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.         


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Finding Kona

Once upon a time there lived a princess.  She was raised by the King and Queen in a humble castle surrounded by green lawns and big shade trees.  The couple ensured that the princess had not only her physical needs met, but her emotional needs as well.  They reminded her daily, "you can do anything you want to do!" and she believed them.  Throughout her life she tested their promise and proved it over and over again to be valid.

When she was young, she imagined herself a cheerleader.  Standing on the sidelines under the Friday night lights with her closest friends having fun, laughing, and making memories.  Though she was not the most talented, she worked hard and tried out.  Her spirit could not be matched and she was granted membership to the team.

As she worked her way through school, she dreamed of becoming a veterinarian.  She chose the right classes, worked hard, and one day had completed her requirements for admission.  She took a leap of faith and submitted the application.  A few months later she received the phone call, she was to start veterinary school in the fall.  

Life went on, and the princess got busy and a little overwhelmed.  For a short time she got bogged down and forgot who she was.  She forgot that she could do anything, and so she did nothing.  One day she woke up, as if from a horrible nightmare, and realized that she was missing out on life.  She didn't know what to do, and so she ran.  She ran at first to escape from a life that she didn't recognize.  And then she ran because it reinforced in her the belief that she could do anything.  

She ran, and every day, the world looked a little bit brighter and little by little she remembered what the King and Queen had taught her.  One day her running shoes seemed a little bit worse for the wear and so she wandered into a running specialty store in search of a new pair.  She left that day with a new pair of running shoes, and a handsome prince by her side.

The prince and princess would journey through life together discovering new adventures and pushing the boundaries of what they believed was possible.  Together the turned their love of running into a pursuit of the sport of triathlon, and they excelled.  They traveled all over the country racing in this sport that had captured their hearts.  The prince was very good.  He earned a chance to race in the World Championships, and honor the princess never dreamed could be possible for herself.  

Together they journeyed to the Big Island where this legendary race took place.  That fall, she had her own race planned 6 weeks later and so continued her training on the island.  After a very long, very hot, and very trying bike ride on the World Championship course she declared that she NEVER wanted to compete in this race.  EVER!  

The prince finished the race, and would go back to race a second time years later.  This time the princess had a bit more training experience under her belt.  She didn't take her bike, but rather ran and swam on the course.  She rented a stand-up paddle board, and would spend hours cruising up and down the coastline lost in her own thoughts.  It was there that she gave up her previous negative thoughts about herself and decided that she would, in fact, like to race in the World Championships. 

She did some research and came across a program, called the Legacy, which allowed any athlete who had completed 12 Ironman events to enter a special lottery.  She decided that if she was physically able to complete 12 races, that surely, she could survive the World Championship course.  And so it came to pass that the princess entered 6 races over the next 2 years to finish out her requirement for the Legacy Program.

But something unexpected and wonderful happened along the way.  The princess got stronger and faster.  And the stronger and faster she got, the more she began to believe in herself.  And when the 12 events were done, she no longer wanted to go to the World Championships on a lottery ticket.  She wanted to qualify.  She wanted to earn her slot.  And belong to the mass of people lined up in the water when the cannon sounds on that early October morn.  

The princess knows the work that will be required to achieve a goal of this magnitude.  But she is not afraid.  She knows that heart will trump talent, and that if she works hard and wants this just a little bit more than the next girl, that one day she will see her dream come true.  And so it was with great courage and strength that the princess brushed aside all doubt, and stood on the mountain top with her bike raised above her head, to announce to the world....

I dream of finding Kona.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Tri Camp: My Initiation to Team HPB

When I was a child I went to camp for a week or two every summer.  My parents would drop me off in the middle-of-nowhere Iowa and I would spend the days swimming, learning to ride horses, making new friends, and singing songs by the campfire.  By the end of the glorious two weeks I would return home rested, happy, with a new set of skills and songs to entertain my friends with.

When I signed on with my coach in December, I noticed that she was hosting a triathlon training camp in Tucson at the end of February.  I glanced at my work schedule and determined that I would be free that weekend.  With visions of kum-ba-yah and roasting marshmallows by the fire I immediately signed up.  And then I got the weekend schedule....

I hitched a ride with fellow Team HPBer down to Tucson.  On the way we shared stories of training and the things we have learned about ourselves during this process.  He's been with Coach for 5 years, and it was nice to know that the things that I have been going through over the last 8 weeks he also endured.  We arrived in time to unload our stuff into our Casita before meeting the rest of the gang poolside to start our journey.

The first two days went as planned, before the weather intervened.  We enjoyed an hour get-to-know-you run around the complex which served as our home base for the weekend and then rendezvoused in town for a dinner at La Cocina.  The scent of orange blossoms filled the air as we enjoyed good food and great conversation.

Day two began with a ride on the infamous "shoot-out" course with a loop of Madera Canyon added in the middle, a total of about 95 miles.  Immediately there was carnage everywhere.  If you've never enjoyed the pleasure of biking in Tucson.... the roads SUCK ASS.  And that is an understatement.  Fellow campers arrived from out of town and assembled their bikes from travel.  Within 3 miles of hitting the roads, bikes were falling apart, screws not tight enough allowed handle bars to drop, and one unlucky camper hit a massive pot hole and crashed.  It was going to be a long day...

Once we got everyone put back together, we took off again only slightly delayed.  I was riding with the "B" group, a nice intimate group of 4 plus Coach Hillary.  As is typical for me, I struggled a little in the first half and my legs felt better, stronger in the second half.  At that half way point we made a 3 1/2 mile climb to the turn around point.  I had heard stories of this climb and was sufficiently frightened.  I heard things like 14% grade, people falling off their bikes on the climb, etc.  I was convinced there was no way I was going to make it.  When we started the climb, Coach came with me and chatted, distracting me from the fact I was going 5 mph.  The hardest part is that the surrounding terrain looks flat.  Pancake flat.  It doesn't look like you should be climbing, but the number on my bike computer was not lying.  I was barely moving.

We progressed through the miles and past some of the camp sites of Madera Canyon.  The road pitched upward.  Straight up.  "How much farther?" I shouted.  "Not far", Coach replied.  "NO!  I need a number!  Like quarter mile??!", I'm panicking now.  "Something like that," she laughed.  In reality, the climb was no where near as bad as I had built up in my head.  I had thought the whole 3 miles was as steep as the final climb.  I was happy to pull into the parking lot at the top to the cheers of my teammates.

Half way through the long ride.  Tucson Tri Camp.

High fives all around and then we headed back down the hill for the ride home.  I enjoyed a little paceline work with a fellow teammate and overall finished feeling better than when we started.  We had time for a recovery shake which I promptly whipped up in my Vitamix and a quick nap in the Recovery Boots before hitting the pool for afternoon our swim session.

Saturday morning dawned cloudy and gray.  On tap we had our long swim.... 100 x 100 yds in the University of Arizona rec pool (a beautiful facility!!).  We were split into lanes based on our swim speed and given specific intervals to do.  We made it through 1000 yds before lightening cracked across the sky causing all of us to scramble out of the pool.  We killed a little time at Starbucks before deciding that the lifeguards were looking for reasons to take the day off (they are supposed to let us back in after 45 minutes of no lightening), and decided we'd be better off trying again later.

Many of you know that I am kind of a control freak, and lack patience.  This "killing time" was a real test of my ability to adapt and go with the flow.  We decided to take a quick lunch break and then hop on our bikes for our "easy" ride before heading back to the pool in the evening.  We broke up into our ABC groups from the previous day to tackle Gates Pass with a McCain Loop.  The "B" group was assigned to Coach Alyssa but since we all took off together, we approached the climb pretty much together.

Return trip over Gates pass.  In the distance the climb is visible.

My legs felt decent, I dropped into my granny gear and spun up the hill, passing Coach Hillary (leading the A group) along the way.  We regrouped at the top of the climb and proceeded down the back side to through the loop before making our way up and over Gates pass again on the way home.

An hour later, we met on the pool deck to tackle our 100 x 100 swim (Yes, we had to start over.  Duh!)  Coach gave us our assignments for the following morning's Mt. Lemmon ride before we jumped in the water.  I'm not sure if I was being punished for passing her on Gates Pass, or if she just thought my legs were not trashed enough from our 100 mile ride on Friday, but she announced that I would be riding with the "A" group on Mt. Lemmon.  WHHAAATTT??!

I am back pedaling.  No, I can't ride with the A group.  They'll be waiting for, like, an hour at the top for me!  I'm not that fast.  I promise.

But my fate was sealed.  Now I had one more thing to stress about during my 10k swim.  I love to swim.  I do.  But when I am chasing some fast girls in front of me, trying to make every interval... it's not all fun and games.  I was being pushed outside my comfort zone.  By 3000 yds, I was tired.  By 6000 my arms wanted to fall off.  At some point the sun began setting and cast a gorgeous shadow of palm trees against the block wall on one end of the pool.  The rain stopped, and a double rainbow graced the sky above us.  We paused for a moment between sets to appreciate the view.

University of Arizona Rec Center.  10k baby!

I began counting down the final set of 30 x 100 before the 10 x 100 cool down.  As I neared 8000, with the end in site, I got a second wind.  My arms felt stronger and my pace quickened.  This didn't last long, however, and by the time I finished the main set with only 1000 to go I just wanted to be done.  I hauled ass through the cool down and jumped out of the pool.  2 hours and 49 minutes my final time for the 10k.  My fastest by about 30 minutes, and my arms felt every second of it.

Coach pulled me aside after the swim and gave me specific directions for my Mt. Lemmon workout.  I was instructed to stay on the wheel of my teammate (MR) for as long as possible on the climb.  If I fell off, I was to stand up and sprint to get back on.  I was to kill myself holding on until I couldn't do it anymore and she slipped away.  And then I was to recover and wait for another camper to pass me at which time I would repeat the process.

Did I mention that my teammate finished Kona in 10:23?  And that she's really freaking fast?  And that she's probably going to get her pro card this year?  I was fucked.

On the night when I needed sleep the most, it evaded me.  I lay in bed with my arms aching so badly that I couldn't sleep.  Damn lightening, I cursed at the ceiling.  If our day hadn't been rearranged, I would have had time to recover from the swim and my arms would feel like death right now.  And I would be SLEEPING!

I was uncharacteristically quiet as we prepared for our bike ride on Sunday morning.  I was secretly freaking out about the task set before me.  We arrived at the parking lot of Le Buzz (our starting point) to more bad news.  Due to the overnight hurricane, the road up Mt. Lemmon was closed until the sun had melted the ice enough to make it safe for cars/ bikes to pass.  So we found ourselves drinking more coffee, and eating more breakfast while we waited (patiently??) for the road to re-open.

At 11 AM we were on our way, and I was huffing and puffing along behind my designated rabbit.  All was cool until mile 5 and then I started to wish death would come swiftly.  I made a goal to get to 8 miles.  With each passing mile, my effort level increased.  There was grunting and groaning as I dug into my suitcase of courage.  As mile 8 neared, I began to think that maybe I could hold on till mile 14, Windy Point.  Shortly after that thought crossed my mind we hit a few dips in the climb.  I'm OK with constant pressure on my legs.  But throw in a little decline- like 10-15 seconds worth-- and my legs were screaming.  With each little break in the climb, the girls would gain a little space and I would stand up and do my best to hang on.  Finally, just past mile 10, beginning to weave a little from exhaustion, I cracked.  It was amazing how quickly they disappeared from sight as I was spit off the back.    

Climbing Mt. Lemmon.  Doing my best to hang on!

I spent a few minutes spinning my legs and recovering.  But then fear set in again.  I still had two A group members behind me on the climb.  They could catch me at any time and I would be forced to respond.  Rather than risk a repeat of the first 10 miles, I kept the pressure on and continued to work hard toward the top.  It was not until Palisades at about mile 20 that I was caught by BP.  By that point, it was not much trouble to stay with my teammate for the final mile of the climb.  Just beyond mile 21, there is a descent into Summerhaven where we were regrouping at the Cookie Cabin.

With about 2 miles to go, the SAG van passed us coming out of Summerhaven.  They handed us our winter gear and told us to get warm and wait until they got back to the CC.  They were going to head off any other riders as the conditions on the top were not ideal and anyone who had not made it past Palisades was going to be turned around.

A dense mist covered the roads, at 8000 ft the air was quite cold, and we were frozen by the time we hopped off our bikes.  We stumbled into the CC and sat, almost stunned, shivering by the fire.  A teammate handed us a hot cup of apple cider.  I was happy to have grabbed my bag from the SAG van as I had a complete change of clothes - dry and warm.  I peeled of my sweaty, wet jersey and replaced it with dry layers becoming warmer as the fire heated us through.

Cookie Cabin at the top of Mt. Lemmon.

On one hand, we wanted to stay by the fire and catch a ride back to the bottom.  Being Team HPB this was NOT an option, so we eventually began gearing up for the descent.  BP had raced IM Tahoe with me in 30 degree temps and we kept looking at each other like, you ready?  We began putting our shoes, helmets, gloves back on and when the SAG van arrived back at the top of the mountain, we headed out the door and grabbed our bikes.

Ironically, with all my layers on, I didn't feel cold at all on the way down.  And eventually as we dropped below 5000 feet, I got too warm.  I was proud of my descending skills.  I took Coach's words to heart and really practiced watching where I wanted to go to allow myself to efficiently take turns without having to brake hard on each switch back.  About half way down I suffered a flat on my front tire as I failed to dodge a huge rock that was in my line.  Thankfully I was able to get myself slowed down enough before my bike began to shimmy and I hopped off.  After my fastest tire change ever I was back on the road heading toward Le Buzz.

Once off the bike, we were each assigned a transition run.  My goal was to run strong for the first 2 miles, and then crush it coming back, sub 7.  Again, I wanted to laugh.  Sub 7?  Who did she think I was?

I took off with a group of girls who quickly dropped me.  I didn't worry about the fact that I couldn't keep up, I had to just do my thing.  I ran out through the first two miles and then turned to come back, picking up the pace.  I didn't look at my watch once during this run.  I just ran as hard as I could in the final 2 miles.  After the turn, I passed my teammate heading up the road with Coach Maik.  He nodded toward me and told Maik to run with me on the way back.

It was nice to have company, and Coach Maik kept encouraging me quietly along the way.  Good pace.  Form looks good.  We cheered for each runner headed in the other direction.  Maik's easy loping stride reminded me that I was running with an Ironman Champion.  When I hit the 4 mile mark I slowed to an easy jog for the final minutes back to the car and Maik turned around to run the next camper in.  When I stopped, I reset my Garmin and looked through my splits.  I hit my warm up miles in 8:10 (for both miles!) and mile 3 at 6:56, mile 4 at 7:11.  I was THRILLED.  Who is this girl?  And whose legs are these?  I relayed my splits to Coach and she validated my excitement with high fives.

Celebrating being done with Mt. Lemmon!!

At this point, we had one day left of camp.  A long trail run followed by a technique session in the pool.  I am a runner, specifically a trail runner, so I was really looking forward to Monday and not stressed about it even though my legs were trashed.

The trails were rocky.  Like a good chunk of Pass Mountain if you happen to be from the Valley of the Sun.  My legs were toast, and picking up my feet became more and more painful.  We ran about 7 miles up, over and around the trails to where a SAG car was parked on the other side with fluids and nutrition to refuel on for the run back.  I did a pretty good job of holding on to the group until we stepped off the trail and on to the asphalt for the final two miles (uphill).  At this point, I fell apart.  My legs would not move.  I had no turnover to speak of.  I just had to gut it out and get back to the parking lot where we had started the run.

Trail run!  

I've never been so happy to be finished with a run.  Not even after 50 miles.  I. Was. Done.  I drank my recovery shake and waited for the rest of the crew to finish running.  I was actually looking forward to getting in the water to flush my legs out a bit.

I kept waiting for Coach to pull me aside and tell me all the things that were wrong with my swim stroke.  I am probably crossing over too much with my right arm.  I know I pick my head up too much to breathe.  Not enough rotation.  But she never did.  Instead she hooked up a little torture device to the side of pool and calls us over one by one to take a turn.  With ankles attached to a stretchy cord, you have to swim HARD to avoid being pulled back into the wall.  I cranked my arms with everything I had and waited for my 30 seconds to be up.  Coach grinned from the side of the pool, "THAT'S our swim stroke!!"  YAY!  I was super excited to have a new tool to help me improve my swim.  I promptly went home and ordered the swim cord so my training partner and I can torture ourselves.

Camp totals:
Biked: 180 miles
Ran:  25 miles
Swam:  15900 yds

Camp was so good for me.  I was not rested and relaxed as I headed back to work the next week, but I was filled with a sense of pride in my accomplishments and some new confidence in training.  As expected I learned a few things:

1.  Coach is not going to ask me to do things that she knows I can't do.  Trust.  Don't think.  Don't judge.  Just do.  My coach has been around the block a few times and she knows what she's doing.  If she tells me to do something, it's because she believes that I CAN.

2.  I'm not going to die.  I was pushed outside my comfort zone more often than not over the 5 day weekend.  I didn't keel over, I got stronger.  I have so much room for improvement and my body is responding to the training better with each passing week.

3.  Coach is going to ask me to do things that she knows I can't do.  There will come a time when I can't make the splits, hit the pace, or hang on.  What will happen when I break?  I believe that each one of us had a "breaking point" over the weekend.  I believe this was intentional.  What Coach wants to see is, how will you respond when you are broken?  Will I pitch a fit?  Will I cry?  Will I quit?  Or will I put my head back in the water, choke back tears, and just keep swimming?  My breaking point came in the middle of the 10k swim when I struggled (failed?) to hit the intervals.  I did cry.  (And then I reminded myself that there's no crying in baseball!)  When I couldn't hit the interval anymore on the 20 x 100 free, I swam it straight.  And then when I couldn't hit the interval and missed the send-offs for the 30 x 100 PBB I did the best I could and improvised a new interval.

Camp was completely awesome and I can't wait to go back next year.  I was surrounded by smart, strong, funny, hard-working, type A people that encouraged each other, challenged each other and cheered each other through every workout.  I am so lucky to be a member of Team HPB and I can't wait to represent Team HPB and TriScottsdale in Oceanside in a few short weeks!!  Let's put this training to the test!        

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ego Trip 'N' Fall

There are voices in my head.  All the time.  Before you go gettin' all high and mighty, there are voices in your head too.  Just listen.  Weren't you just telling yourself, "this chick's crazy!"?  Yep, that was your voice in your head.

Usually the voice in my head is my own.  Sometimes I talk to it.  A few words of encouragement.  Sometimes an entire conversation.  Other times the voices in my head belong to my family and friends.  I hear their words of encouragement.  The challenges they sometimes throw down.  Sometimes I sing songs to drown out the voices in my head if they're being negative or saying things I don't need to hear.  I have to sing pretty loud so I apologize to anyone who may have been racing next to me during one of these episodes.

Last weekend I raced the IMS half marathon.  Now, let's set the record straight:  I have not raced an open half marathon since Dec 2011 (ie:  a half marathon not following a 1.2 mile swim and 56 mile bike ride).  I also have been in full on training mode for my upcoming triathlon season.  I also did not taper prior to the half marathon, though I did have 2 easy days of training immediately prior.

So, now that I've set the stage for you, what do you suppose the voices in my head told me regarding this race?  They said "PR!"  Yep, my ego told me that despite all the evidence to the contrary, I should be able to go out and run the fastest half marathon I've ever run.

Now you can imagine my surprise when on race day, mile one I clock a 7:30 mile (way too slow for a PR).  By mile 4,  I realize that I want to kill those voices in my head.  How could they do this to me?  Is this a joke?  By mile 10 I wanted to cry.  Literally.  I kept choking on the tears that threatened at the back of my throat.  It took everything I had not to stop running as hard as I could despite how slow that pace seemed.

I knew that my husband would be at the finish line and possibly running backwards on course to meet me.  Early in the race I didn't want to see him.  I didn't want to hear him telling me to run faster.  I knew how slow I was going.  By mile 11, I was desperate to see a familiar face.  I wanted to see his form pop into view around the next corner.  I imagined that he would laugh and tell me that coach had texted him, letting him know that my expectations were too high and that he should get out there and cheer me in because the crash from my ego trip was going to be pretty epic.  (Yes, I was slightly delusional at this point).  I imagined that he would tell me that I was doing great, and even though it was slow, it was exactly where I needed to be right now.

IMS Arizona Half Marathon

None of this happened.  I saw him as I crested the final hill a half mile before the finish line.  Yes, he cheered and snapped some photos like the supportive person that he is, but there was no blowing smoke.  I ran through the finish line, exhausted and dehydrated.  I hobbled over to where he was waiting and we headed off in search of my drop bag and the car.  I waited until we were out of view of the main crowd before I cried.  Yes.  I *cried* at a half marathon.  Not for long.  Seriously just a whimper really and a couple of tears,  I was so disappointed in my performance.

My hubby did not allow this pity party to go on for very long.  He reminded me off all the things I already knew about my training and level of preparation for this race.  He reminded me that my goal is not today, but in 6 weeks from now and 7 weeks after that.  He reminded me of all the work I've been doing and how great it is that I can run this well on tired legs.  We went on to enjoy an afternoon of riding our bikes followed by a dinner that I didn't have to cook.  And it was back to training as usual on Monday morning.

Part of me felt like hiding and pretending that I didn't run this weekend.  The people with whom I was shit talking prior to the race (you know who you are!) knew the outcome and didn't rub any salt in my wounds.  The rest of me knew that I needed to own this performance and grow from it.  We all have bad days.  And not that this even falls into the category of "bad day" but when your expectation is out of alignment it doesn't feel too good when reality hits.  I want to set high goals.  I am a firm believer that if you don't aim high, you'll miss.  Only people with supreme talent win by accident.  That is not me.  I race from the heart.  And my heart needs to have a BIG goal.  Something to be passionate about.  When the going gets tough, and I have to talk my way through a race I need to know that when it's all said and done if I reach my goal I will have exceeded all my expectations.

So rather than tuck my tail between my legs, I am owning this performance.  I am owning my ego trip (and subsequent fall).  I am owning my performance from start to finish (which seemed like would never arrive!).  And in the future, when my ego starts talking I will sing just a little bit louder to put it back in it's proper place:  behind the voice in my head that tells me to do work, and give it my all, and run from the heart.

IMS Arizona Half Marathon:  1:41:48

Next up:  Can I match this pace at Oceanside?  I say, YES!!!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I am gaining a whole new perspective on what it means to recover, and what is important for recovery.  When I was self coached (aka:  my entire life up until Jan 1, 2014), I read a lot of triathlon magazines, and scoured websites for information.  It seemed that every training plan cycled through various stages of training.  3 weeks building, one week recovery.  2 weeks build, 1 week recovery.  Something of the sort.  I've never been one to take an entire day off as I feel like a bear (and probably act like one!) without some type of endorphin fix, even it it's just from an easy swim.  But I religiously followed the 3 on, 1 off for years without much thought, because I didn't know any better.

By the middle of recovery week I always felt a little sluggish, a little sleepy, a little not so zippy.  I chalked it up to my body needing to rest and it was telling me I needed all the easy days and sleeping in for improvement.  Eventually the recovery week would be up,  I'd start training again and within a few days I felt "normal" again.

Since January 1, I have had one day of complete rest because I was stuck in an airport all day waiting to fly home from visiting family.  Other than that, I've been getting up early to pound the pavement before work with only an occasional recovery session thrown in.  One day I had an easy trainer ride.  One day it was a long swim with lots of pull buoy/ paddle sets to minimize leg work.  Instead of being beaten up, I find that I am making progress in leaps and bounds.

The day after my easy trainer ride I had a trail run on my schedule.  The crew I run with is a bunch of ultrarunners training for hundred milers so our usual 9 mile trail run is nothing to them.  They zip up and around the park at what I consider "race pace".  Sometimes I can hang with them, other times I am completely left in the dust.  I remember thinking 'this is not going to be pretty' because I had been hammering myself for several weeks on end.  The easy trainer day was my first real recovery day.  And when I hit the trails that next morning I felt FANTASTIC!  Better than I'd felt in months on the trails.  I ran so effortlessly and felt like I could have run for days.  I was like, WTF!?  How is this possible?

Turns out that little bit of rest allowed my body to absorb all the work I'd been doing over the previous weeks and was just enough to make me feel rested and recovered.  Who knew?  I don't need a whole week of recovery, but I do need the right amount of recovery mixed in with taking care of myself every day.

What else is important for recovery?

I've become a foam-rolling fanatic.  I have a foam roller.  I know I should use it every day.  Previously I would use it when injured, or during PT sessions.  Now, I use it every single day.  After every bike or run workout.  I roll out the glutes, IT bands, quads, calves, hamstrings.  Every.  Thing.  And every week when I report to Endurance Rehab, my PT asks me how I'm holding up... and I answer honestly... I feel great!

I am a sleep-o-holic.  When my head hits the pillow (or sometimes the sofa cushion) I am out like a light.  I sleep like the dead.  I rarely wake up to pee in the middle of the night anymore.  I no longer lie awake with stupid songs running through my head.  I am OUT.  And I feel sorry for my husband if he tries to talk to me after I've already crawled between the sheets.  Sometimes he will startle me and I do one of those whole body jerks before falling immediately back to sleep.  Sometimes I mumble incoherently... which, come to think of it, I'm pretty sure is how my older sister used to get me to let her borrow clothes when we were younger.  She used to claim I "told her last night" that it was OK for her to wear said article of clothing.  I'm beginning to see things much more clearly now...  Anyway, I digress....

I eat.  All. The. Time.  90% super healthy.  10% anything that's not nailed down.  I try to end all my workouts with a good protein shake.  If I'm at home I mix up a wonderful concoction in my Vitamix.  Kale and peaches.  Spinach with cherries.  Kale, beets with orange.  Add in a little rice milk to thin it out and a good scoop of Vega protein powder and I'm good to go.  If I'm not home, the protein powder gets mixed with water and is not quite as fun, but still effective.  We love homemade pizza.  Like three times a week love.  And I am addicted to Roasted Vegetable Romesco Sandwiches from Isa Does It.   Normally the recipe makes enough for 3 sandwiches (in my household, maybe more for a "normal" family).  This week I roasted 2 heads of cauliflower and 3 zucchini and had enough for plenty of leftovers.  When the bread starts to get a little bit stale, I just eat them open faced instead.  Seriously.  Best recipe ever.

I have my first race of the season this weekend and am ready to put my training to the test!  Today was my last hard workout of the week and now I've got 3 days of easy getting ready for Sunday.  This is by no means an "A" race, but it'll be fun to blow out the legs a bit and see what happens.  Everyone on Team HPB has been winning, and PR-ing, and I'm a little nervous that the announcement on the Team's FB page Monday will be "RunnerChick ran a half marathon yesterday and finished."  I have a good feeling about it so let's hope the chips fall into place!

Happy Training!      

Monday, January 27, 2014

You know your coach is kicking your A$$ in Ironman training when...

... you're so tired after your long ride you take a nap in your car in between lunch at Sweet Tomatoes and grocery shopping.  And the grocery store shares a parking lot with the restaurant.

... you haven't been to church in a decade but when you see that Monday's morning workout is an 'easy peasy 45 minute trainer ride to flush the legs from the hard weekend' you almost want to go because you feel like God deserves to hear you shout "praise Jesus!" in person.

... your spouse begins to wonder if you're regressing because half of your meals are blended in a Vitamix and your bedtime is 7:30 pm.

... you used to be really productive on your lunch break- running errands, getting shit done- but now you spend the hour sleeping with your eyes open while pretending to be staring at your computer screen.

... your 5:00 AM alarm feels like sleeping in.

... you eat so much that chewing becomes exhausting and you almost log 'eating' as another workout.

... they say it takes 4 weeks to create a habit, but due to the frequency and volume of time spent in the pool you reduced the learning curve on flip turns to approximately 7.3 days.

... you genuinely start to believe that quickies and nooners are totally underrated.  

... you contemplate hiring a cleaning service just to keep up with the water bottles that are piling up in the kitchen sink and smelly workout clothes overtaking the laundry room.

... you're thankful to have someone to blame when you don't jump at every racing opportunity that comes your way.  'I'd totally be in for that... but my coach says no.  We're focusing on something else that weekend...'  

... you are asleep the moment your head hits the pillow at night.

... you look forward to opening your workout log to see what crazy shit she has planned for you next weekend.  You invite friends to join you in your training and can't figure out why no one takes you up on it except your training partner (who is assigned to) and your husband (who kinda has to, right?).

... you notice progress with every workout and begin to fantasize about winning (WINNING!!) your age group in the first big race of the season.

... you have actually advanced your math skills because your swim workouts require you to be able to calculate splits on the fly while remembering what lap you're on, what your next send off is, and how fast each interval is so that you can report them to coach later.

... a two hour ride seems so short.  And any run that doesn't involve the track or the treadmill qualifies as "easy" when you log your effort level.