Thursday, September 29, 2011

Here We Go!


Tomorrow I leave for Kona!  Holy cats!  Can't believe it is finally here!

As you can imagine, getting ready for a big trip (with a race involved) has left me busy!  I keep thinking of last minute items to buy or pack.  I have lists of lists everywhere!  (and I can't even begin to think of packing...if only I was as motivated to pack as I am to train!  :) 

Monday night the 6 members of our Ballou Skies team headed to Kona were treated to a send off party at the Sharp Edge downtown!

It was great to see my teammates and friends and to hear the inspiring words of Ryan and Ty Ballou.  I have truly been honored to be a part of this team and cause this year.  It has given me a greater purpose for sport!  So excited that Ryan and Ty will be in Kona this year to watch.  If you happen to also be in Kona and see the Ballou Skies uniform out on the course, please give us a cheer!  :)

Oh, and Kristen (aka: Teacher of the Year at Penn Hills) and Matty Mauclair gave us little mini pineapples.  Cutest thing ever and so thoughtful!  :)

On Tuesday I got a chance to have a (long) chat with my coach Dirk about Kona.  Whew!  I feel much better now having a game plan.  This will only be my second Ironman and although I feel confident in racing at the shorter distances, I feel inexperienced when it comes to going the full distance.  Last year my goal was simply to cross the finish line in Kona.  This year, my goals have evolved so I definitely needed some guidance as to how to achieve such goals!  Which is exactly what Dirk provided.  I think we went through every scenario possible (hence the length of the phone call... :) and I'm now feeling prepared to problem solve come race day.  I've done all the training, now it's a matter of execution! 

Speaking of training, I took some time to go through my training log on Tuesday.  There is a reason I keep such meticulous detail of each and every workout!  It's like a journal of the journey and it's fun for me to look back through and see all the highs and lows, the progress and really just the hard work that has gone into this season.  Since starting with Dirk on December 1, 2010, I've missed 2 workouts and cut 2 workouts short.  Every other workout was completed as scheduled.  Consistency is confidence for me and looking through my training log reminded me of that fact!  (Also, I noticed I rode 2500+ miles more from Jan through Sept of 2011 vs 2010.  Dirk is a fan of the bike!  :)

And finally yesterday when I got home from work and my training for the day, I got the mail.  And the mail had such wonderful things!  A package and some cards from very awesome friends who have always encouraged me to chase my dreams.  I felt so overwhelmed with gratitude to be surrounded by wonderful people in my life who always support me.  And to be healthy.  And to be happy.  And to GET to do this.

Now if only I could be as thankful about packing?  :)

Speaking of which - I best get a move on!  I must ride, run, pack and complete a long list of errands before I get on a jet plane headed for the Pacific tomorrow!  YEEE-HAW!!  :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hay's In The Barn

This weekend I did my final big training for Kona. 

YAY - I survived!

On Saturday I had a 4 hour ride with some intervals and then an hour run off the bike, again with some harder running.  I felt great.  I rode with Ben.  I was done by 12:30 pm!

Today I had a 6 hour ride with a 1:20 run off the bike.  On my ride I saw many awesome things!

1) A beautiful bluebird.  He was so blue!

2) A flock (herd?) of wild turkeys.  Made me hungry for Thanksgiving.  :)

3) Oscar run a rocking 10K at the Great Race.  He ran 35:30 in the midst of marathon training.  Speedy!

4) A deserted Fifth Avenue.  They close Fifth for the race.  Imagine 10,000 cars on this road and that's what Fifth usually looks like.  The hospital that I work at is about a block from where I took this picture.  I've never seen Ffith so empty!  :)

6) 112.16 miles on my bike computer.  Just a tick too many.  :)

7) A massive bonk just 15 minutes from home.  Okay, I guess you don't "see" a just feel it!  I was so close...  I blame it on the headwind for the last hour!  Luckily slamming ~450 calories before my T-run did the trick and I felt fine running.  :)

And that is that!  Now it's time to rest up and pack!  Uh-oh...packing...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

My friend Martin posted this video on my FB page (and then asked if I had started packing yet...HA...he obviously doesn't know my dislike of packing... :)

I love this song and like this video because it reminds me that I'm so blessed to soon be racing in one of most beautiful places on Earth.  I learned last year that Kona can be an overwhelming place.  It's a grand race on the grandest stage of all.  And just the thought of Ironman in general overwhelms me!  But if I think rather of the beauty and mystique of the island, somehow my fears fall away.  Last year during the race when I reached a very low point (which a few times...  :), I would look to the ocean and smile.  And remember - we get to do this!

15 more days!  (and just one BIG weekend of training to go!!) 

Monday, September 19, 2011

My First Love

I think running will always be my first love.  While I REALLY like to swim and I (kind of) like to ride my bike, running is that one activity that brings me the most peace and seems most natural.

I've been running for about 20 years now.  There is not much in this world that I enjoy more than an early morning run where the world hasn't woken up yet and it's just the sound of my feet hitting the pavement on a cool, dark morning.

This morning I got to do a long run before work.  I started at 4:30 and felt like the only soul awake and alive!  Slowly but surely I started to see a few more cars, a few more people and then finally when I was running down by the factory in our town, shift changed and people spilled out of the huge facility to the parking lot. 

Best of all?  I was treated to an absolutely fantastic sunrise - my favorite part of being a runner!

Okay, this isn't actually a picture from this morning - it's not so cold in Pittsburgh yet that we don't have leaves on the trees!  :)  But the sky looked very similar here this morning!
19 miles later, it was time to go to work.  I couldn't help but be so thankful that I'm healthy enough to do this!

18 more days!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Vegas Pictures

Bird's eye view of Lake Mead.  Beautiful!
Lugging my bike box and huge suitcase through the airport has to be my least favorite part of racing.

The bags!  As you can see, I'm deep in thought.  Very complicated.  ;)

You can't go to Vegas and not cruise The Strip at least once!  Although my mom and I had been to Vegas before, Ben had not so off to see the fountains at the Bellagio we went!

It rained a bit at the awards dinner (yes, it DOES rain in the desert!) so clearly the solution is to use your napkin as an umbrella.  Ben suggested we take cover under the table!

The 30-34 AG podium.  I like when they make you hold up your award.  :)

At the practice swim in my new blueseventy speedskin.  Let's just say I had to do a fair amount of squeezing to get into that thing! 
And in other news, it's back to work!  I got my final schedule of the year.  I just can't believe it.  It truly feels like just yesterday that I was staring at my first Dirk schedule wide-eyed and very, very afraid.  :)  Of course I still stare at my schedules wide-eyed and very, very afraid, so not much has changed!  But now it's down to just 2 more weeks of BIG work and then, the grandest race of them all!  So excited.  And feeling so blessed!  Here we go!  We can do this!  :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

70.3 World Championships Race Report

Well, my "to-do" list is totally overwhelming me right now so why not procrastinate some and write a blog entry!  :)  (my mind works in mysterious ways...)


It was awesome. 

Not without its ups and downs but overall, a wonderful experience and methinks the WTC has found itself a perfect venue for their 70.3 World Championships!  Hills, heat, wind.  Reminds me of a little island in the Pacific...

Ben, my mom and I arrived in Las Vegas on Friday.  It was a whirlwind day of registration, expo, building bikes, doing odds and ends, seeing wonderful friends, the welcome dinner/race meeting and then finally falling into our beds in exhaustion at the end of the night.  And our beds, by the way, were in a beautiful home that was right on the run course.  Turns out Ben has family that lives in Vegas.  It was such a treat to get to stay in the comfort of someone's home instead of a hotel room!  Thank you to the Norantes!  :)

At the expo there was a poster with everyone's name on it.  See, I'm in the race too!  :)
Saturday was a little more relaxed.  We ventured out to T1 for the first time for the practice swim and found this beauty.

The desert is pretty!
The swim venue is awesome for this race.  I thought it was really pretty and although I'm sure wetsuits make me faster, I like swimming better without them.  The 80 degree water was perfect!  :)

After a nice swim and a little bike ride (gotta make sure I put the darn thing together properly!), we all headed back to Henderson for BAG PACKING!  I had forgotten that they treat the 70.3 World Championships like Ironmans so there were changing tents, no loose items by your bike and all your gear had to go into the many, many colorful bags.  I must say, those bags overwhelm me.  In the end I love them and it makes transition easier but it takes much thought for me to figure out what to put in ALL those bags! 

Once we were done with bag packing and lunch, we headed BACK to T1 (it wasn't bad driving back and forth as we were only about 15-20 minutes away) for bike check in, gear drop off and finally to drive the bike course.

Seems to me, they had to do some digging to make T1.

Ben and I dropping off our gear.

In case you are wondering what the bike course looks like, this is pretty much it for 56 miles!
And finally, after a great dinner on Saturday night with Cary, we headed to bed early in preparation for our 3:15 am wake-up call!  (not bad though when you are coming from the East Coast - it was almost like we got to sleep in for this race!  :)


I was pretty nervous for this one.  While I still feel like a rookie and with few expectations at the Ironman distance (I have, after all, only done one), I feel like I've gotten to the point where I can really RACE a 70.3.  My goal was to get on the podium (top 5) and so when my expectations are higher, the nerves come out to play!  It was great being with Ben and my mom beforehand to help keep relaxed and when I finally had to go line up for my wave start, I was so relieved to see a familiar, friendly face in Suzy Serpico, who I've raced many, many times through the years.  We chatted and laughed and before I knew it, it was time to get in the water!

The horn went off and AWAY WE WENT!  I almost immediately found myself in the same exact situation as at Vineman, where I could see, but just couldn't quite get to the lead pack to latch myself on.  ARGH!!!  I kept telling myself "10 hard strokes" but then I would look up and be about the same distance behind them.  DOUBLE ARGH!!!  This kept up until the turn around (the course was a long, skinny rectangle) when we started really catching people from the waves in front of us.  At that point that little group ahead of me got dispersed and then it was just a matter of swimming hard into the finish.  I exited the water in 11th in just under 30 minutes.  I'm not entirely unpleased with that because it was the first time I've broken 30 minutes without a wetsuit but my never-ending quest to improve my swim will certainly continue!  Progress yes but I still need much work!

Luckily I do think my swim put me in a good enough position to do some serious work on the bike.  Just a word about the bike course - when we drove the course on Saturday I very much likened it to Kona.  Rolling hills, nothing too brutal, some wind and nice roads.  But it didn't take long for me to realize that in fact, these hills were much tougher than Kona.  Not necessarily bigger but just relentless.  Up and down and up and down and even when you thought it was flat, it really wasn't.  There was 5200 feet of climbing and a net elevation gain.  I have no idea how that compares to Kona (maybe same amount of climbing but over 112 miles?) but regardless, this was no Clearwater!  I definitely enjoyed the course to the max!

I passed a few gals in my AG within the first few miles of the bike but I was really on the prowl for Jess Smith and Suzy, who I knew both swam a good 1-2 minutes faster than me.  I came across Jess first but not before another woman in our AG (Stephanie) caught me first.  And then it was GAME ON!  Jess, Stephanie and I jockeyed back and forth for the next 90-100 minutes, eventually picking up Suzy somewhere after the turnaround in Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  I loved it!  I was definitely riding harder than I normally would to stay in the mix but I knew the race was right here in front of me and to let them go would be stupid!  (by the way, I don't mean to suggest that there was any drafting involved; we all just continued to make good passes and give legal distance once a pass was made!)  The ride honestly went by in a flash.  I was so focused on keeping the girls in site that I wasn't really paying attention to distance, time, other people, etc...  As we exited the Lake Mead area and made our way back to Henderson, I did notice that Jess and I seemed to be the only two left.  And then about 10 minutes later, I made my fatal error.  I was having a low moment and let Jess get just a bit farther ahead than usual.  Then it was a little bit farther.  And farther.  And then I couldn't see her.  See what a little lapse in focus can do?

Coming into T2 I knew I had a good ride (letting Jess go aside) and it pumped me up for the run.  Since I had ridden harder than usual I was concerned my legs were going to revolt big time but of bigger concern was the storm that was brewing in my stomach.

Not THAT again!

Oh yes, acid reflux is not my friend. 

After doing really well all season with my nausea/reflux issue, here it was again, raising it's ugly head at a VERY inopportune moment!  TRIPLE ARGH!

Getting off the bike my legs did not feel sparky.  I briefly panicked that this was going to be a very, very, very bad run.  But I just got myself moving and told myself over and over that it would be okay.

Luckily after about 1/2 mile, my legs felt great.  Now I just had one issue to manage, that being my unhappy stomach.  But unfortunately, this left me more concerned with nutrition/stomach/not throwing up and less concerned with keeping Jess in sight.  Which as you can imagine, quickly resulted in her being OUT of site after one or two of the turnarounds.  I knew at that point that we were in first and second place, so it hurt a bit to not be able to give Jess a good chase but it was what it was.  Sometimes you have to go into damage control. 

I really liked the run course in that it was 3 loops of down/up/up/down.  Kind of like hill repeats!  Mostly though I liked the fact that it was so broken up in pieces and mentally easier to manage.  I was definitely not in a great place during the run but was SO incredibly encouraged by seeing so many familiar faces on the course and hearing so many awesome cheers!  And of course seeing my mom over and over while she updated me on my place/time (with Oscar's help over the phone - what a team!!  :) 

I found myself in that familiar place of having a dropping heart rate (not enough calories) but unable to really do much about it because any calories in would have instantly = calories right back out.  I do have some theories on why this happened again so as usual, it will be more trial and error.  I will keep trying until I get it fixed!  :)

And then, on that final loop, it started to sink it, I was really going to hold onto 2nd place in my AG in the World Championships.  That makes every single early morning worth it.

I crossed the finish line with one of my biggest smiles ever.  Not without problems no, but it was one of my best races to date.  I really RACED that bike.  I met my goal of finishing on the podium.  And I think more than anything I saw what "could be" if/when I really put together a solid race from start to finish.  Although my biggest flaw as an athlete has always been my lack of confidence, this race went a long way in helping me to feel as if I can perform at the level I have so desired for so long.

And then I was really tired.  :)

I found Ben who had a great race in his first World Championships (with many great ones to come) and then we found my mom.  I got to congratulate Jess on an awesome race and got to hear about the awesome races of many of my friends who competed!  A very, very amazing day!  The only thing missing was Oscar.  But it will be worth it to have him in Hawaii.  That finish line is pretty special too.  :)

We collected our gear and walked back to the house.  My stomach was REALLY unhappy at that point but by the time the awards dinner rolled around I was definitely read to EAT!  (Mmm...French fries...  :)

All in all a wonderful experience.  A great course.  Great traveling with Ben and my mom.  Many fun times and we didn't even get lost once!  My navigation skills have improved dramatically!  :)  I got to see old friends, meet some new ones, compete with amazing women in my AG and be a part of an awesome event.  Yep, I'd say God blessed me good.  ;)

Many, many, MANY thanks for all the good luck wishes and encouragement along the way.  I read every FB comment, email, text and tweet with so much appreciation!

And now I'm back home, with a big long "to-do" list.  I'd best get things crossed off quickly because I've got a little trip for another little race in just a few short weeks!

PS  More pictures of race day/awards to come!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Vegas Baby!

Holy cats - only 4 more days until VEGAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is quite exciting.  And if I wasn't already amped up enough to race - today, on Twitter, smack talk.

Yes, that's right, SMACK TALK!  All started by one Sarah Piampiano and further propagated by Beth, Hailey, Tatiana and myself.  Except not really me because I'm not good at smack talking.  I need a class or something.  Or perhaps some smack talk pointers from Ben (who came from a sport where smack talk is much more prevalent and who once asked me why everyone in triathlon was so "nice").


All in good fun of course.  And indeed, it just made me THAT much more hungry to get out west and dual with a bunch of awesome women once again.  Also, it further cemented in my mind the race plan of swimming 23 minutes in order to get FAR FAR away from all the super biker/super runners.  Now if only I really could swim a 23...  ;)

Racing aside, I'm also really excited for this trip because my mom is coming!  Oscar can't make this one because he is using all his vacation days for Kona so my mom gracefully agreed to come with.  Which means we WILL be hopelessly lost somewhere in Henderson, NV at some point this weekend.  If you see us driving around aimlessly, guaranteed we are driving in the wrong direction.  So please flag us down and show us where to go!  (I'm already having flashbacks to the time I raced in Dallas a few years back and mom and I somehow ended up in the ghetto WAYYYY lost and very, very far from where we wanted to be.  YIPES!)

Also, Ben is racing!  So we will be flying together and actually, he, my mom and I will be staying together too!  Say a small prayer for him now please - how he agreed to travel with my mom and I, I will never know!  :)

And so the countdown begins.  I TRULY live for racing - for being able to put to test all the hard work and see what I'm physically and mentally made of - and I'm so excited to get to go at it again!  Very best of luck to all those racing this weekend in Wisconsin, at Rev3 Cedar Point and elsewhere.  Remember, we GET to do this.  And boy are we lucky.  ;)