Sunday, August 31, 2014

A week after

One week ago at this time I was about an hour into the bike of my first 70.3, on my way to having a great day. Right now, I'm sitting on my butt, drinking coffee, eating a nice big homemade breakfast.

I haven't had much to say this week because I haven't done much except sleep, eat and relax. I've run twice: one very easy, humid run with my dog, and one longer, mini-speed run with a couple mile pickups in there. I've slept in every day. I've taken both dogs out on long walks. I worked in the garden. I spent time with family. I've watched a LOT of Boardwalk Empire. (Gotta re-watch before the season premier next weekend! So excited.)

When people ask me about my 70.3, they usually have two questions: "Would you do it again?" and "Would you ever do a full distance?" My answer for both is pretty much the same: "If I can dedicate a lot of training time to the bike."

I am clearly lacking on my bike work, and I knew that going in. I was able to hold my own for the entire 56 miles, but I definitely have room for improvement. Unfortunately, my schedule is such that I can't really take my bike on the roads during the week, so right now I'm limited to one weekend ride outdoors. Unless something changes, or I can invest in a real indoor trainer, I see myself making slow gains there.

As far as the swim goes, that's probably just a matter of swimming more and longer. Swimming an average of three times per week, I never got my times down to what they were last year when I committed to four times per week. But I'm OK with that: What was more important to me is that I swam smoothly and calmly and felt fresh for the bike. If I can make a few speed gains, fine, but I don't think I'll re-haul my schedule just to get a few minutes faster overall.

And as for the run, I'm taking an "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach. Sure, I can always run more, and do more speedwork, and slack off a bit less. Who couldn't? But considering how good I felt on the run, how many people I passed, and how high I ranked for that discipline, I'm happy with where I'm at.

Michigan Titanium was a fun, great, challenging race. I'd do the half distance again, for sure. I don't know if I could mentally handle the two-loops-to-make-a-full-distance arrangement -- to get so close to the shore/transition/finish line and then have to turn around and do it again would be tough.

But I'm not thinking about a full right now. Right now I'm concentrating on recovering and maybe, just maybe, a comeback next year. We'll see.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My first 70.3 -- Michigan Titanium race report

It has been quite a whirlwind journey, but I did it. I completed my first 70.3 and lived to tell the tale.

Sit back and get something to drink, because this is a long one.
Final prep and pre-race 

The race was Sunday, so I decided to take both Thursday and Friday off work: Thursday for any last-minute training and errands, and Friday for travel. It ended up turning out well. I caught up on sleep a bit Wednesday-Thursday, then went for an easy run before a late breakfast. That afternoon, I took my bike for one last road ride, of about an hour and a half on flat roads. It was actually pretty windy… and little did I know how that was going to be a harbinger of things to come.

That evening we dropped the dogs off with my parents, stopping for last-minute silicon earplugs and Body Glide on the way. Thursday night was another night of decent sleep followed Friday by an easy run and breakfast, and then I tackled my to-do list of packing, chopping veggies, checking I had every last race item, etc. Finally we loaded up the car and headed to Grand Rapids.

We arrived at the home of a friend of the family, relaxed for a bit, and headed out for a nice dinner that included duck and Brie nachos. Delicious! I try not to eat too much grains or dairy pre-race but I justified this as carb-loading. =) We checked out a brewery for my husband and then headed back. Nerves got the better of me and I didn’t sleep much Friday night.

Saturday I was up relatively early because the race was hosting a swim practice at the lake. I got there early, chatted with the lifeguard about what to expect, and suited up. The water was nice – maybe a touch warm for a wetsuit, but I knew I would feel better with it. They asked that we stay on one side of the course, so I swam out to the third buoy, splashed around a bit, and swam back. And that was the last of my pre-race training.
Pre-race swim practice.
After my swim Saturday, we went out to a delicious brunch (corned beef hash for me) and poked around downtown a bit. My husband and I haven’t spent much time in Grand Rapids, so it was nice to have a local as a tour guide. =) We headed out of town for the pre-race meeting and packet pickup, and then dropped off my bike at the race site. I was starting to get really nervous. 

We went back to my friend’s house to relax a bit, then drove the race course. There were several hills that made me very nervous, and some of the roads weren’t in great shape, either. It was doing nothing to help my nerves. I tried not think about it and we headed out for dinner and drinks. I probably shouldn’t have been drinking at all, but I was SO nervous, and it was helping me calm down a little. I tried to go to bed early and slept in fits, tossing and turning all night.

I was out of bed by about 5:15 a.m. Sunday. I made some coffee and microwaved the potatoes I had pre-cooked at home. I could barely choke anything down – I felt ready to vomit at any second. I managed to eat some potatoes and a banana, as well as a ginger candy to try to help calm my stomach. I woke up my husband, grabbed my stuff, and we were off to the shuttle, about 5 minutes away from our friend’s house. We didn’t have to wait long and before I knew it I was at the site again. The urge to throw up was much stronger at this point. I set up transition as best as I could (we were pretty packed in there, sadly, although there was still plenty of open space in the parking lot). I realized that my sunglasses were in two pieces – panic!!! I had lost a screw attaching an arm to the frame. I found a volunteer with safety pins and commandeered one for my glasses. It looked ridiculous, but I just needed it to hold for the day.

Safety pin to the rescue.
We watched the full distance racers take off. It was overcast and windy, and I worried about the chop. I ate another banana. I got into my wetsuit and splashed around a bit for the warm up swim. The wind had died down a bit. We gathered for the last-minute pre-race instructions and national anthem. Then a minister said a pre-race prayer. Usually I don’t pay much attention, but he said something that stuck with me today – he talked about racing with joy. I thought that over for a bit – this is a JOYFUL day. I GET to do this. I have the ABILITY to do this. This is a CELEBRATION of what I can do.

I stood there in the water and looked around. “This is it,” I thought to myself. “I’ve worked hard for this day. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just do your best. Have fun. Race with joy.”

They started the countdown. The airhorn blew. And we were off.
I'm in there somewhere.
The swim

I’ve done nearly a dozen triathlons and I still almost always get that panicky feeling in my throat at the start of the swim. I usually let myself panic until the first buoy and by then, I can settle down and really start swimming. I was surprised that I didn’t feel that panicky tightness not even for one second.

My goal was to get to the first buoy, then the second, then the third, and just keep going. I had started way off to the right to let the faster swimmers get ahead, and I did have a bit of scrum, but nothing too bad. I just kept swimming, passing buoys, sighting to the next, and swimming some more.

The first turn went OK. On the second stretch I found myself having a harder time swimming in a straight line, so I had to correct myself every now and then. Pass a buoy, sight to the next, swim, swim, swim. 

I got too close to a buoy and the corner got me in the neck. Ow! The second turn came and went. Now I was swimming the stretch I had done the day before – piece of cake! This is old hat by now! Pass a buoy, sight to the next, swim, swim, swim.

My goggles started to leak a bit and my eyes were burning, so I kept my eyes closed unless I was sighting. Not much to see in the muddy water, anyway. Pass, sight, swim. One of my feet started to cramp, so I tried swimming with it flexed. Ow. More goggle leaking. I could see the beach and people on it. Pass, sight, swim. My other foot started cramping. Eyes burning. I could see the swim-in arch. Other swimmers started swimming into me – what the heck? There is plenty of room, people. Cramping feet! Ow! The beach is getting closer. I touched the bottom and stood up. I was done!

I heard my husband and waved as I jogged into transition. Forgot to look at the clock. Bypassed the wetsuit strippers – I didn’t want to cramp my feet any worse. Under the fresh water shower, although the lake swim really made it unnecessary. Realized I was running and slowed to a walk.

A benefit to being a slower swimmer is that you can find your bike more easily because everyone else is gone already – ha! Found my spot, got out of my wetsuit. Jersey on (I bought a full-zip especially for this race), dry off the feet, socks on, helmet on, Garmin on, gloves on, quick spray of sunscreen. I took five seconds to look around and make sure I had everything I needed, then clomped over to the mount line.

Swim time: 48:00

T1 time: 4:34

I am kind of bummed my swim took so long, but for my first, it was more about completing. I wasn't worrying at all about my transition times – it was all about making sure I was ready to go.

The bike

I had driven the race course the day before so I kind of knew what to expect, but of course there’s a difference between driving a road and riding up it. I took off out of town and after a couple of turns we were on a busy road, kept safe by the county sheriffs.

It was windier than I expected. There was a long stretch on Belding Road, which made me think of Saved by the Bell and chuckle to myself. We turned on to some hilly country roads. The wind was something else. It had picked up again, and I was crawling along. But there wasn’t much to do except keep pedaling.

Up hills, down hills. Try to avoid the rough road patches. Turn here, turn there. Up more hills, down more hills. Past farmland and more farmland. Lots of riders passed me, and I passed one or two. One lady got off her bike and walked it up every hill, which I thought was a bit of overkill. Rollers. Wind. One gust was so strong in my face it felt like it was pushing me back UP the hill. Ugh. Pedal pedal pedal. 

I was drinking Gatorade every 5 miles and eating a Larabar, That’s It bar, or Gu with water every 10 miles. It worked for me in training and I wanted to keep my strategy on race day. I took a very quick break at the turnaround to fish my next Larabar out of my jersey. We had a bit of tailwind for the second half, which was nice.

I made it up every hill without getting off my bike and walking, but there were three that I sounded like a three-pack-a-day smoker in labor by the time I got to the top. Still – I did it on my own power. I picked up some speed on the second half and tried to bomb down the hills. Back on Belding Road, which made me laugh again. Things started to look familiar. More and more people were out cheering.

My Garmin beeped for 50 and then 55 miles. I was close! The final turn and I was on the main road, heading back to transition. I started to get a little teary. It had been tough but I had done it! The bike leg of my first 70.3 was complete. I coasted into transition and stopped to dismount – I am way too klutzy to try any fancy maneuvers.

Back to my spot in transition and I did almost a full wardrobe change – shirt (whatever, I was wearing a sports bra), socks, shoes. Visor on, stuff tri shorts pockets with Gu and sports beans, set Garmin to “run,” another quick spray of sunscreen. I had made the decision to take a full, throwaway bottle of Gatorade with me on the run. I took another five seconds to make sure I had everything I needed, and made a quick stop at the porto potty.  Here we go.

Bike time: 3:46:13

T2 time: 5:55
Again, kind of bummed that my time was so slow, but it was more about surviving my first. And I didn't expect T2 to be fast with the wardrobe change and potty stop. 

The run

I’m a decent runner, and usually do well comparatively in my age group at tris, but I had never run a half-marathon after biking 56 miles before. In fact, this was to be my very first half-marathon! My strategy was to keep running as long as I could, even if it had to be slowly, and only stop to take in fluids or nutrition.

The first mile was way too fast and I slowed it down. The next couple of miles went OK as I tried to settle into a rhythm. It was pretty hot and humid already, and the race course was about half shaded and half exposed to the sun. It was also decently hilly. I noticed that a lot of the homeowners had left their sprinklers close to the road, and a few had even left their garden hoses out for us! I was honestly touched by this. A few kids were out with their squirt guns and I let them soak me, which I think was as fun for them as it was refreshing for me.

I was stopping to drink Gatorade every two miles and to take water from every aid station. After a few miles I also started taking cold sponges at every aid station. The miles ticked by. I passed a LOT of people – I was honestly surprised. I felt good considering the heat, but I was hardly blazing fast, either. I finished off my Gatorade bottle at mile 8 and from then on took both Gatorade and water at every aid station as well as a sponge. I didn’t have the stomach for any of the Gus or sport beans, so I left those in my pockets. More homeowners sprayed me with their hoses. One fellow racer commented on how I “attacked” a hill. I grunted a reply, but then thought later it wasn’t really an attack, more like a gentle nudge.

I was in my own little world – chug along, grab Gatorade and water, up the hill, down the hill, pass people, keep chugging. I was feeling as good as I could have hoped for being on the run leg of my first 70.3 on a hot and humid day. I saw the lead full distance runner fly by on the other side of the road, with his moto leading the way.

Mile 10, mile 11, mile 12. I was almost done! I allowed myself to feel a bit of relief and picked up the pace. My last mile was a sub-9:00. I saw my friend on the side of the road and cheered and waved. Last stretch, last turn. I heard my husband and waved. There was one woman ahead of me – I kicked it in to pass her. “She’s gaining on you!” a volunteer yelled. I kicked it up a bit more. I heard my name over the speaker and I crossed the finish line. I HAD DONE IT!

Run time: 2:13:27

Total time: 6:58:10
Considering the conditions, I'm very pleased with my run time. And I was happy that I squeaked in under 7 hours.

I stopped to catch my breath and volunteers handed me water and my medal, and took my timing chip. I found the woman I had passed at the very end, and we laughed and high-fived. I had been fantasizing about an iced latte since the end of the bike, so I found a cold Pepsi at the finish line that would have to do. My husband and friend found me and we hugged, cheered and took some pictures. After the excitement died down I went to transition to gather up my stuff.  I re-united with my husband … and an iced latte that he had bought while ostensibly dropping the first load of stuff off at the car. I’m pretty sure no other iced latte, past or future, will rival how delicious that one was.

The rest of the night consisted of the most wonderful shower ever, relaxing with my feet up, eating pizza and a cheesecake I had bought just for the occasion, and reveling in my accomplishment. I couldn’t believe it was all over.

Not only was I able to race with joy all day, but I could celebrate with my husband and friend – my support team that weekend – that I had done something awesome.