Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Fun

It's crazy sometimes how fast time goes.  I blink and Texas was almost 8 weeks ago!  Texas was the kickoff of my busy season and I've had so much fun over the last couple of months I thought I would share a few highlights.

After Texas we flew home for a long weekend of wedding celebrations!  My cousin tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony and we had a blast dancing the night away at the reception.  My cousin and his girlfriend (now wife!) lived in Arizona when we moved here.  I feel so blessed to have gotten to know her over the last few years and was honored to stand up for both of them during the ceremony.  These two are what make family so special and I look forward to many more good times in the future.  Texas 2015???  :-)

Paul and Desiree
 The weekend went by too quickly as usual.  But I did get to see all of my nephews and my niece, and we spend a little time together on the dance floor!  My sisters and their hubbies have done a wonderful job raising them.  While other kids were running amok, they were well behaved, ate their dinner quietly, and joined us to boogie down on the dance floor.  I think they were ready for another song when I was ready to crawl into bed for the night!  In my defense I haven't worn heels since... well... I cannot even think of the last time!
Me with a couple of my favorite kiddos!

The wedding was only a week after Texas so I was still in recovery mode.  I told my coach I had access to a cruiser-type bike and would be happy to ride it or run while we were in Iowa.  We have a beautiful rails- to- trails path that runs for about 70 miles.  I'm pretty sure I had a giddy-stupid smile on my face the whole time we were biking.  It was a gorgeous day and I don't often get to enjoy the green trees!!
Cruising on the Wabash Trace.

Soon June was upon us and we were settling back into training for the fall.  My team, TriScottsdale, does a "best ball" golf tournament every year and this year we decided to jump in.  In my mind, I was thinking that this would be a fun event.  And we did have fun, but the small problem that I encountered is that you still have to actually be able to hit a golf ball.  Never having played before, this was quite comical as I whiffed tee off more than I actually contacted the ball.  

We were divided into teams of 4, and each player had to tee off.  Then each person plays from the best position for the remainder of the hole.  I was definitely the weak link until we got onto the green and then I could shine.  Don't ask me why, but putting came pretty easy and I was happy to be able to contribute a little to my team.  But it wasn't all serious... We had one hole where we had to tee off blind folded.  Another time it was "fastest" to the hole.  And then we had the triathlon hole.... where we wore swim caps and goggles (barefoot) for tee off, and then changed into bike helmets and running shoes for the rest of the hole.  Made for some good laughs.  

The triathlon hole... 
Duty calls, and the end of June found me in San Francisco for a continuing education meeting.  I have visited the city numerous times for business and pleasure, and I have my favorite running routes all mapped out.  Coach assigned me hill repeats one day--  there is nothing like hill repeats in San Francisco...  and then agreed to let me run my favorite 20 mile route from Union Square where I was staying to the Golden Gate Bridge and back.  I LOVE the Golden Gate Bridge.  I'm not sure why, but it is so intriguing to me.  I am terrified of heights and couldn't actually stop on the bridge to take pictures.  (I tried once and when I looked up at the pillars my world started spinning and thought it best to keep running and not stagger off the bridge into the cold waters below!)  I did capture this beauty when I crossed into Marin on the other side before I headed back.  
Golden Gate Bridge
Back in Phoenix, I got a text message from a Team HPB team mate of mine.  It read, "Have you ever biked to Payson?"  So, for starters, I had biked most of the way to Payson (a town heading into the mountains about 70 miles from where I live).  Last fall, a friend and I hopped on our bikes and headed that way.  A few hours later some more friends got in the car and drove... when they caught us we hopped in and did some hiking, and had a picnic lunch before heading back.  But I have always wanted to finish the ride.  So I took it upon myself to arrange a little bicycle adventure, and over the 4th of July weekend, we started out from Fountain Hills heading toward Payson.  Our little group of 6, quickly became 5 as one of the riders had multiple mechanical issues from the start.  He had arranged his own SAG and so just called it a day after the second or third issue.  

For the first 2 hours I felt so slow as my legs were shaking off the rust, but soon enough they came around and I was climbing comfortably the rest of the way.  The weather was perfect.  Just a little bit overcast, and the temps dropped noticeably as we increased in elevation.  As the morning wore on, 3 more riders suffered multiple flat tires, a saddle that wouldn't stay put, and road debris caught in the rear cassette.  By the time we reached Payson our 5 hours of ride time had taken us 7 hours of actual time.  Since we had only one SAG vehicle and it was late in the day now we made the decision to have part of the group start back as we tried to figure out how we were going to get 5 bikes and 6 people into one little Xterra.  Within 20 minutes, we got the call to pick up one of the riders with another flat.  So we loaded as many bikes as we could into the car, sagged the remaining rider, and drove back to Fountain Hills where we dropped everyone off and then I headed back out the collect the last rider standing.  He made it within 15 miles of Fountain Hills when I picked him up... looking happy as a clam!  

Loving the ride!
We made it to Payson.  
        We decided in the future it would be best to have at least 2 SAG vehicles, one to lead and one to sweep.  That way, when someone suffers a mechanical or a flat everyone else can keep riding and the SAG vehicle can help solve the problem and then drop the rider off down the road with the group.  

I also kept our packing list of items that we had available in the SAG car for my future reference.  

Gear box:
Extra tubes - be prepared for various wheel types!  We had 80 mm tubes and standard 48 mm.  
Extra CO2
Floor pump
Patch kits, chain lube
Spare tire (preferably something bullet proof!)
Towels (these came in handy when we had to stack a couple of bikes for the ride home, and for the sweaty bodies on the seats!)

Ice chest:
diet pepsi
watermelon, grapes

Gatorade cooler (the kind with the screw on lid, and spout...):  filled with ice water!!!

Food bin:
salty snacks- we had pringles, rice crisps, and some other salty snack foods
snickers bars
salt capsules
extra gallons of water to top off the cooler as needed

We also encouraged each rider to bring a small bag of personal nutrition/ hydration needs.  Mine included Osmo hydration, Honey Stinger chews, Bonk Breakers.  

Overall this was an awesome ride and the road was in way better condition than I had expected (despite the flat tires!).  The scenery was beautiful and it was challenging but not so much that you couldn't enjoy what you're doing.  Next time, I want to be able to go there and back- with an earlier start and more support cars!

First to the top!
Along with my epic ride to Payson, I've been spending most of my time it seems on the trails.  It's been wonderful to be able to explore some of my favorite parks that I haven't been to in a while and try to conquer my more familiar trails at a faster pace.  Unfortunately, as one friend reminded me, the trail requires blood sacrifice at times.  And my time came due!  After a particularly speedy 9 miler I was in the final section heading back to my car.  My toe caught the gravel and down I went with a pretty good skid.  Wounds heal and battle scars are badges of honor!

It looks better than it actually was.  I did a pretty good number on myself!

And last but not least, we have added to our clan.  After laying Zorro to rest in March, our house was particularly quiet.  The boys (Gus, Brady and Blue) are all getting up in years with the youngest being 9.  I decided it was a good time to bring in some younger life.  I think as a pet owner, I worry about all my pets aging at the same time.  We don't know the exact ages of Gus and Brady, but we believe they are both 12.  Blue has never been an only cat.  Anyway... you see where this is going...  So a friend of mine had several litters of kittens that she had been fostering.  One litter was ready to be placed in homes so she let me do a trial weekend with two of them.  Needless to say, they never left!  Our little Moo and Blackie have been a fun and loving addition to our home.  They make us laugh every day with their antics.  It's been so long since I've had a kitten I forgot how playful they are!  They will literally play for hours until they collapse from exhaustion.  Then they sleep for 15 minutes and play again!  And the older boys are teaching them the fine art of napping and snuggling.  

Love these faces!
As summer nears it's turning point we are settling into the last 8 weeks before Ironman Wisconsin.  We've got some more summer fun before then with a couple of races in Flagstaff and a 50k in Tahoe.  I've been having so much fun training I almost don't want summer to end.  Then it's time to get into serious race mode and I feel I have so much work yet to be done.  

Happy Training!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ironman Texas: (Un)lucky Number 13

The Swim

Game plan:  Take it out with the strongest 500 I can manage, get rid of the riffraff and then settle into a strong, steady pace.

What actually happened:
Despite the fact that I am a decent swimmer, I do not love mass swim starts.  I don't like chaos.  I don't like drowning.  I don't like being beaten and punched in the face by men who weigh twice as much as me.  I just don't.  And I'm not going to apologize for that.  I don't think it makes me "less of an Ironman" that I prefer the rolling swim start.

As much as I wanted to get right up front and try to grab some good feet, I knew I would not be comfortable with this.  I lined up to the far right, with a straight shot to the turn buoy.  I thought I was far enough right... until the cannon went off.  Then everyone who had been standing on the shoreline jumped in on top of me.  Within 2 minutes I was in full blown panic mode.  My first thought was "Oh my god! I am the riffraff!"  And my next thought was "Get me the fuck out of here!"  I made a 90 degree turn, swam over the top of everyone who were in full on washing machine mode, and got to the outside.  The real outside this time.  And I resumed my swim.

Once I had free water, I put my head down and went to work.  Strong, steady pace.  When needed, I would pick it up for a few minutes.  Like when I had 2 guys zig-zagging across my space.  Repeatedly.  I needed to put them in my wake cause they were pissing me off.  Mission accomplished.

About half way through the swim I noticed a pain in my stomach.  I thought maybe it was because I was working at a higher effort level than I normally do in the swim.  I hoped it would go away once I got out of the water and into a rhythm on the bike.  I found myself feeling strong throughout the swim.  As I approached the final few buoys, I remember thinking that I wasn't the least bit sore in my shoulders.  All my paddle-buoy-band work in the pool was paying off!
View of the swim exit.  Ironman Texas 2014.

When I stood up out of the water my watch read 59:30.  YES!!! I shouted.  Out loud.  And then I ran as fast as I could through transition because the timing mat is not at the swim exit and I wanted my first sub-hour swim in the record books!

Official swim time:  59:52

The Bike

Game plan:  Ride comfortably uncomfortable in the first half, then take the effort level up in the second half.  (There were several more instructions with regards to nutrition and pacing, but I have no intention to share all my secrets!)  

What actually happened:
I dashed through transition and got out onto the bike course quickly (T1= 3:16).  I didn't take anything in for the first 10 miles or so other than a few sips of water, but I realized pretty quickly that my stabbing gut pain was not going anywhere.  In fact, tucked in my aero position, it was worse.  My legs felt strong, but as the miles added up and my energy level went down, I gradually lost power and speed.

My husband and my TriScottsdale teammate, AF, passed me at about 30 miles into the bike.  Even at that early stage I was in a world of hurt.  Each one cheered me on as they passed me and tried to get me to stay with them (at legal distance), but it was to no avail.  I simply had no ability to respond.

Over the course of 70 miles I tried everything in my bags of tricks, but nothing was absorbing from my stomach.  I tried electrolyte drinks.  I tried plain water.  I tried salt capsules.  I tried gels.  I tried nothing at all.  It didn't matter what I did, the pain didn't budge.  ***TMI ALERT!!***  I was burping and farting so I kept thinking there was potential that this problem would resolve.  No such luck.

Out for a pre-race tour of the run course.

The final 40 miles were the most excruciating hours of my life.  I just wanted to be off my bike.  I really wanted to be lying on the side of the road taking a dirt nap.  I could tell that between the wind and the warm temps, and my inability to absorb anything I was extremely dehydrated and hypoglycemic.  How I was able to hold it together mentally I don't know, but my coach's words continued to run through my head and I tried to do all the things I was supposed to do.  It was almost comical how hard I was working mentally in the game and how slow I was going physically.

I rolled into T2 and handed off my bike to a volunteer, and promptly started crying.  I think the emotional release was a combination of relief to be safely off the bike, the enduring pain in my stomach, and the realization that I had a very long 26.2 miles ahead of me.  I walked through transition, gathered my gear bag and headed into the change tent.

Official bike time:  5:45:54

My friend, MT, was volunteering in T2 and she helped me get all my bike stuff off and run stuff on.  When I was ready to go I didn't stand up.  Instead I began sobbing.  Huge tears rolled down my cheeks as she tried to console me.  She rubbed my legs and encouraged me to get out there and see what happened.  She said that not many people had come through T2 yet, and a lot of people had similar issues.  Another volunteer must have thought there was something physically wrong as she kept interrupting us.  What's your name?  What's wrong?  What is your NAME?  I ignored the inquiry and just kept listening to MT's soothing voice and eventually stood up and made my way out of transition.  (T2= 7:26)

The Run

Game plan:  Get off that bike and run your Ironman pace, one mile at a time.

What actually happened:
I am actually amazed that I held it together for as long as I did on the run.  For some reason, I can handle gut issues better on the run, maybe because I'm in an upright position.  Maybe because I can eat a bean burrito in training and then go out for a long run.  Whatever, the reason, I was happy to be on my feet and off of the damn bike.

I knew I was dehydrated and low on sugar.  At each aid station I walked to make sure I could maximize my intake potential.  I drank cups of Perform and sipped on water and ice.  I was carrying my Honey Stinger gels which were a lifesaver.  Thankfully it was not hot out as I can only imagine the added strain this would have put on my already depleted body.  I managed to run most of the first loop, approximately 9 miles, albeit slowly.

At the start of the second loop I was feeling dizzy and progressively weaker.  I found myself needing to walk more and just not altogether mentally clear.  Just after mile 11, I saw a friend in a TriScottsdale kit lying on the ground and a man was leaning over him.  I walked over, recognized my teammate (AF) and asked him if he wanted to walk with me.  He got up and we walked on.  Relentless forward progress.

AF was having his own struggle, but I was thankful to have someone with me, talking to me.  At some point I stopped being able to respond to his conversation.  I was having a hard time coming up with words in my head and what did come out sounded a little bit slurred.  I know that had I not been with AF at that moment, I would have eventually passed out on the course and the medical volunteers would have hauled me off the course with IV's in both arms, I was in that deep of a well physically.  I remember somewhere around mile 13 or so, he very clearly ordered me to take an entire bottle of Perform from the aid station and drink the whole thing.  I followed orders and within a mile my head was a little bit clearer.  I grabbed another bottle of Perform and drank it down.  By now we were nearing the end of loop 2.

The run course at night.  IM Texas has the BEST run course!

We formulated a run/ walk plan for the final loop.  He set the pace running at a decent clip for 5 minutes, and then I set the pace power walking for 10 minutes.  We covered ground quite quickly with this method averaging about 11 minutes per mile.  With about 4 miles to go, AF needed a break from the power walk and I was ready to be done.  I ran, this time at my own much slower running pace.  I continued to walk through aid stations to drink Perform as I was no where near recovered, but moving at about a 10 minute pace I was able to keep running.

I have never been so happy to see a finish line in my life.  At 12 hours, 26 minutes, and 13 seconds I raised my hands over my head in victory.  I finished an amazing 13th in my age group, with a faster time than last year on the same course.

The Aftermath

DNF is not found in my coach's vocabulary.  And after my failure at St. George in 2012, it was not an option for me.  I knew that no matter how long it took me, I was going to get to that finish line.  I was happy to be able to run as much as I did because I HATE walking at Ironman.  (Absolutely no offense to anyone who chooses to walk the marathon, I prefer to run it.)

After finishing I sat down in a chair to wait for AF, who was about a mile behind me, hoping to have a photo taken together.  After sitting for a few minutes I began having trouble catching my breath.  My husband was nearby talking with some friends and they began to notice my distress.  A medical volunteer came over and asked me if I wanted to go to medical.  Initially I declined, but then my breathing worsened and I grabbed her elbow and asked for her help.  I told her that I have had a very rare episode of asthma and I believed that was the problem.  She offered to grab a wheelchair, but I explained that sometimes if I walk it gets better.  She held onto my arm as my husband led the way, parting the sea of finishers and family members.  Once into medical they sent me immediately to the treatment area bypassing dozens of athletes waiting to be evaluated.  Apparently not being able to breathe takes priority over nausea and dehydration!

The medical volunteers were wonderful.  Friendly, attentive, and reassuring.  By the time I got into the medical tent my breathing was improved by my airways still felt tight.  The administered albuterol via nebulizer to open my airways.  After about 15 minutes of breathing the steroid-laced oxygen they released me to resume my post race ritual.

Since finishing a mere 4 days ago and returning to normal life, I've had time to reflect on the race and speak with my coach and another mentor.  I believe I have identified the main source of my nutritional problem on race day and am actively taking measures to ensure that it does not happen again.


Ironman is not a solo endeavor and there is no way I could do what I do without the support and help of a huge team of people.

Huge thank you to my coach, Hillary Biscay.  I am so thankful to be working with you and every single day I am reminded of how brilliant you are.  I see the fruits of your genius daily, even in my recovery process.  Thanks for taking a chance on me!  Thank you to Team HPB for cyber-cheering all day!  You inspire me every day with your hard work!  Special thanks to CH and MR, my local counterparts who push me daily in training and check in with me to make sure I'm alive and thriving!

Thank you to my team, TriScottsdale.  I love training and racing side by side with people who work hard, play hard, and love this sport as much as I do.  Special thanks to AF, without whom my race would have ended at mile 128.2.  I promise you that someday we will #FindKona!  I am proud to wear the colors of TriScottsdale and bask in the tons of on-course support I receive on race day!

Thank you to Paraic McGlynn and his team at Cyclologic.  Thanks to your knowledge and skill I am not only comfortable, but faster and stronger than ever on my bike.  Even though you have entire teams of professional cyclists to look after, I know that you are invested in my success because you were the first one to call and ask the tough question:  "What went wrong?"  Your effort is appreciated!

Thank you to Nate Snell and his team at Endurance Rehab.  Simply put, I would not be biking or running at all if it weren't for you.  Your weekly attention to my musculoskeletal weaknesses has allowed me to continue to do the things that I love.  You guys are the best!

Thank you to my husband.  You have put up with a lot over the years, and even more since my work load increased on January 1.  Your consistent belief in me and love means the world and #findingkona would mean half as much without you by my side.

Hard won medal.  Ironman Texas 2014.

Final thoughts

For those of you who are numbers people.  This was my 13th Ironman.  My bib was 481 (4+8+1= 13).  I finished 13th in my age group.  I'm not really superstitious, but there was no way I was quitting and having to repeat my battle against the number 13 again!!  They say everything's bigger in Texas... including my epic race disaster.  I could not be more proud of gutting it out.  As AF reminded me, to walk away and quit because things get tough is stuck up.  It's like saying "I'm too good for this."  And that is definitely not me.  No matter how bad things got, I knew I would be happy to have that medal and to have learned a great deal in the process.  You can't buy that sort of education.  

I keep reminding myself (and sometimes those around me) that this is a process.  When I signed on with Hillary, I signed on with knowledge that I have the potential to reach my goal and an enormous amount of work ahead to accomplish it.  I am not limiting myself in this process and understand that it may be years of consistency in training to get where I want to go.  In the 5 months since we have been working together I have made huge gains and I am so excited to continue the process.  This will not be an easy task but I am up for the challenge.  The dream is alive and it's time to get back to work!            

Friday, May 16, 2014

Trail Runner Blog Symposium: Is it easier to date a fellow runner or a non-runner?

The answer to the question lies within another.   Is running your lifestyle, or is it your hobby?

For me endurance sports is a lifestyle.  It doesn't pay the bills (aka: a job) but when I'm not locked between 4 walls I can be found,  with little exception,  running,  biking, or swimming. If I had been inclined to date a non-runner we would likely never cross paths.  We would be ships passing in the night.   Rather, I met my husband while running.  He sold me my first pair of custom fit running shoes and invited me to travel with a group of runners from our town all racing the Chicago Marathon.

I admit, we take running to the next level.   Wedding?   Vegas marathon run-through ceremony,  of course.   Honeymoon?   Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.   Vacation?  How 'bout a week in Pebble Beach following the Big Sur Marathon.  Or the Tahoe Rim Trail Ultra with some bonus days in the mountains.  It's our passion.

Without him I'd still be passionate about running, but it's soooo much better to have someone to share it with,  someone who gets it.  We get to laugh over a post race beer about things that happened during the run.  Our favorite spectator's sign running through Wellesley College.   Where on the trail I took a wrong turn.   How I missed a PR by 9 seconds because I had to stop and tie my shoes.

A non-runner would have to listen to my stories,  but just wouldn't get them.  I would feel sorry for him.  I would feel guilty spending all my time on the trails and not with him.   He would start to feel resentment.  We would fight about priorities.  Eventually it would end tragically,  hopefully prior to any legal commitment.   We would both turn to our passions to mend our broken hearts.  I'd run twice as much in an effort to forget the pain I caused and endured.  I'd end up injured and have to take time off from running furthering my mental anguish....

No, no.  It's better I just stay far away from non-runners.  Nothing good can come from that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Absolute Perfect Timing

Unraveling.  It's coming undone.  Just in time.

This is uncharted territory for me.  In the past I've followed a generic training plan involving 6 months worth of base, build, peak and taper.  Followed by race day.  The plan allotted 3 weeks of a gradual reduction in volume and intensity over the final weeks leading to race day.  Sometimes I approached race day feeling lethargic.  Other times I was well rested and ready to race.  But I never felt any different than I had after a "recovery week" in training.  I was just doing what the plan told me.

Having hired my first ever coach in January, I'm now following a very specific training plan, tailored toward my needs, adjusted based on my response to training.  It remains the best decision I ever made with regards to triathlon.

Over the last 5 weeks I've conquered a ridiculous volume of miles, but not just any miles.  Hard miles.  Hills.  Intervals.  Never before in training have I even come close to feeling the way I do after an ultramarathon, until now.  After running my 50 milers (Tahoe Rim Trail Ultra) there is this incredible pain that consumes my legs immediately after finishing.  It is indescribable, though hopefully you've had a chance to experience it yourself.  After you've been working hard, on your feet for 13 hours, and you cross the finish line and suddenly come to a stop... all the blood just pools in your legs and the pain is excruciating.  It's a special kind of hurt.  An accomplished, I've-done-shit kind of hurt.  I have never had that feeling during training... until last week.  When it happened, I realized just how much work I've been doing.  And I got really excited.    

I still managed to hit some amazing numbers, crushing a 2 hour run off my 70 mile bike ride at an 8:20 pace.  Cruising through a 120 mile bike ride with energy to spare.  Laying down my best 20 mile training run *ever* during which I actually progressed finishing with my final 3 miles as the fastest of the day.

And then the wheels came off.

It started on Thursday when I was supposed to do an 8 mile progression run, but stalled out at mile 4 and despite all my best efforts, could not go any faster.  I survived my workouts on Friday and Saturday.  Then Sunday rolled around and I had a repeat of the workout I had crushed just 10 days earlier.  I suffered through the bike ride, legs completely trashed three quarters of the way through.  I got off the bike and could not even wrap my head around running 2 hours.  I loaded up my hydration pack with all the necessities (it was 94 degrees out when I started) and hit the canal.  It was an absolute slog.

What the heck am I going to do in Texas, I began to think.  How in the hell am I going to survive if I can't even make it through this workout?  I got through Monday, dreading my final trainer ride / run workout on Tuesday.  I had no turnover.  On the bike or on the run.  I was suffering bad.  I logged my workouts, feeling disappointed and a little bit sorry for myself.  This morning I woke up to coach's email response.

"Sounds like we have entered the box with absolute perfect timing.  :) "  

Smiley face included.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  No longer disappointed, now I am excited to experience the benefits of a taper that I have actually earned.  One that I need.  Not the taper of yester-race, where I complained about the lack of activity.  A taper during which time my body is going to absorb every last ounce of work that I put in.  With a little bit of rest, and a few perfectly timed sharpening workouts, I am going to head into Texas in peak form.  The best shape I've ever been in for an Ironman race.

I am excited.  I am terrified.  If I think too long about it I can't breathe and panic sets in.  I find myself throughout the day thinking about it, and having to stop and take a deep breath.  I have never wanted anything so badly in my life, other than maybe to qualify for Boston that first time...  I've never had to work for anything so hard in my life.

After my last post, I emailed my coach and asked for some help with a race plan.  She outlined for me, in detail, each leg of the race.  Pacing, fueling, race strategy.  So with my plan in hand, and locked in my brain, I have 10 days to finalize my preparation.  Be mentally ready to stand on the start line and go up against the top girls in my age group.  I have no idea how it's all going to play out.  But I am confident that I have prepared to the best of my ability, and I've never been this ready for an Ironman race in my life.  I promise that on race day when it hurts, which it will, I will fight for everything I've worked hard for.

Until the roof
The roof comes off
Until my legs
Give out from underneath me
I will not fall
I will stand tall
Feels like no one can beat me.

"Till I Collapse"

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Abandoning the Safety Net

The shit is getting real.  Just when I thought I had a little routine figured out with training, we take it up a notch.  With 20 days to IM Texas, I am in the crunch zone- adding on the last long miles to my increasingly tired body.  Adding intensity and speed into the legs.  Working on ingraining the goal run pace into my brain.

I was reviewing my log from the last few weeks.  My last recovery day was April 2, and only the 3rd day completely off since January 1.  Now, I am totally not complaining because I'd rather get my endorphin fix daily.  In fact, I messaged coach on April 1 asking if she was sure I couldn't do something the following day.  Her response... soak it up, you'll be glad you did.  And boy am I glad I did.  I had no idea on April 1st what was in store for the next 4 weeks.  It has been absolutely relentless in the best possible way.  Every day I am reminded how lucky I am to be working with someone so brilliant.  I am amazed at how my body responds to certain workouts, and how much I am able to push through even when I think at any moment during a given workout I'm going to have to wave the white flag.

Without going into specifics, let me give you an example.  Between Friday, Saturday and Sunday I had 132 miles on the bike with 8k+ feet of climbing.  17 miles running with hill repeats and race pace efforts.  And 8300 yards of swimming and all the band and paddle work that this entails.  On Monday I had a bit of a reprieve with only 3 hours of a swim/ run and core session at Endurance Rehab.  Then Tuesday, just about the time I am ready for a day off, I start my day with 2 1/2 hours of trail running.  I was certain that I was going to implode and end up walking.  I didn't.  It took me a little longer than usual to get my legs under me, but when I did there was no stopping me and I finished in my normal pace.  Not feel- fantastic- trail- pace.  Not slow, legs- dead-trail- pace.  Normal pace.  Comfortable pace.  Talk about a confidence booster!  I finished out my day with 2 more workouts and cruised through them because in my mind... I knew I could.    
I have been giving a lot of thought lately to my goals for race day.  And if I am completely honest, I am at a loss.  I am not sure how I see this race playing out.  It's going to be hot and humid.  That's a given.  But it has been every year, and it doesn't stop the top girls from running fast.  I've made significant improvements on the bike, but have I improved enough to go that hard on the bike and be able to hold it together for a decent marathon?  And as much as I've improved my swim, it's still a non-wetsuit swim.  And I'm not a "real swimmer".  I don't maintain the same advantage that I do in a wetsuit swim.

Do I aim high and risk failure?  Do I reel it in and keep my goals "realistic"?  And what is realistic, exactly?  I don't want to be afraid of dreaming big.  I don't want to be afraid of failure.  I know that it will take a lot of hard work and baby steps along the way for me to reach my ultimate goal.  So why not take a chance?    

I believe in visualization.  And that in order to see something, I have to first believe it.  And this is where my coach's approach to training is so beneficial.  Every day that I accomplish something that I don't think is possible, I believe a little bit more.  Every day when I think, OK today my legs are really tired, and I nail the efforts or pace I am supposed to run or bike, I believe.  When she takes my intervals in the pool and drops the pace to where I think, no way, and I still manage to hit the send-offs, I believe.

I believe on race day, what is meant to be will be.  I think my primary goal is to have a race that I am proud of.  It might not be a PR.  Who knows?  I might not land on the podium, as much as this is an outcome goal that I have.  I want to race strong.  I want to get my nutrition/ hydration right.  I want to be fast in transitions.  And I want to run what I know I am capable of running.

I feel like this is a theme that has been on repeat for the last 18 months.  And I'm ready to take it out of the playlist and move on to bigger and better goals.  I am not fond of the unknown, the lack of control.  As a type-A person it is difficult to take a step back and approach this race with a sense of freedom.  And that's exactly what needs to happen if I am going to see these goals through.    

"When you recognize that failing doesn't make you a failure, you give yourself permission to try all sorts of things."    Lauren Fleshman      

Approaching taper, I vow to give up fear.  Fear of failure.  Fear of bonking.  Fear of contact in the swim.  Fear of heat and humidity.  Fear has been a safety net and I'm tired of worrying about everything.  I've found that the best part about having a coach is that there is so much I don't have to think about anymore.  I can just execute the workouts written and watch my fitness improve.  Now, I have to trust the work that I've done, know that I am prepared, and just go out and race.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Oceanside 70.3: Chipping away

Heading into this race I was nothing but excited.  Ironman California Oceanside 70.3 is my absolute favorite triathlon.  Salty swim in a protected harbor.  Rolling hills on the bike course.  And a run along the beach.  Throw in perfect weather, men in uniform, and fresh ocean air.  What could possibly be better?

Post race.  Enjoying the view.
I struggle with appropriate goal setting.  If you read all the magazines (which I do) you have surely come across the phrases "process goals" and "outcome goals".  I love to set outcome goals.  I want to podium.  I want to finish in 5 hours.  This type of goal is great, but it doesn't account for things that are completely out of the realm of my control.  I cannot control the weather.  If it's hotter then hell, or there are 30 mph winds I may not make my time goals.  I also cannot control who else shows up.  I would love to tell all the ladies who've already had their shot on the Queen K to stay at home, it's my turn.  But the WTC will not allow me to ban them.  So when the speedsters show up, I have to compete against them too.  

My plan for the next 2 years involves slowly chipping away at the lava rock, so to speak.  I am going to make steady progress in training until such a time when I am the speedster that shows up and takes the slot to Kona.  It's not going to happen overnight, but I have proven myself capable of getting there and I have so much room for improvement.     

So for Oceanside, I knew I needed other goals.  Process goals.  Goals that reflect my desire to chip away at the bigger picture.  Goals that were within my control that I could strive to reach on race day.  I wanted to have a swim PR.  I knew that over the last 3 months with my coach, my swim has improved tremendously.  I wanted to prove that to myself by having a strong swim.  I wanted to give everything I had on the bike.  I wanted to save nothing.  This was a conscious decision.  I'm not sure why I thought this was the best way to race, but I didn't want to get to the finish line and believe that I could have biked faster.  I wanted to nail my nutrition.  This is something that I've struggled with over the years.  Early on I ate way too much, and the wrong things, and ended up trying to run with a bloated gut.  To combat that I switched to taking in almost nothing, and would end up running the marathon from aid station to aid station eating a gel every 10 minutes.  Better, but not great.  We've really been working in training to improve my intake and practice not only taking in appropriate calories, but also going hard while eating which can be even more difficult.   

There was a brief moment in the morning when I was trying to choke down breakfast that I was feeling nervous.  But once we left the hotel room and headed toward transition that faded and I was pumped and ready to race.
Race morning.  Let's do this!

The Swim:  29:34!!!

The swim at Oceanside is a wave start.  The harbor is narrow, and groups of a couple hundred people are started every 3 minutes.  This is really nice as far as avoiding contact initially, but it's challenging when you start in wave 16 and catch people who were in waves 9, 10, 11 and so on.  

Normally I seed myself far to the outside to avoid any sort of contact.  However, this time I stayed pretty close to the inside buoy.  And when the gun sounded, I took off.  I realized quickly that a friend of mine was swimming just to my left and I jumped in her draft and held on for dear life.  Another first for me as I have never successfully drafted in the water before.  As we approached the 5th (of 7) buoys on the way out to the turn around, I felt her back off the pace just a hair.  I took that opportunity to pull up beside her to take the lead.  At that point we hit a huge pack of slow swimmers from previous waves and we got separated.  I kept swimming hard and was pleased to find that I never felt tired coming back into the harbor.  Once I left KD I never saw another light pink swim cap so I thought I might be in the lead, but I wasn't sure.  We were literally passing hundreds of swimmers so it would have been easy to miss another pink cap.  

I got out of the water and dashed up the ramp.  I glanced down and saw on my Garmin that I had swum under 30 minutes!  A huge Oceanside swim PR for me!!  (My previous best at this race was 31:24.)  Oh, and I was first in my age group out of the water!

T1:  3:46  (aka: fucking forever!)  At Oceanside, there are no wetsuit strippers.  This is a huge disadvantage for me because my limbs are long and my wetsuit hits me just below my knee.  So when I try to get out of it by myself it is impossible.  It gets turned inside out and sticks to my legs and it's a big mess.  I fumbled around my transition area for nearly a century trying to get my feet out of the suit.  And then when I finally do, I have to pack everything up in the little plastic bag so the volunteers can transport our gear to T2 for post race pickup (much appreciated!).

Bike:  2:45:02!!!

I love the bike ride at Oceanside.  The first 25 miles are smokin' fast.  And then you hit some rolling hills for about 15 miles or so.  The final 10 miles are flat and fast back into town.  Ironically I felt so good coming out of the water that there was no "settling in" period on the bike.  Usually it takes about 20-30 minutes for me to get my legs up to speed and my gut ready to eat.  On this day, I hopped on, cleared the saltwater from my palate and I was ready to fly.  

I kept pushing.  And pushing.  And pushing my legs as hard as they would let me.  My plan was to take in my bottle of EFS (300 calories, electrolytes) before the climbing started and ditch the bottle at the second aid station.  Then I would rely on my Honey Stinger gels for the remainder of the ride (480 calories).  

As I rode along I did not let up on my effort.  I kept telling myself that the ride up Mt. Lemmon at camp last month hurt worse than this.  (Completely true.).  Eventually I began to feel the effort in my quads, but by that point the worst of the hills were behind me and I just had the final home stretch in front of me.  I did not let up.  

I hopped off my bike in T2 with my fastest ride on this course by over 7 minutes.  I knew I was somewhere in the top of my age group.  It was all going to come down to how fast I could run.  (I was 3rd in my age group off the bike.. A first for me!)

T2:  1:35  Helmet off, run shoes on.  Let's go!!   

Run:  1:49:55

Ahhh, the run.  Again.... Best. course. ever.  The first part of the run is a mile out and back along the strand.  And then they pitch you up a ramp onto the pier at about a 40 degree angle.  With the first step I took onto the ramp, my adductor seized into a cramp.  Fuck!  I thought.  A mile in and this is how it's going to go??!!  I was pissed.  I hobbled up the ramp and back onto the flat pavement trying to work the cramp out.  My husband who was just coming out of T1 (his wave started 15 minutes behind me) saw me and ran over to see what was up.  He shouted to get some salt caps, and an athlete who happened to be running in my same direction offered me a couple of his.  

I picked up my pace and started running again, and within a minute or so my leg, though sore, was good enough.  I started drinking the PowerBar Perform at every aid station to help with my hydration status.  I stuck with my plan to take a gel every 30 minutes.  Having fueled appropriately on the bike, this strategy worked beautifully.  My energy level never waned.    
I watched my splits on my Garmin as it beeped every mile and I realized that my run would not be my fastest ever, but I could still PR.  I was heartbroken as I saw the girls with numbers ranging from 35-39 written on their left calf pass me and I could not respond.  I was giving my best, this I was confident of, but they were flying by me.  I knew my friend, KD, would beat me (she is significantly faster than me most days) but I had hoped to stand by her side on the podium.

In the past, I would let me mind get the better of me and would call it a day and start walking aid stations, dicking around, etc.  This was not going to happen.  I kept my mind in the game and I tried to give my all.  I pushed a little harder on the downhills.  Maintained a strong effort on the inclines.  And when my legs were screaming the final 4 miles, I called on my little Z kitty angel to loan me his wings so I could fly.  I don't think I went any faster, but I also didn't slow down.  

The run was over before I knew it and I crossed the line in 5:09:52.  A 2 minute PR and good enough for 6th in my age group.  

Overall time:  5:09:52, 6th AG

To top it off, I had a little throwdown going with a couple of my training partners.  Loser had to buy margaritas post race:  
Guess who didn't have to buy margaritas?!  

Initially I was a little disappointed in my run, and the fact that I finished 6th and just off the podium.  But the more I thought about it, the things that are important to my progress over the next 2 years were executed perfectly.  2 years ago when I ran a 1:42 at Oceanside, I was coming off my best run preparation ever including my marathon PR 6 weeks prior.  I was in phenomenal run shape then.  Right now, my focus is on the bigger picture and I've been training for triathlon, not a marathon.  I swam 2 minutes faster, biked 7 minutes faster, and only ran 7 minutes slower.  I am happy with that.  

My coach reminded me that I put a huge deposit in the bank of "get the legs used to riding hard".  The next time I push hard on the bike they will remember... just like they did this weekend after biking hard up Mt. Lemmon last month.  I will keep making deposits and chipping away until the day comes when it all falls into place.  

She also gave me a couple of nice recovery workouts for Sunday to flush the legs a bit.  My husband and I took a bike tour of Oceanside and the San Luis Rey bike path.  
Biking on the San Luis Rey bike path.

Overlooking the pier.  #Smash

Then I had a little swim in our hotel pool which from my rough calculation was about 12 yards long.  

View from our hotel overlooking the pool and the harbor.

I am excited to have just under 7 weeks to continue my preparation for my first IM of the season.  Texas is going to be hot and humid, and I can't wait to have another opportunity to chip away at my ultimate goal of finding Kona.  
Contemplating finding Kona.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Legend of Zorro

June 1999.  I was a senior in veterinary school on my radiology rotation.  This means that I spent my days learning about the physics, math, and art behind obtaining and interpreting xray images.  We received an order from the Community Practice department requesting radiographs on a 6 month old kitten.  The kitten had been owned by a college student who was away for the long Memorial Day weekend.  When he returned from vacation, he found the kitten trapped by his leg in the windowsill of his big, old farmhouse.

He brought the kitten, Zorro, in to be examined.  But with limited finances, Zorro sat in the hospital ward with antibiotics and pain medications for several days before any treatments were authorized.  His right rear leg was severely injured, and swollen from his thigh to his paw.  His paw had swelled to about 6 times its normal size and reeked of infection and tissue death.  

When we went to fetch Zorro for his radiographs, he was happy to be petted, and held, and he purred constantly.  Most patients in his condition would be acting sick, and rightfully so.  But not Zorro.  I knew immediately he was special and I couldn't help falling in love.

A day or two later I heard that Zorro's owner had declined surgery because of limited finances.  Amputation was the only option for him.  His owner had relinquished him to the teaching hospital, which meant that it was up to the doctor treating him to decide his fate.  Many times this means euthanasia.  But in Zorro's case, he had a treatable injury and what he needed was someone to take responsibility for him.  To love him.

I already had one cat, Lucky, whom my dad got for me when I was 9 years old.  Lucky was 12 at the time, and I was a starving college student.  I told my parents I was going to rehabilitate him and find him a home.  I signed on as Zorro's guardian and arranged for the surgery resident to amputate his leg.  My parents happened to be coming into town the evening of his surgery and my mom was with me when he was coming out of anesthesia recovery.  Minus one leg, Zorro was still the sweetest, happiest little angel.

Years later, my dad still teases me that I walked into the middle of an empty cornfield and asked if anyone wanted a cat... that was my attempt at finding him a home.  And it's probably true.  I do remember asking one friend, but I knew that no one would ever love him as much as I did.  And I could give him a good home.  A good life.  
Getting a bath from Blue.

For 14 years, Zorro was the picture of health.  His lack of leg never slowed him down.  In fact, his remaining back leg became really strong and we referred to it as his ham-hock.  One year I hosted a dinner for Thanksgiving for my co-workers.  On of the doctors remarked, "your cat is limping."  I smiled and told her that it was because he only had 3 legs.  He really could run and jump and play just like any other cat.  

Last year I began to notice that Zorro was losing weight.  His muscles were beginning to atrophy and he was showing some signs of weakness.  He started asking to be picked up when we were all snuggling on the couch at night.  He stopped walking up the steps to the bedroom, he would stay downstairs.  

With all 4 of my boys being 'senior' pets, I decided to take them all in for some bloodwork.  I was shocked to discover that Zorro was diabetic.  He wasn't even overweight.  He had never been on steroids.  Those are the two most common reasons cats become diabetic.  I knew that this was not the typical Type 2 diabetes we see in pets.  He was just old.  And his pancreas was shutting down.  We started insulin and though he was never regulated as much as I would have liked, he did respond and his weight stabilized.

Snuggling with Brady

If you follow my blog, you know about our scare from November.  (You can read about it here.)  After that incident, he recovered and even improved somewhat after I changed his insulin.  But I promised myself that if he ever declined again, that I would let him go.  I know how to prolong his life.  But that doesn't mean his life has quality.  

Two days ago, my baby stopped eating.  Though he still wanted to be near us, he was no longer the chatty, demanding kitten that we knew.  He slept very heavily and unless we were actively bothering him, he was difficult to rouse.  He normally was not allowed in the bedroom at night because he would lay by my head and demand that I pet him all. night. long.  This was not very conducive to sleeping.  Last night I was worried that he might pass, and I set him up with a blanket on the floor by my bed so I could keep an eye on him.  He slept very soundly until about 4 am when he finally woke up and asked to be let out.  This wasn't him.  

I counsel people on euthanasia every day.  And I know that no matter how "right" it is, it is never an easy decision to make.  But years ago I worked with an oncologist, and she believed (which I also came to believe) that it is our last gift to our pets.  To end their suffering.  To let them go.  It's easier to keep them alive, and drag things on because we can't possibly make that decision.  I know.  I get it.  But when we can put their needs above our own then it is a gift.    

Our boys' favorite past time.  

Today I gave Zorro the gift of freedom.  Freedom from his disease.  Freedom from weakness.  And pain.  And hunger.  I will always love him.  And as I held onto him so tightly when the injection was given I knew that he could feel my love.  I believe in a loving God, and I believe that in the afterlife I will be reunited with the ones that I loved here on earth.  And it would not be complete without my boys.  They will be there before me, waiting.     

Thank you to my wonderful husband for your support, patience, and love.  I know you loved Z kitty as much as I did.  Our home will not be the same, each time we say goodbye to one of our babies.  Thank you to RA for being with us and administering the injection, a task that I could not do.  Thank you to MAS for transporting him to the crematorium.  I don't think I could come to work tomorrow if I knew he was in the holding cooler waiting to be picked up.  Thank you to CAS and CJB for being there to support us and to love on Z during his last day.  

To my Z kitty, 
I always teased that you promised me you would live forever.  I only said this because you were the best cat on the planet.  I knew when you came into my life that you were special, and there will never be another like you.  You traveled across the country with me 5 times.  You flew in an airplane- calm, cool and collected like it was no big deal.  You lived a week in an RV.  You rode several times shotgun in a moving van.  No matter where we went, you were happy as long as we were together.  You didn't like being alone, and when Lucky died you cried every day until I brought you a kitten.  And you graciously accepted, and genuinely loved, every cat that I brought you since then.  We joked that the pillow you laid on at night was your throne.  But you truly were royalty.  I cherish every memory I have, and will miss you with all my heart.  When I close my eyes at night I will hear the soft rumble of your purr and imagine you making biscuits on my arm to get my attention.  I love you, my angel.  Rest in peace.