Monday, April 22, 2013

New Orleans 70.3 Race Report

This was my third year doing the NOLA 70.3 and I have to say, this city just does NOT disappoint!  It's so full of flavor and amazingly unique to every other place I've ever been.  Unlike many of the other major US cities I've traveled to (that all look and feel the same), you will never mistake New Orleans for any other place!

This year I was lucky enough to have (yet another) wonderful homestay family in the Sanders, made even better by the fact that Kim also stayed with them.  Dave and Angele have lived their whole lives in New Orleans so it was awesome to hear their perspective and understand the NO culture from true locals!  Plus, they took us to some awesome eats that the normal tourist (ie: me) never would have found on their own!  All in all, a most wonderful time. I can't say I'd want to live in New Orleans but it is a place you have to visit at least once in a lifetime.  (or every April to do the 70.3 if you are like me :)

Onto the race!

Swim: 30:00

Although, as mentioned, I've done this race 2 other times, I've never actually swam in New Orleans. After many failed attempts at having a safe swim in Lake Pontchartrain, the race organizers moved the swim to a protected harbor this year.  And it worked!  I was happy to finally get a full triathlon for the first time!

The water was a pretty perfect 64-65 degrees (much warmer and I seem to boil in my wetsuit) and the course was shaped like an "N" with a little tail at the end to exit the water.  Although it seemed like it was going to be a hard-to-navigate course, it really wasn't.  I had a pretty easy time of siting (although that doesn't mean I actually went straight, I at least didn't feel lost :).

My swim itself was "meh".  It was fine - not bad by any means but certainly not spectacular.  The pro women's field was relatively small in ~15-16 women and within those women the swim abilities were very split - those that can swim 25 minutes or under (~5 women) and those that swim around ~30 minutes (every one else).  Because I can't hang with those that swim 25 minutes, I ended up towing everyone else around the harbor.  To have that awesome breakthrough 27 minute swim, I'm going to need a whole bunch of women that can swim in that range and just hang on desperately to their feet.  Either way, I'm not disappointed with yesterday's effort in the water.  I can definitely see big improvements over last year in this department so I'm not complaining!

Bike: 2:24:51

Because the swim course was moved, the bike course was also just a bit different but it was essentially the same idea - an out and back on very flat but very windy roads - the kind of course where you just hunker down in your aerobars and pedal as hard as you can for 2.5 hours.  As in the past, we had a head/cross wind for pretty much the entire ride out and a tail/cross wind all the way home.

I felt good on the bike and was happy with how things were going.  I had swallowed quite a bit of lake water (the harbor had that little chop that smacks you in the side of the face every time you breathe) which had really triggered my reflux and so I spent the first 15 miles just trying to throw up/settle my stomach.  But around mile 20ish, my friend Kristin passed me and I was super thankful for this development!  Besides being an awesome person, Kristin is also a SUPER biker and I knew if I could just focus on keeping her in sight, she would pull me along to the next group of girls ahead on the road.  And this is exactly how it played out.  I struggled at times to keep up but pushed hard and then at other times I felt good.  At some point I passed Kristin back, we caught a few of the other super swimmers and I was even in 2nd place briefly (with Haley Chura up the road 4 minutes and Amy Marsh on the side of the road with a flat).  In the end I came into T2 in 4th place with the 2nd fastest bike split behind Kristin.  If there is a bright spot of yesterday's race, my bike was it.  I'm feeling good and strong on the bike, my power was good and my HR low, and I'm definitely progressing from last year!

Run: 1:31:16

Of course with every bright spot, there is also a not-so-bright spot and my run was definitely the disappointment of the day.  ARGH!  DOUBLE ARGH!!!  It's no secret that my run definitely frustrates me more often than not.  In many races I can bike myself into a great position but that doesn't mean much if you don't have the run to back it up!  Oh how I wish the race sometimes ended after the bike!  HA!  :)  Seriously though, why I'm most frustrated is because I KNOW (like I really, really, really believe!) that I have in me what I need (that 1:25ish type run) to finish off a good race.  But it just won't come out.

I can come up with many excuses for yesterday - most notably the fact that I really struggled with my reflux (it's something that is very manageable on the bike but exponentially worse once you start running) but truthfully, even I'M tired of that excuse so I know you all must be too!  And everyone deals with something on the run that doesn't necessarily hold them back (case in point, Kristin had some NASTY blisters starting early on but that didn't stop her from running 1:24!).  Also, although it was bad yesterday, for the most part my reflux has been pretty under control.  So that's certainly not the sole reason I'm not able to run 6:30 pace off the bike.  It's definitely a mental demon!

I will admit to being pretty down about my dismal run right after the race.  Not only was I REALLY nauseated upon crossing the line, but I was sulking a bit too!  (never a good combo!)  But after some time by myself (actually, on the massage table), letting my stomach settle (upon which I was STARVING) and talking with Dirk on the phone about the situation, I definitely felt very encouraged and much better.

The thing is, it's a process.  This sport is really hard because it's super tough to get all the variables and the balance you need to excel in all three.  Yes, I'm not running like I want to right now.  But the positives are, my swim and bike are definitely progressing.  I went under 4:30 for the first time (moving in the right direction!).  And most importantly, I'm healthy.  With patience and continued hard, consistent work, I just know that run will come!  And when it does, I will be super thrilled to really finish a race off!  Also, it's early. This is the one thing Dirk really impressed upon me in our phone conversation yesterday.  If there is one thing I learned last year, it's that it is a VERY long year.  And because I've put so many races on my schedule, Dirk assured me that he's taking things slow so I actually make it on the start line healthy and happy to all those races!  It may be a bit like high school running where you just race your way into shape all season long.  :)  (of course my lack of patience dictates that I want success and I want it NOW!)

So I certainly haven't given up!  More than anything, the somewhat disappointing days drive me to make it right the next time.  I'm stubborn like that.  I want to show that run who is boss!  And as luck should have it, I only have to wait 2 weeks to try it again in St George, Utah!  (hooooray!)

In the mean time, I will celebrate and be inspired by my friend's and fellow competitor's performances.  It was amazing to see Haley with her first pro win (and super cute victor's speech!), fantastic to watch all of Kim's hard work come together so that she could really have a breakthrough run and truly inspiring to witness Kristin put together a SUPER solid race (I aspire to her bike/run combo!!).  Let me tell you, I'm hanging out with the right people!

Many, many thanks as always for all your cheers and encouragement, to my family and friends who love me even if I do 15 minute miles on the run, to an awesome group of sponsors, and to a coach that never grows tired of me running 1:30.  I'm not sure who is going to be more excited when I finally have that breakthrough!  :)

My new strategy for running fast is to hang around with Kim 24/7.  I'm pretty sure some of her quicks will just rub right off on me!  :)
Louie, awesome homestay dog!  He's an Australian sheep dog so he spent most of the weekend herding Kim and I around.  :)
Dave, awesome homestay, getting down at the awards ceremony!  The Sanders showed Kim and I an awesome time!
Pittsburghers travel in packs!  LOVED sharing the day with so many awesome friends from home!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Finish Lines

I've crossed hundreds of finish lines in my life.  Finish lines of big races, little races, cycling races, swim races, track races, road races, cross country races, triathlons. As I thought about it, I realized that no matter what type of race - a really bad performance or a breakthrough win, the finish line is ALWAYS such a welcome and amazing sight.  And the only truly bad race is the one where you don't cross the finish line.

I've never crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon but it's now a big goal of mine.

Another big goal I now have is to remember to cherish each finish line I'm privileged enough to cross.  Should I be blessed enough to cross the finish line this Sunday in New Orleans, I have made a promise to myself and all those in Boston yesterday that I won't take that line for granted.  And I will celebrate that finish line for all those that didn't get one yesterday.  And for all those who may not ever have one again.  #prayforboston

Thursday, April 11, 2013

An Ode To My Lanemates

I first started going to Team Pittsburgh Masters (held at the University of Pittsburgh Trees Hall pool) about 7 years ago.  Actually, because I keep disturbingly meticulous logs of all the training I've ever done in my life, I can tell you exactly when I first went to a Pitt Masters swim: May 11, 2006.

Just for kicks, I looked up some of the first few workouts I ever did with the team.  It's obvious I didn't understand the concept of swimming on an interval because I was very confused about how long we got to rest after each swim.  After a few workouts though, I must have figured it out because this was the first entry that made any sense:

20x100 (SCY) as 2x100 on 1:50,  4x100 on 1:40, 4x100 on 1:35, 4x100 on 1:30, 2x100 on 1:25, 2x100 easy, 2x100 on 1:22

As usual I bit off more than I could chew and I noted in my log that I didn't even make all the 100s on 1:30 (which means I definitely didn't make the ones on 1:25 or 1:22!).  HA!  It's good for me to be able to look back on these early days because I can see that (even though it doesn't feel like it!) I have made progress through the years.  Although it seems like I've been working on a 1:15-1:20 base FOREVER, I see that at one point, I couldn't even handle swimming on the 1:30!

Other than learning how to use a pace clock, swimming with Pitt Masters has taught me a ton.  I learned how to do flip turns there.  I learned how to really push myself in the water.  I learned that I LOVE to swim in the morning and I much prefer the 5:45 am practice to the 5:30 pm practice.  I learned that a beautiful pool and nice cool water makes you swim much faster.  I learned that swimming with others and under the watchful eyes of an amazing coach (thanks Jen!) REALLY makes you swim much faster.  I learned how to dive off the blocks (while keeping my goggles in place!).  And I learned that the people you struggle with as you all try to get faster, makes the journey what it is.  Super cheesy I know, but I think we can all agree, life wouldn't be the same without our lanemates!

Our pool is awesome.  I know you are jealous.

Through the years I've slowly moved up in lanes and have met such awesome people as I went!  Why I really wanted to write this blog though, was to thank my current lanemates for all that they have done and continue to do for me.

For one, they put up with a lot.  My current lane situation is this: I can't *quite* hang with them but, that doesn't stop me from trying!  I'm like the little sister that desperately wants to hang out with her older brother and his friends - and luckily they kindly oblige.  (it should be noted that *technically* I'm older than about half of these guys but whatever... :)  So thanks guys, for letting me try to hang with you.  For not getting too annoyed when I only leave 3 or 4 (okay, sometimes 2) seconds behind you, desperately trying to hang onto your feet so I can make the set.  Thanks for not judging when I pull out the paddles.  Thanks for encouraging me and cheering me on and well, thanks for being so darn fast so that I always have someone to chase.  ONE of these days I'm going to make the main swim pack in a race and I'm going to have you all to thank for it.  In the mean time, thanks for all the early morning smiles and laughs and all that pain.  Like I said, it makes my journey that much sweeter.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Today On My Ride...

Today on my ride I:

1) Raced a train!  I wasn't doing too badly either until I realized I was riding at 230 watts which is not really acceptable for extended periods when I'm supposed to be "riding easy".  Was fun while it lasted!

2) Saw THE DeLorean.  I kid you not, the Back To The Future time machine is running around Springdale, PA.  I nearly rode off the road staring at it!

Unfortunately, Michael J. Fox wasn't inside the one I saw.
3) Rode into a headwind for 57 minutes straight.  BUT, I didn't care a lick!  I was so happy to be outside, on MY roads that the winds didn't even bother me.  AND, the tailwind back on that same stretch was DEEEE-VINE!

4) Was chased by a dog.  Twice.  And actually by the same dog both times.  He's just a little mutt but he comes charging out of his yard with a fury like you've never seen before!

5) Saw a llama.  There are more llama farms in Pittsburgh than one would expect.

I rarely stop to take pictures on my rides so I steal all pictures from the internets.
These things do NOT happen indoors on the trainer.  Can't wait to get outside again!  Happy riding!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Oceanside 70.3 Race Report

I love going to San Diego for this early season race.  For multiple reasons.  First, let's talk about the weather.  IT IS AMAZING!  Bright and warm and I can't tell you how awesome it felt to feel the sun on my skin.  After what has been a VERY cold and long winter/spring in the northeast, San Diego was a real treat.

Second, there are just so many awesome people that live in San Diego!  I got to meet SOAS's Kebby and Reg (and re-meet Steph!) along with a lot of my SOAS teammates.  I got to see lots of other great friends racing.  I got to have my annual Noodles & Co date with Marit!  It was so fun.  Oceanside is one of those races where you sort of forget you are racing because you are too busy socializing.  AND to top it all off, Oscar was able to come because the race fell over his Easter break from school.  Really doesn't get much better than that!

I feel like I grew up in the sport of triathlon with Marit.  She has now moved onto bigger and better things but our friendship remains!
Third, I had such an awesome homestay family - the Rideouts!  They truly made me feel at home, as evidenced by the fact that I started to call THEIR house "home" after a day or two.  (literally I did - as I was telling them a story about one of their dogs, I said "yeah, when I got home I saw Angel jumping..." as if it was where I lived!)  I really enjoyed getting to know them and eating, laughing and having fun together.  Also, they introduced me to the funniest thing ever: the deer crossing sign lady.

And finally, the race itself.  I first did Oceanside in 2009 as an AGer and absolutely loved it.  I signed up for it the next year but hurt myself right before the race and didn't make the trip out.  I *tried* to sign up for it in 2011 but it sold out before I did so.  And then last year it was my very first pro race.  It's an awesome, tough course and always has a competitive field.  What more could you ask for?

Swim: 26:30
Okay, I know the swim was short.  DANG IT!  I really want to legitimately swim under 28 minutes and one of these days I just might, but until then I'll have to rely on short courses.  ;)  Seriously though, this was one of THE best swims of my career.  Why you ask?  Well because I actually stuck with the main pack (I'm sure there were people off the front) for ~1/2 of the swim!  Okay, 1/2 might be a bit generous.  And I did eventually get dropped.  BUT, but...this was such an improvement tactically over anything I did last year that I was seriously smiling from ear to ear for the entire rest of the race (okay, not really during the run, I was in too much pain to smile!).  Now the key will be to keep myself in that pack because if I do, I swim so much faster!  I swear if you lose focus for like 2 seconds, it's all over.  Progress but certainly lots of room for improvement.  Oh and by the way, through our very scientific research (ie: we guessed), Dirk and I concluded that the swim was roughly 2 minutes short.  That still puts me under 29 minutes which would be a great improvement over the 31:30 I swam last year at this race!

Mario caught a shot of me coming out of the water. I took my wetsuit off early on so as to not have to run the long transition in it.
Bike: 2:35:36
Although I got dropped in the swim, I was still in a MUCH better position than usual for the bike.  This meant that I could actually see people to ride with!  It also helped that the women's pro field was HUGE by comparison - close to 30 women.  I passed a few women shortly after getting on the bike but then went through a dry spell of not being able to find another target for about 15 miles.  Lucky for me (but not so much for her), when I rode past one of the penalty tents I saw Rinny it in.  I knew this was going to help my cause because once she was released, she would likely catch me and she would be someone good to focus on.  As such, that is how it played out.  She caught me on the first BIG hill and shortly after I re-passed her.  It was great to have a riding buddy and we reeled in a few more women on the way back to the pier.

At some point I should note that I was killing myself on the bike.  And I knew I was doing it but that honestly never stops me.  I'm just one of those people that throws caution to the wind and doesn't really think too much about the run that is to follow.  This is probably why I'm not so good at Ironman.  Anyway, not having ridden my TT bike outside since Ironman Arizona last November, I was *really* feeling the wind and hills in my legs.  The trainer is a great tool but it is not like riding outside.  Last year I spent 4 weeks through the winter in SC and then in CO riding my bike outside, up big mountains and in the coastal winds and I felt much more prepared for my first race.  But what can you do?  I know this sounds like an excuse and, well, it kind of is.  Sorry for that, but it's the truth!

My bike split was actually faster than last year so my lack of outdoor riding didn't show up in my ride HOWEVER, it did indeed show up in my run.  Dum-da-dum-dum!

Okay, just a little 13.1 mile run now.  (oh dear...)

Run: 1:28:26
When I started the run I knew I was in trouble.  You know the feeling - like the legs have already run 10 miles of the half marathon but really you are just on mile 1?  Yikes.  But I just tried to manage.  And honestly, for the first loop, I managed pretty well.  I stuck to my plan of running 6:30-6:35 pace and the Garmin kept beeping off in that range.  The trouble is, I felt like I should have felt on the 2nd loop.  Ouchies. As predicted the slow down was something fierce on the 2nd loop.  My legs were begging for mercy.  It was a good time to work on staying in the moment and just getting through 1 mile at a time.  I managed to keep the miles in the 6:50-6:55 range, certainly not what I wanted but also not really as bad as I expected.  It helped a ton that Oscar was all over the course urging me on.  In the last 2 miles I got passed by 2 women.  It was painful.  With each pass I begged and tried to will my legs to quicken the pace to stay with the passer but I was literally running out of gas.  The finish line could not come soon enough!

So yes, I am disappointed with a 1:28.  BUT, it's a starting point and for the first race of the year, you can't get too down (or up!) about any one thing.  I learned last year, it's a looooong year.  I have lots of time to improve!

Thanks to Sonja W's parents for the great shots!
Come on legs!

Overall I had a 5 minute improvement over last year and I busted off some serious winter rust!  It felt AWESOME to be out there again and it was really what I needed to get over my winter doldrums.  I woke up this morning with a HUGE excitement and fire in my belly for the racing season to come.  I just needed that first race to really get my competitive juices rolling!

Big thanks again to the Rideouts, a wonderful group of sponsors whose support means the world to me, all the cheers from friends and family and of course to my awesome husband who made the long trip to cheer me on!  Next up, New Orleans 70.3.  I CAN'T WAIT!  :)