we were worthy of that success, that accomplishment.  Respect is different and more important than willpower.  Willpower is what people claim they have or don't have when they stuff the donut in their mouth, or are able to walk by the office candy bowl.  Respect though, is knowing that you deserve the success you imagine for yourself, and that giving in in that moment is disrespecting those dreams, and disrespecting the person you can be.

I have not been the best Rachel I could be this past year.  Not just in training or horrendous eating, but in many aspects of my life. I was lazy and apathetic for much of the year.  I have not lived up to my potential.  My best friend frequently quotes her mom to me, saying "The great thing about life is that you can always change." How true this is! And while it is true any day, any hour, any moment, I see a New Year (whether of the Jan 1, jewish, academic, or triathlon flavor) as the epitome as a chance to change.

For my "New Year's" celebration, I kicked it off in epic (for a geeky runner) style- I ran with Deena Kastor. No, unfortunately it was not just me and my new BFF, but a sponsored "Run with Deena" Fun Run at Fleet Feet.  I got up before dawn to meet the group at 6:30 for a run, and I am so glad that I did.  My first observation was that this girl is TINY! I have gotten use to seeing triathletes, even the pro's who are minimal body fat have very muscular legs. I'm not at all saying that Deena isn't muscular, I'm sure she is pure muscle and bone, but has that elite runner build that I am so far away from (again though, I'm not trying to be Deena, just to be the best me). She briefly chatted with the group, and told us about how people ask her about nerves.  Then she said that she has been running since she was 11 and has never been nervous. Huh? But she proceeded to describe those race morning feelings- the knot in your through, butterflies in stomach, shaking hands when tying your laces, and then said "That isn't nerves, it is excitement." We laughed, but how true! I would argue that the high before a race is better than any high afterwards. It is being around hundreds or thousands of people, all with different but similar dreams, who have all done the training and made the sacrifices and are ready to test their bodies. Just like a New Year, it is the point where anything seems possible, and we dream big. I am yet to have a finish line where I felt as excited as the start line, and that is the high I chase when I sign up for races. 

The other main thing I got from Deena was her love for the sport.  Yes, she is paid, and I am sure would not make sponsors happy if she appeared to be a grumpy runner, but she truly seemed genuine, wanting to run with us lowly recreational runners. She even spoke of how that is what is so awesome about the sport- all levels can share the same experience, and I believe this is so true. To think that in an Ironman more people come back to see the final finishers than the winner- how amazing is that! Sometimes it is easy to become a slave to a training plan and lose that joy and love for the sport. While it is a job for some people like Deena, for most of us, it is a game we are lucky to play.  I need to remind myself of how fortunate I am to run (bike and swim) and that while it hurts so bad sometimes, it feels so good too.

The great thing about this New Year's Run with DK was that it pushed me. It pushed me out of bed when I honestly thought about just sleeping in. It pushed me to run further than I have (umm, Deena, interesting definition of 5 miles), and it pushed me to go faster. Heck if I was going to get left behind by Deena Kastor- I wanted to be as close as possible to soak in her awesomeness (swear I'm normal, not a stalker...). I think it was the push I needed to start my year off right.

In lieu of making specific resolutions for my triathlon new year, I pledge to respect myself. I will respect both my current abilities and my goals in all facets of my life, and take frequent stock of whether I am living up to being me. I guess we can call Ironman Chattanooga Judgement Day!

Monday, September 23, 2013

North Shore Century 2013 Recap

Yesterday I took part in the North Shore Century. I chose the 50 mile route as with biking to and from I would hit 62 miles. For two weeks out from Ironman Wisconsin, I thought that was a respectable distance. I hadn't been on the bike since Madison, apart from a quick spin to meet the group for Saturday's run. Confession: I still haven't washed Baby Beluga from Ironman Wisconsin. There is a solid layer of sports drink and other gunk, along with my bike sticker. As in, yes people, you are passing me. Look here, I did an Ironman two weeks ago. Sometimes it's ok to brag.

The weather was perfect. It was an ideal fall day, started around 60 degrees. My goal was to enjoy the ride, no focus on power, speed, etc. Just pedal forward. I left home just before 8am to head up to Evanston to join the ride. There was a large group there, but registration went smoothly.  I usually shy away from paying for rides that I do on my own, but despite my summer spent on the North Shore, this ride went a different route going north so it seemed like it would be a nice change. The volunteers were telling everyone, along with signs, to follow traffic laws in Highland Park and around Ft Sheridan, as apparently cops have been ticketing cyclists there.

The ride was just what I was looking for. Once again, I found myself smiling most of the time.  It felt so good to be back out there, no matter how slow I was. There is just something about endurance events that I have come to crave. Keeping the pace easy, my legs felt perfectly fine. But the numbers don't lie. My speed was <15 mph, and my power was lower than my Z1. Pretty sure that is the recipe for an enjoyable post-Ironman fall ride.

The ride started out heading west and then north.  It was a nice change of scenery from my normal jaunt up Sheridan Rd. However, in terms of using this route for training next year, I think it might be too stop light/sign heavy for a good training ride. Once up in Lake Forest, we headed east through the town (really nice, I somehow have never ridden right through it) and up into Lake Bluff, also lovely. I stopped to take a picture of the lake through the trees. It doesn't do it justice of course, due to 1) being an iPhone, 2) I'm a triathlete, not a photographer.

After that it was back south, but not before I followed folks who I later realized were not part of the ride and took a wrong turn. I don't think it cost me more than a mile or two, and luckily I was able to find my way (i.e. type it into my phone) good ol' familiar Sheridan Road.

The route took us on a detour through Fort Sheridan that I had never done before and plan to add onto some of my future rides. I love that about being on a bike- can just take a new turn and find out where you'll end up. Much less fatiguing than new/wrong turns on runs (flashback to Bakersfield where my 4 miler turned into 7). By the time I got back to Evanston I was feeling ready to be done, but nothing really hurt or felt fatigued, just mental. I stopped for a few minutes in E-town before heading the 6 miles back home.

The Garmin file for my ride is here. Yes, abysmal stats:
Distance: 63.6 miles
Time: 4:22:08
Speed: 14.6 mph
Average Power: 90 W
Normalized Power: 98 W 
Nothing at all to brag about, but who needs that when I can still brag about the Ironman?

Course support was great. There were two rest stops with lots of fruit, sandwiches, baked goods, water/gatorade, and other goodies. Volunteers were plentiful and friendly. The course was very well marked, so my slight detour was really just my fault. I would definitely do this ride again, except next year it will be the week before Chattanooga. Maybe the 25 mile route?

As this was day 2 of my "Healthy Eating" kick, I was mindful of my nutrition, careful not to give myself permission to just eat whatever.  Before the ride, I had oatmeal with chia seeds, banana, and brown sugar. I carried and refilled two bottles of water, and had a powerbar and two powergels. At aid stations I snacked on fruit.  Garmin says I burned 1400 calories, so I think I did good. For a race or even in season, this would not work as enough fuel, but for any easy ride when I am targeting weight loss, it was just fine. On a more general nutrition note, today marked day 3 of healthy eating. My rules have already relaxed, but I think it is ok. I have had popcorn as well as a TJ's 100 calorie dark chocolate bar, and I'm feeling good. Actually, that is a lie. Right now I feel the opposite of good- headache and nauseous, but hoping to feel better with some sleep.

I was a bit worried about Baby Beluga after the incident the day before IMMoo, but that probably seems to have resolved. I am still having the squeaking when I downshift (maybe upshift too?) in the middle of my middle chain ring.  I am hoping to be able to get it in to be checked out this week. Of course, to prove to me that he too is worn out, as I was putting BB back in the bike room, the bottle cage snapped in half. Bright side- most definitely the cheapest component to replace, and far less traumatizing than when my seat post broke this summer.

This ride reminded me of how odd the endurance mindset is.  Normal people do not go out and ride 63+ miles and think little of it.  To most, that would be a huge accomplishment. And yet, it was just a nice, leisurely ride.  At EN, we talk about "doing cool things with your fitness." In other words, I have worked hard (not as hard as I should have) to get myself to this place. Now I can have fun with it, and fun, sadly, is more endurance events.  Even within myself, my mindset has changed. I remember bragging about biking the whole Lakeshore Path- 36 miles.  Now that is a short ride. I think a huge part of Ironman training is getting comfortable mentally.  Being on my bike for 4+ hours is not boring anymore, and that is the huge difference.  I think many would be able to do the ride I did with no training at my 14.6 mile pace. But it is the mental fatigue/boredom that would get them, and that is a very strong muscle on me right now.

This weekend was great to be back out there running and biking. My big take home message though, was that I am not back.  I am still recovering.  I feel fine, but my body isn't putting out the speed/power I am use to.  I wonder if this is almost a protective reaction of my body- "no, you can't go full throttle (or even half throttle) right now or you will do serious harm."  I am trying to listen, but balance it with getting back out there.  I think focusing on good nutrition will also help my body heal. For that reason, I am not attempting to restrict anything beyond good sense. If my body wants an apple, even though I've had 3 pieces of fruit already, it can have the apple. If it uses the same reasoning with chocolate, which I'm sure it'll try, I will have to use a different tactic. I know when I have done marathons before, you feel about 85% better within the first week, probably even the first few days. It is that last 15% that takes about a month. Ahh, patience, now that is still in training.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Back on the Wagon

I feel like a healthy triathlete again! This morning I went for my first run of any significance (I did a 20 minute jaunt last weekend). I met up with the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation's Team Challenge to do their 6 mile training run with them. Team Challenge is how I started my foray into endurance sports five years ago when I did my first half-marathon with them in Miami in January 2009.  Obviously I feel a connection to them and am so thankful for the work they do fundraising, but really they do seem to always be a great group of people. I got to do this week's "Mission Moment" to talk about my journey with IBD and how I did the Ironman to raise money and awareness. Always fun to show people who don't have the disease under control yet that it does get better.

It was really nice to run with people. However, I felt like I was running a really strong pace only to find out that it took me 58 minutes to do 6 miles. Huh. That is my slowest running speed (minus the IM marathon).  I guess my legs still are recovering.  I was also slightly worried since I had some foot/achilles pain. Plantar fasciitis? Oooh, I hope not! I'm hoping it is just a warn out body complaining a bit. Other than that, I felt great.

More importantly, today I started my healthy eating. It felt really good to be putting healthy stuff in my body, no surprise there. I also really like cooking and meal planning. I went grocery shopping and did the age old trick of "if you don't buy it you can't eat it". 

I also spent some time today mapping out my training plan for the upcoming year.  Endurance Nation does this for me, but I'm waiting on my plan from Coach Rich right now and just started by creating a spreadsheet of all the races/events I have planned as well as life obstacles, such as travel for conferences or weddings.  I have a pretty good guess of what he will have me doing, so we'll see how well our plans match up.

Tomorrow I am doing the North Shore Century.  I am planning on doing the 50 mile route, plus riding there and back for about 62 miles total.  I'm excited to just have a nice easy ride, not pushing it, worrying about anything like power, pace, nutrition (well, eating would probably be a good thing). Should be a nice fall day for it too.

Friday, September 20, 2013

An All or Nothing Girl

While I'm not sure I would consider myself Type A like many triathletes, I do share the common "can't do anything in moderation [except swim]" mentality. This is in many areas of my life- I won't do a little bit of cleaning, rather wait til the weekend when I can do a deep cleaning (or frequently just put it off again, hello dust bunnies!). I prefer to work in large chunks of time, then just little bits.  If I have time for only a 20 minute run and had planned an hour, I'm likely to skip. Obviously these are downsides. Unfortunately, the biggest thing that has happened is very bad eating habits.

I've alluded to these before, but I would say I'm not in a good place at all with eating. I love to cook and eat healthy foods, but I am an emotional eater, probably with some addictive behaviors in terms of sweets.  And I apply my all or nothing mentality here.  If I was planning on "starting over tomorrow"- the always classic "diet starts tomorrow approach" but then I had one thing, say a miniscule piece of chocolate, I would consider it ruined and binge out. This is ok if it happens every now and then, but it happens more often than not these days, and I'm not liking how it makes me feel, and what I am doing to my body.

Many people preach moderation. Heck, all of Weight Watchers is that- you can have a cookie, just keep it as one. That might work for some, but not for me, and I would guess not for many triathletes. One cookie? That is just sad. Give me the whole box, or I don't want any.

I read somewhere that people are either "Abstainers" or "Moderators". I fall into the abstainer category, however, just have a lack of willpower when it comes to actually doing the abstaining. But what it means is that I am better off making strict rules and NEVER having "a cookie", as that single cookie will be sure to multiply.  The scary thing about being an abstainer is it sounds so scary and absolute. I will have no chocolate. No candy. No sweets. None of the cookies I love to bake. No ice cream. No binges. Aren't I just torturing myself?

My hope is this abstaining isn't permanent. It is temporary as I retrain my mind and body.  I would say I behave like an addict. The thought of passing on that chocolate seems impossible. But it is so easy when I think about it logically. I KNOW it tastes good. I know it makes me temporarily happy. I don't have to eat it. I have eaten things before, they are good, they didn't change my life.

I said in my last post that I have big dreams. I can't be weighed down, figuratively and literally but bad eating. It is really taking a toll on how I feel about myself. No more excuses.

In true "all or nothing" terms- I start tomorrow. Nothing into me that isn't good for me. If I question if it is good for me, it isn't. I did a freakin' Ironman, I can do this.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Post Ironman Depression and Big Dreams

Last week at this time I was finishing up an 112 mile bike ride and about to run a full marathon en route to my very first Ironman.  While you can find the details here, the word for the experience is really "incredible."  The energy of any event, especially an Ironman, is awesome.  It is everyone doing something extraordinary.  I really love this quote from Jordan Rapp (pro-triathlete)-

But no one in this room has a burning desire to be, “typical.” That is not why you do an Ironman. You do an Ironman because you want to reach the stars. And you want to do it the hard way. Because that is what makes it special. 

I think so much of what I have been struggling with is that I didn't earn this. Which is crazy. Finishing an Ironman is never an accident. I might not have trained ideally, but I was still going out there for 4+ hr rides every weekend. I'm not in the shape I wanted to be in, and in the mirror I sure don't look like a triathlete, but I did an Ironman, and I would say I did it in a pretty darn respectable time.  If I was in tip-top shape, who knows what might have happened? I might have gotten injured, burned out, or maybe just have done as well.
This past week has been weird. Monday and Tuesday my quads were constantly reminding me of what I had done. People were asking about it and congratulating me.  I never felt I had the words to do it justice. By Wednesday the soreness had faded and people stopped commenting on it.  It was almost like my secret. I had done this incredible feat, but now I was back to my average life.  I sat at work feeling unfulfilled. I missed that feeling I had finishing.  I was back to being just me, not training for anything monumental.  I know post-Ironman depression is common, and I felt it. I admit that I'd come home and wear my medal around, just to remind myself.  I wish I could say I'm carrying my momentum from the event into work, but most of this week has been non-productive as I've been in a total mental fog.  

So what is next?  Well, not feeling you lived up to your potential has a silver lining- I've never been so motivated to see what I can do.  I will confess that I have distant dreams of Kona.  I'm not sure how long it will take or if it is possible, but a girl can dream.  When I started running I never thought I'd be a Boston qualifier, but I did that, so who knows.  As I'm a quote junkie, I love this one- 

When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.

Training for 2014 starts today.  In a bit I'm going to go for a 20 minute run. Formal training starts at the end of October with EN's Outseason, but I plan to keep up consistency until then. I have learned from 2013 and won't repeat those bad habits.  First on the agenda is to get the eating under control. I'd love to start the Outseason at 125, and round at 2013 at <120 lbs. 

Maybe it is a good thing I don't feel like an Ironman- I'll just have to keep doing them until I do!  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ironman Wisconsin 2013 Race Report


A year ago I registered for my first Ironman. I had done two 70.3s before (should’ve been 3, but let’s not forget the Muncie 2012 Hotter than Hell Fiasco), with a PR of 5:33 at Steelhead. I joined Endurance Nation in October and started the Outseason in November. I did my first bike power test and was humbled. I was pretty true to the plan the first half of it, and then life stress starting happening. A skipped workout here, another there. “I’ll just run, I’ll save intervals for another time” was a common theme I had. And then it just got worse. I was skipping whole weeks. I had always followed training plans to the letter, and there I was with no motivation. I think I was just unconsciously targeting my training for the upcoming Ice Cream Time Trial ICTT), but I may have peaked too early on that one. Little to no training and bad eating habits were packing on pounds, and life stress continued to increase. It was a very challenging time for me.  I kept vowing to start training again, and I’d post in the forums things like “How do I get my motivation back” and the like, and was always amazed at the responses. No one ever criticized me, but respected that I was a real person going through a tough time. The hard thing about starting to train again is it is extremely unmotivating. You go for an easy run and you are slow and it hurts. Doesn’t really make you look forward to the next one.

In April I slowly started getting back into the habit, but was far from perfect. I wasn’t really swimming, and I was still skipping bike and run workouts far too frequently. Eating habits were definitely sub-par too, or just the super advanced plan for the ICTT.  The worst part of getting back into it was that I was repeating beginner runner injuries. Shin splints were my main affliction.  In early May I did the Flying Pig Half Marathon with a friend, and realized just how out of shape I was when I finished just barely sub-2 hrs. A year before I had done a half marathon with no taper in 1:43, with something still left in the tank. It was disheartening. I did most of my runs at an easy to moderate pace, leaving out the high intensity work since I was having enough issues/pain with just running. I started using a powermeter on my bike (in the winter I’d used Virtual Power on the trainer) and was also discouraged by that. I was having so much trouble holding constant watts in flat Chicago, and my power test was embarrassingly low.

By June my life was coming back together, and my training mojo was increasing. However, I was paying for how out of shape I had gotten, and was struggling. Whether it was still a lack of motivation or real need, I was taking at least one rest day a week. I never really built up intensity on the run, and there were several weeks I skipped running altogether due to shin pain.

For the rest of training, I got in all the long runs and long bikes, skipping a couple of the Sunday “Always Be Pushing” long-ish rides.  Swimming is an area where I never re-discovered my motivation, and my longest swim was 1:15, but it was an OWS and I have no clue how far I went. Most weeks I swam only one time.  I am a slow swimmer and while I know swimming has a low ROI, swimming more would have definitely increased my confidence and made me mentally stronger for the IM swim. I am not sure how much faster I would’ve gone (some actual lessons would help a lot I am sure) but I would have been less anxious about the swim and more mentally prepared.

One thing I did right was to get on the course. I went to the EN Camp in August, as well as rode it once before the camp and once more for my final race rehearsal. Each time I went a little faster and felt more comfortable with the bike handling and more confident. In Chicago there was just no way to mimic the terrain.

The last thing to note with my prep is that I did not race a single time this year. I had planned on doing Muncie 70.3 and an early season Olympic, but yes, that damn life stress got in the way.

If you are already skimming this way-too-long race report, the summary up to here is that I lost motivation, got fat and slow, and skipped a whole lot of workouts. Not at all endorsing this approach, just want to paint the picture of where I was coming from and give anyone reading this in the future who is struck down by life stress some hope that you can still make it through an Ironman.

I got up to Madison from Chicago on Thursday just before the team dinner. I had wanted to get in earlier to take care of registration, but had already survived one endurance event that day- a 3 hr Rosh Hashonah service. It was great to meet folks at the dinner, and as always, amazed by the positive attitudes, helpfulness, and lack of cockiness among all the team.  

Friday morning I did the team swim and felt good in the water. Then it was off to registration, which took about 45 minutes. Weighted in at 130 lbs- 13 lbs more than I was a year ago and almost 20 lbs heavier than my marathon race weight in 2011.  Went to the Four Keys talk, reinforcing the messages I’d been hearing at camp and on the forums. Walked around the expo some while waiting for my mom to get into town, but tried to take it easy. Probably could have stayed off my feet more than I did. I went to the athlete meeting and while most of it was a waste of time, there were a few helpful tidbits. Went to the banquet Friday night and was a bit disappointed in the program. It was fun to sit and talk with the team, but I found the program really lacking. I’m a sucker for motivational things, and felt I could’ve gotten more sitting in my hotel watching Ironman youtube videos.

On Saturday I was lubing my chain in preparation for bike check in and took it for a spin in the hotel parking lot to make sure all was ok. It was not. While it was shifting fine, it felt like a constant grinding, like I was never fully in any gear.  This was there with any gear I tried. I was trying extremely hard not to panic. I went to bike support, where they first thought it was due to some grime in the chain (guilty of not doing a thorough chain cleaning). When that didn’t work, one of the mechanics took it for a spin and thought it was a bottom bracket problem but said “It shouldn’t be detrimental tomorrow, just get it replaced after the race.”  I wasn’t too reassured, and asked every teammate I saw how bad this sounded.  Whether people were lying or not, most were reassuring but I was still slightly panicked. Before this point I was freaking out I’d get a flat, now I was sure I’d have a mechanical issue that would keep me from finishing.  I tried to focus on what I could control, which at this point, wasn’t this.

I woke up at 4am. Breakfast was a yogurt, rice, and a banana. Then I was sipping a Perform all morning. We left the hotel at 4:50, and probably got to Monona Terrace at 5:10. My mom and David dropped me off and I left them with my special needs bags to drop off since that is a bit away from transition. Great advice from EN was to work solely from a checklist so I didn’t have to think at all. I think I got some good karma by being the one in my row to have brought a pump. It also paid to have a flashlight to actually see the pressure guage, as my transition spot was not near a light. I met the team for a picture and was off to swim start.

SWIM: 1:34:21
I entered the water at around 6:40. I was able to stay close to shore and stand to save energy from treading water until the pros went off at 6:50.  The water was chilly just standing there, even though I think it was 74 degrees. I wore a sleeveless wetsuit. Once the pros went off I swam out to the ski jump, staking out a spot to the left of it. My plan was to seed myself with people planning to swim 1:25, a bit faster than my prediction. Unfortunately, everyone around me was saying far different things in terms of pace, so I just stuck where I was and prepared for a lot of contact. I was able to hold onto a kayak before the cannon for a while which was nice. I really couldn’t see how far I was from the actual start line.

The cannon went off and we started swimming. It was kind of surreal, like “oh, I guess this is happening now.” I didn’t even bother sighting at first, just focused on going forward with my 2800ish new friends. There actually wasn’t much contact at first. The usual chaos, but not what I was expecting. I felt like I hit my stroke pretty quickly, I think the not sighting immediately helped me get into a rhythm. Just as I was getting comfortable the wresting/boxing/MMA match began. A nice scratch to my arm, people grabbing feet (really? I know my stroke is bad, but what part of swimming involves actually grabbing onto feet?), swimming over me, crashing into me from the side. The worst was a good kick to the nose.

Most of the first leg I felt good. I had no issues staying on course on the first leg, which is 1050 yds. It got congested around the first turn, and I followed tradition and moo-ed. The next leg of 350 yds was definitely lots of contact as we had all merged together around the turn. But that was nothing for the hell to come on the long leg.

I had been warned that the long leg seems to go on forever. And that was in good conditions. Race day had given us the gift of nice temperatures (sandwiched between two hot days, so yay weather gods) but a lovely 15+ mph wind that was giving Lake Monona a good current/chop. At some points I felt like I was barely going forward and was having difficulty sighting. I was swallowing a fair amount of water. There were many points where I felt very nauseous. My goggles were also fogging. I have never used de-fogger since I have never had issues with this. Well, apparently my luck ran out, and now I get why people use it. I was definitely drifting further off course and having to make some pretty sharp corrections. I was stopping quite frequently to try to find the next buoy or fix my goggles. I knew when the buoy color changed from yellow to orange I was at the half way point, and saw I was just about at 45 minutes. I knew the second half would take longer since more of it was into this lovely current. It seemed like forever until I saw the red turn buoy.

That last leg back to shore is on a diagonal, and judging by the fact that there were no people anywhere near me, I was doing a pretty lousy job of sighting.. Finally I could start to see the swim exit area. I had a brief moment where I considered really “sprinting” it in (note: I really only have one speed of swimming, so my sprint is just a way to expend energy) but I had Coach Rich on my shoulder chanting “Mile 18, Mile 18, stay in your box”. I knew logically that sprinting would not do me any good here.

T1: 10:07
I got out of the water and was shocked at how good I felt. First stop wetsuit strippers, then it was up the helix. I had no intention of really running, but I did an easy jog and felt like my HR was in check. The atmosphere was awesome with the helix lined with spectators.

Volunteers pointed me right to my bike bag and I was off to the change tent. My volunteer was amazing. She starts emptying my bag out, asking me what I want, putting away my swim gear and anything I didn’t want. I put my helmet on, and dried off my feet. I sucked down a gel with a few sips of water. applied chamois cream, and put on my gloves. My volunteer recommended just holding my shoes until the bike line, so I carried them out. I made a quick stop at the port-a-potties (yep, should’ve peed while still in the lake) and let the sunscreen volunteers slather it on me even though it was an overcast day. I took off on an easy jog down to my bike, which was way down at the other end near bike out. While most bikes were definitely gone, I was far from the last one out. The volunteers call your number down the line, so they have your bike ready to go when you get to it. I put on my shoes (no socks), grabbed the bike, and mounted at the line.

BIKE: 6:55:37
Down the helix a guy in front of me just kept saying “easy does it, hold your line” over and over again.  My plan was to go super easy until Whalen Rd and continue to go pretty easy the whole first hour, but knowing Whalen takes a bit more effort. The bike path and all the admin stuff was really helpful to get in the “take it easy/not racing” mindset as it forced you to be slow and not even pass folks.  I wasn’t planning to start really taking in calories for a bit, but my HR was good so I started drinking Perform right away.  The tail wind we had going out also made it easy to keep the effort low. Oh and the bike issue? Didn’t notice anything feeling off on race day so apparently my bike has magical powers to fix itself. It’s heard me talking about getting a genuine tri-bike and is upping its game to not be replaced.

Even before the rollers start on Whalen Road, I saw how poorly people were going to ride the course. Are you really trying to be the King of the Overpass? Really? Really? My favorites were the guys (yes, sadly plural) coming out of the saddle on the false flats. While these examples are just pure stupidity, I think having ridden the course several times was definitely helpful in that I was prepared for just how slow I would be going in portions and it didn’t upset me and make me do stupid things come race day.

I had a 11-30 cassette which I had never trained on the course with and I think it made a huge difference. I’m sure it was also the taper and the adrenaline, but no hill felt like I was totally grinding. I made sure to shift down for everything, and really focused on maintaining the effort over the crest and into the downhill.  It was exactly as the coaches said it would be- got passed going up, did the passing going down. My only complaint is that many folks were in the middle of the road or on the left side on the downhill making it difficult to pass, but hey, it is fun to scream “on your left” to a guy who thinks he’s a total stud on a bike worth about 5x as much as mine J

I’d ridden the course 3.5 times and this was by far the easiest. Mentally I was prepared for what was ahead. I think the new cassette was a big help, and the crowds were great too.  I can report that I totally stayed in my box. There were a few times where I really felt like I was crawling and couldn’t figure out why, but I trusted the numbers and just kept my power in check. I had my Garmin set to show 3 second power, lap average power, and lap time, resetting laps every 30 minutes. I never looked at speed, as I knew this would push me out of my box.

Nutrition-wise, I relied mostly on Perform. I grabbed a bottle at every aid station and refilled my Profile Aero Bottle. Got to say that the bottle Perform tastes NOTHING like the powder mix. I’d usually run out of Perform in the aero bottle about 10 minutes before the next station, and then used a bottle in my cages to keep me going until the aid station. I will admit to not being a Type-A triathlete with tracking my nutrition during the day. I just made sure to keep drinking. I also had a powerbar (in two servings) and 3-4 gu as well as a couple pieces of banana throughout the ride. I remembered what Rich said that the bigger worry is having too much and your stomach shutting down than not having enough. I just made sure to do frequent assessments of how my energy was and how I was feeling and adjusted as needed. One of the times I picked up the banana I was past the “Last Chance Trash” by the time I had it peeled. I definitely didn’t want a littering penalty so I definitely rode about 15 miles with a banana peel tucked into my race belt. And of course that was captured on camera.

Around mile 75ish the miles started to pass more slowly. I don’t think I was physically tired, just the initial excitement was wearing off.  The spectators were also clearing out, and overall the energy of everyone was lower. I made sure to keep a good focus on the moment I was in and just stick to the plan.

Everyone talks about the three big hills- Old Sauk, Timber Lane, and Midtown. Honestly, I found this to be one of the easier portions.  They are just hills. They do not last forever. Just get into your lowest gear and enjoy the break from aero. The spectators are awesome and really make it a highlight. These hills are not what will get you in Madison- it is the constant other hills that will fatigue you if you let them, making these three seem much bigger and badder than they are.  My only advice is to be prepared for less spectator support on the second loop if you aren’t speedy, as I was looking forward to seeing the devil again on Old Sauk, but apparently he’d already gotten enough souls. For many, I’m sure they really did find hell on the run. 

There was a headwind coming back into town on the stick, but I think I had enough energy that it was fine. After that final hill on the stick, I could definitely feel I was picking up speed, and was excited for the run compared to all the folks around me who looked positively beat.

My numbers were:
Time: 6:55:37 (including FOUR pee stops)
Pavg: 120; Pnorm: 128; VI: 1.07; IF: 0.72

All in all, very happy with how I rode the bike. Stayed in my box. Lowest average and normalized power yet, and best VI. I know my IF was high, but it was lower than on my training rides on the course where I found I felt good through the ride and able to run well off the bike, granted 6 miles is different than 26.2.  I think there is a good chance my FTP is actually higher and I just haven’t mastered the test. Gearing definitely can help on this course, so highly recommend getting as many gears as possible (loved my 11-30!). Compared to my training rides I definitely stayed in the aerobars more than previously (and with no back pain- yay!) and did a good job conserving momentum to really help with the uphills.

I can’t say enough about how helpful it was to know the course.  I remember how terrified I was of all the hills the first time I rode it, and now I was just able to take them as they came. My bike handling also improved. Training in Chicago, I have ZERO hills to practice on, and I spent my first training ride in Madison giving my hands a good workout riding the brakes. My confidence taking the downhills fast and even some fast turns definitely showed on race day, with a peak speed of 43 mph according to my Garmin. Things my mom never needs to know about..

Plans for next year are to- 1) Get my FTP up this Outseason and learn how to test well; 2) get a legit tri bike, no more clip on aerobars!; 3) learn to pee on the bike. I stopped FOUR times to pee. Luckily I only had to wait in line once, but I’m guessing that is probably about 12 minutes I could get back. So yes, can’t wait to get a fancy bike and pee all over it J

T2: 5:54
Really nothing to note (surprising considering that I’m not leaving out anything), changed shoes, some bodyglide, port-a-potty stop (again), gu, race belt, and hat. I did decide to change into running shorts as a mental thing- a fresh start!

RUN: 4:34:22
My legs had the usual heavy feeling to them as I started the run but in general I felt great. I heard people saying “that girl looks good” and it didn’t seem like the blatant lies you hear spectators saying, but maybe I was just hearing what I want to. My garmin was misbehaving, bouncing between 6:50 miles and 11:30 miles for the first half mile, so I did my best effort to try to go as slow as possible. Crowds were awesome. I started the run in a very good mental place, as I knew I could walk the whole damn thing and still make the cutoff.  I definitely had bigger goals than that, but it was reassuring that I would at least finish. My plan was 9:45-10 min/miles for the first six, then 9:20-9:30ish. Hah- didn’t know how hard the IM marathon is…  

While I felt pretty good, I think knowing the distance still to cover was a bit daunting. With the two loop course, you see both mile markers, so at mile 3, you also see “Mile 16” and that made me feel like I just had so much more to do.  I kept trying to disconnect my brain from the overall distance and do the aid station to aid station approach, or just break the course up by the little out and back sections.

I walked all aid stations, though my definition of the aid station got more liberal throughout the run. At first it was just from the first to the last table, then it was stretched out to a smidge before the aid station to last chance trash.  I still prefer this over other walking breaks.  I also walked Observatory Hill, and on the second loop, a few other places I deemed to be hills, but probably were not.  I would definitely recommend the walking Observatory Hill strategy, those that ran only got a few feet ahead of me and I quickly caught up with them. It made me look forward to the hill rather than dread it.

My legs held up pretty well for the run.  My right foot went numb at mile 5 which worried me, as this has happened in HIM, but never happens in training. I think it might be exercise induced compression syndrome, but really need to have it checked out.  Luckily and for no known reason, it only lasted a few miles. My calves were also both tight for a few miles in the first half, but either they stretched out or I got use to it, because it stopped bothering me. No real shin pain, which was great since I have battled that all year. I am definitely a believer in compression sleeves, which I wore, to help with shin pain.

I didn’t have my nutrition totally mapped out for the run since I didn’t know how I’d be feeling. I did make sure I was getting electrolytes and calories but not angering the beast that is my GI system. It was clear pretty early that I was done with Perform (had also noticed on RR that I could handle Perform on the run for about 3 miles, then no more). I wanted water but was careful not to have too much without sodium.  Potato chips have never looked so good and I did take a few, thinking I’d get some salt. I don’t think they are to blame for GI issues but who knows.  I did have 1 saltstick somewhere on the first half.  I had a total of 3 gels, the last made me want to vomit. I started cola at mile 5 and took some at most stations. I haven’t had soda in 10 years, and wow, it was heavenly. I also had chicken broth at a few aid stations to help with sodium. Cold = disgusting; warm = gift from God.

In terms of GI issues, I mostly felt just nauseaus/gassy but didn’t feel as though I was going to actually have any issues for the first half. At special needs I got my secret weapon- candied ginger, and I think that helped, or at least was just a different taste compared to all the sugary stuff. My real issues started at mile 19ish, where I began the port-a-potty tour until about mile 23, with a few moments of panic between port-a-potties.  I’m not sure what the cause was, if it was something I ate/didn’t eat, level of exertion, or just good ol’ Crohn’s reminding me it is there (and most likely a combo of all).  I’m sure in future races I could try to keep to a stricter nutrition plan, but I don’t think there would be any different outcome, as I have had training runs where I get much sicker than I did on the course.

The EN mojo on the course was awesome. Especially with all the out and backs, you were always seeing EN-ers, and everyone was positive.  It was great to see EN folks on State Street and get a boost there. 

I was prepared for suckiness to start at mile 18, but I still felt pretty good there. I was na├»ve and thought maybe that would continue. Hah. Newbie mistake. Just after Observatory Hill of the second loop I got to the dark place. Looking back I can’t even remember what was so bad, besides the GI issues. I was in no horrible pain, I think it was largely just general fatigue. I wonder if I should’ve taken in more calories if that would’ve helped, but that also might have made my stomach angrier. I really wanted to walk. So badly. I kept telling myself that as long as I was physically capable of running, I would regret walking. I think the energy at that point also changes, people don’t look good anymore. No one is talking. It is very somber.  When you need energy the most, it isn’t there. Spectators were also thinning out. At mile 23ish my hat flew off.  I just looked at it and kept going. It wasn’t worth the energy/effort it would take to bend over and get it. #ironmanproblems. Finally you start to see/hear excitement as you get closer.  I still kept to walking aid stations, even in the last mile, and still didn’t find that last burst of energy you sometimes get when you see the end is in sight.

As I came around the capital, it was a weird feeling- I am actually going to do this. I could not wait for it to be over.  There was also somewhat of a let down.  I was doing better than I expected to do on sub-par training, but I think the fact that I didn’t hit every workout and train as hard as I had intended made me feel like I hadn’t earned it. That might just be my post-ironman depression talking.  That was just a bit of what I was feeling, in general, I felt awesome.  I think I smiled 99% of the day, and really can’t wait to do it again.   Total Time: 13:20:21

Major props to RnP (Endurance Nation Coaches), Brenda (what a rock star) and all of EN. I never thought I’d get so much out of the team, and really had just an awesome weekend in Madison. 

A couple days ago I had a routine doctor’s appointment with my gastroenterologist. Many of you know I have Crohn’s disease and did this race to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. My doctor asked how I’d been doing and I proudly said “I did an Ironman last weekend.” This is a very very very long ways from wasting away in hospital bed unable to walk to the nurse’s station.  My doctor was really excited and asked if he could use my story to give hope to newly diagnosed patients. I think that made me realize that it doesn’t matter now how sub-par my training was, and all the ways I could have gone faster on race day. I did an Ironman!

All I’ve been thinking of this past week is ways to do it better in Chattanooga next year.  Obviously learn to pee on the bike.  But other plans are to keep up consistent training (life seems under control right now J), lose the damn weight from those days of not training, and buy some speed with a real tri bike instead of my road bike.  I also plan to have some more races on my calendar, I think this will help with motivation and just having fun with this sport.

Looking forward to a good year of training and racing with EN!  And congrats to everyone who actually read this thing. Sorry if it scewed your TSS balance.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Can't Sleep Nerves Will Eat Me!

I cannot believe it is the Friday before my first Ironman! Of course I'm writing this right now because I could not sleep. Lovely. Glad I'm getting such quality sleep before the longest race of my life...

I drove up to Madison yesterday. I was originally hoping to be up much earlier, but it was Rosh Hashonah and I had to practice my endurance by sitting through a 2.75 hr service. I ended up getting to Madison just before the Endurance Nation team dinner at the Hilton.

The excitement here is awesome. All day things were popping up on Facebook or GroupMe. Of course, some just got me nervous. A few people were reporting mechanicals- broke chains, derailers, etc. Now my biggest fear has become a mechanical. As someone told me at dinner, I can't worry about that because there is nothing I can do to control it. I know, but then again, should I have had my bike checked out one more time? Should I have replaced my PowerTap batteries? I never rode the hills with the 11-30 cassette- what if that goes wrong? I never put on the chain catcher. What about that squeeking I'd heard in my chain? What if my pedal falls off? The list goes on.

Of course, the most common problem I could face would be flat tires. The other day while putting on my "race" tires (Conti 4000s) I got some practice changing flats and it went the best it ever has, nothing speedy, but not absolutely horrendous. I do have to use a tire lever to get the tire back on, which I know makes damaging the tube a possiblity, but I have no choice with my weak hands but to risk it. I have packed enough for 6 flats. I'm not kidding. I do have to find some CO2 cartridges today, as I'd bought some at home but they are too fat to fit in my dispenser.

Obviously, the list of everything that could go wrong is monumental, and does me no good. I will try to handle whatever comes my way, and accept that if something happens that can't be solved, I will survive.

Today's agenda is a practice swim (about 30 min) at 8am, then registering, 4 Keys Talk (EN staple), course talk at 2pm, and banquet at 5:30.  Mom gets in around 2:30pm.

The support of everyone has been awesome. I got an awesome "How to Race An Ironman" book from Jen, with pictures of animals swimming/biking/running with cute captions. My aunt left an approximately 5 minute message. I think I got the most "likes" I ever had on Facebook when I posted the other day "My training plan says "Week 20 of 20"- Ironman week is here!".  Team Challenge sent me a box of goodies for raising money. I don't think people quite understand what it takes to do this, but having them behind me means the world. 

The Runner's World "Quote of the Day" could not have been any more appropriate the other day-

“Erase from your mind that your preparation must be perfect. Hard work + dedication = a shot at your dreams. Keep believing.” - Kara Goucher

Monday, September 2, 2013

Feeling Like an Imposter

Logging on to Endurance Nation this morning was a line I dreamed of since I registered for IM Wisconsin almost a year ago- "Week 20 of 20".  I am at the end of my training. But instead of pride or excitement or any emotion I would expect to feel, I felt doom.  My time has run out. I feel I am just getting started.

Looking at the IMWI facebook group, the excitement is insane, and I love that. People are discussing all their packing, their crazy emotions, and M dot tattoos. And I'm not feeling it. I feel like I am imposter, and that my training plan has progressed to week 20, but I'm back in pre-season myself.

I don't want to say that this isn't a huge deal to me and that I'm not super excited, because it is a big deal and I am excited. I just don't have that feeling of "I've worked so hard for this" like I know most do. While I have many reasons for not wanting a tattoo, frankly, I don't believe I have earned one.

I feel guilt for not respecting the training program. But the truth is, I did a lot. Yes, I slacked for a while with life getting in the way, but I had some pretty big obstacles this year and I am proud of overcoming them. Even when I got my training on track, it was far less than perfect. I never did interval runs, and due to shin pain from my time as a slacker, typically skipped at least one run a week. Bike rides here and there were missed, and my Sunday "Z3" ride was very often Z1 with a smattering of Z2. And swims, well, yeah. We won't get into that.

I need to focus on what I have done, not what I didn't. I did two rides of about 103 miles, both on the course. I did two 2.5 hr runs. I did more than most people ever dream of doing. Yes, it wasn't as much as I wanted, but I really have many reasons to be proud of myself. Maybe it is a good thing I don't feel like I've given it all for this race, because this is a game, and how healthy is it to really sacrifice all aspects of your life? I will finish and I will finish wanting more.

I did swim today, and the start was tough. My arms felt sore, from what, I have no idea. After a bit I loosened up and it wasn't too bad. The highlight though was watching Diana Nyad complete her Cuba to Florida swim on my phone on my way home from the gym. Simply inspiring. It is never too late to chase dreams.