Monday, December 1, 2014

Ironman Cozumel 2014

What a day yesterday was! And talk about not having your dream race!!

Leading up to the race, I felt really prepared as I have been hitting awesome paces in each discipline and felt like I was set to set a personal best in all three sports since doing Ironman Texas last year. I have significantly improved my times in all other distances, so it just seemed logical.

I flew in Thursday (Thanksgiving) on a plane full of other Ironman Cozumel participants. Actually that morning, I had to make a slight change of plans as Delta sent me a message that my first flight was delayed so much that I wouldn't make my connecting flight. So they rebooked me for Friday. I told them this was unacceptable so they gave me my money back. And I found a nonstop flight on a united that morning for the same price, so I flew United.

Cozumel is a beautiful spot to be. The beaches and water are beautiful, there's lots of shopping and tons of nightlife. So much to tempt you to not take it easy before an Ironman. I think I did good by taking a cab to lunch one day and briefly walking the shops. I stayed at the Hotel Cozumel & Resort and would recommend it to anyone looking to do this race. It is 2.5 - 3 blocks from the Mega (grocery store), athlete check-in, T2 drop off, is a host hotel so you have the Ironman shuttle perks and it is right near the finish line. Lower in price with an option to include breakfast and dinner for not much more.

Race morning I was up and ready to do just after 4. My oatmeal didn't turn out good so I had some granola instead with a banana and a beet shot. The bus to take us to T1 was already waiting at 4:50 when I walked down to the lobby and off we all went. I brought just my morning clothes bag which had everything I needed.

I walked over to my bike and immediately went to find a tire pump. They won't let you bring your own unless it is miniature sized, so you need to find some to earthier take it for you or loan you one. I found the official bike pump area that the race provided and waited my turn. On my bike, I had my deep 80 wheels and the back one was not taking in air. So a fella came over and worked the valve extender to get it to take in air.   Not sure what he did honestly but he messed up my race.  More on that later.

After that I went and put my bottles on my bike. Then at T1, they wanted us to drop the morning clothes bag, so I grabbed my Blue Seventy speedsuit, goggles and cap and walked barefoot to the bus to take us to the swim start.  Got there pretty early as there was an hour before my wave.

Sat around the swim start waiting for it to get closer to the start. Put on my speedsuit and took a picture with my JSC/SBS friends and then it was our corral's turn to go. We went down the pier and jumped off to swim to the start. They bragged online and prompted this race to be the fastest swim with the current at your favor. Let's just say I felt it, but it surely was as fast as it sounds like most people anticipated. Anyways, I lined up like the second row in. The air born goes off and so do we. I drafted off the front people for a whole 30 seconds and then they dropped me. But I can say a couple things about this start. No anxiety at all, which tends to be an ongoing issue. And I didn't have girls swimming over me and held my spot. So 2.4 miles of swimming seems to take forever!  Strange to me that even though the time in the water is so much less, it feels to me that the it is so much longer. Anyways, we were the third wave and a couple other things happened this race don't not all happen. I passed people in the wave before me and the wave before them! And not just a couple of people, but a lot! And, get this, I had people actually drafting off of me. I guess I can't say that I am that bad at swimming anymore. :) The two waves behind us were some fast men, some caught me but I latched on to some for the last 600 meters, which they said was the section against the current, which I didn't think was that bad. The results say I swam a 1:08 but, I started my Garmin like 20 seconds before and stopped after I exited the water and mine said 1:07 so not sure what happened there. My last IM swim was a 1:32 also in a speedsuit so obviously, current or not, I have improved at swimming.

Ran and grabbed my transition bag with my helmet, sunglasses and shoes and had the two greatest volunteers in transition. They opened my bag, helped me put my stuff on and put it back in the bag. Problem was they weren't too clear on where it went (this wasn't covered in the athletes meeting) so I took it with me as I grabbed my bike. One main volunteer lady said leave it where my bike is. By the way, their numbering system had different age groups racked near each other. Nevertheless, it was nice to see all the neighboring bikes still there. I take my bike, run almost to the line and put on my shoes. I hop only bike.

And notice that something is wrong. I have a flat. I yell some sort of bad word and pull of the side to fix it.  And watch a lot of people pass me, as in like a hundred. There goes my good bike position. So this is illegal, but where I pulled off, a guy had a bike pump and so as I changed my tube, I used his pump to put air in it. I of course, since I was just out of transition, yelled for a bike tech but there wasn't one there. So took care of the tire and off I went.

Cruising along and my heart rate actually was bring normal. And there was no crazy winds at that point so I was holding a good speed. And about 12 miles in, I thought I was working harder than I had to. And saw a bike tech helping another girl with a pump. So I thought maybe I didn't air up my tires enough. So I put more air in them and they seemed to keeping air. So off I went again. So on the back side of the islands and as you approached it, you got a good taste of shocking crosswinds and oh man crazy headwinds. One person I was talking to said 25 mph headwinds. For like 10 miles of each of three laps. Yay. Everyone else had the same issue there so that is what it is. As I was just starting my second lap, I noticed I was pushing too hard, pulled over and realized my tube wasn't keeping air. So at this point, I had a decision to make - change the tube or just keeping stopping every so often to put more air in the tire. I chose the later and not sure if that was the right call. I guess my valve extender is messed up. I don't know. I will have it looked at when I get back. In all, I stopped around 5 times to fill the tires, the last one being 10 miles from the end after pushing through the headwinds on a slightly deflated tire.

And I know it wasn't as hot as some previous years but the heat got to me. I was have cramps all over. My stomach cramps were "shocking" to say the least. I felt like I kept getting punched in the gut over and over again in the same spot and sitting up made it worse. And to make matters worse, I felt some tunnel vision and dizziness at the beginning of my third lap. None of this makes any sense as I have trained in hotter rather and consumed the same amount and type of fluids and fuel. In all, I drank 3 Gatorade and about (some water was splashed on me) 11 bottles of water, 8 salt pills, 11 Gu, 1.5 bonk breaker bars. Needless to say, with the tire issues and the wind, this ride took a lot longer than I thought it would.

When I got off the bike, I shuffled to transition with my bag with my shoes, socks, compression sleeves and visor and another nice volunteer helped me out as another rubbed me down with more sunscreen. And this was quite a process. As I eat there and put those on, I realized I was in for trouble. I had cramping in my feet, calves, quads and stomach. Anyways, I felt maybe it would go away as I ran so out of transition I went, streaked with white sunscreen everywhere. Can't wait to see those race pictures!  Ha ha ha

So Muffy with SBS was in transition and I took off running. And the. She caught me. And said to run with her. I did for a little but that just want going to happen. I walked. A lot. My breathing was very rapid and my heart rate was way too high for the pace I was doing. So I felt like I was walk to an air station and then drink as much fluids as I could as it seemed like there was some sort of dehydration going on. And so I jogged again for a few seconds and my side hurt so bad it felt like my body was shutting down. So I walked again. And did the math. Obviously it was not really looking to be a PR day nor any sort of good day. So I figured at a 16 minute per mile walking pace with some occasional jogs of 10 minute per mile would get me there well before I needed to be there as it was like 3:30 at that point. And then I met Bob from Austin and we did two laps together of walking and jogging. I seriously considered quitting. But I figured I spent all that money to be here and didn't want to waste it. I didn't keep going to prove anything, but to not waste money. Ha! On the second lap, I decided to make a bathroom break and started seeing stars in there. I stood right up and got moving out of there while still pulling my shorts up. I will be darned if I am found passed out in a port o potty! So back to the shuffle jog. I have never felt so terrible In my life - it felt like my body was shutting down. But dammit, I was going to get that darned medal!  Bob wanted to run the last 4 miles and due to my make you want to fall over stomach cramps, I couldn't. So I walked until there was just under a mile left. And then ran to just before the line. Did a nice buff girl pose and got that silly medal. This time I had a different last name as they called out "Claudia Smith from Houston, Texas - you are an Ironman!"

Surprisingly, I was only just over half an hour slower than my last Ironman. I will say a couple of things. First, while I stayed in my ideal heart rate range most of the ride (some was actually lower), my legs took too much of a beating! And even though I drank my ideal amount on the bike, I still ended up being dehydrated! And that wind was definitely a downer.   I spent a year planning this as my A race and building up to it and was nicely prepared and it just wasn't meant to be. So if I do another Ironman, and that is a big if, it will be somewhere cooler with less winds. And if that means I get more hills, so be it!!

Next year I will be racing on the Wattie Ink team and am so excited to rock the W. Next up is USA Fit Marathon in two months. And I have some recovering to do!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Buffalo Springs Lake 70.3 - Now that was a tough one!

Where's Buffalo Springs Lake you might ask.  Well it is in Lubbock, Texas.  Being as I live in Houston, I decided to drive there.  Which at the end of the day,  I am glad that I drove over flying.  But it was a long, long drive.  8+ hours of pretty much all flat land.  And then about an hour out, you start to notice a couple hills and a slight change in elevation.  Nothing major at all.  Misleading as Buffalo Springs Lake has some well hidden hills.

The race started at 6:30am.  And in all of the materials, the race crew warns you to come early.  Transition opened at 5am and parking at 4:30am. My internal time clock, as normal, got me up at 3:40am.  I had everything laid out but it still takes me a few to assemble myself. Went down to microwave my lovely breakfast of quinoa flakes, almond butter and raisins.  I ate this while getting ready along with slowly sipping a coffee and downing a beet shot.  Double French braiding my hair, layered on the sunscreen, put on my clothes, two trips to the car and we were off.  Luckily the hotel, which I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott, was only 15 minutes away, considering the only traffic we found was just a mile from the parking.  Which we joined the line that backed up a little bit but nothing too crazy and were parked by 5:08am. Now parking in a tall grassy field that is not exactly level in a Prius is a whole another story...

My friend Susan, who happily made the trip with me, helped me carry my stuff to transition.  Susan signed up to volunteer all day - seriously the volunteer coordinator loved her.  She helped with getting people out of the water and wetsuit stripping, directing people on the bike and then catching people with finisher metals at the end. Good stuff. 

Arriving into the transition area, the temperatures were about 77 degrees.  I slowly laid out my run and bike gear and set aside my wetsuit, goggles and cap.  I already had my warm up socks and shoes on and then ran away from the craziness to do a 10 minute warm up with a few race pace pick ups.  Felt good and noticed a couple hills but nothing undoable.  Got back around 6am and then took off the shoes and socks and went down to the lake and slowly put on my wetsuit.  The water was very accessible as the swim start is you running into the lake, so after I got the suit on, I did a quick warm up swim.  Fairly dark out at this point but still could sight the first bouy. I stood in the water after I was done with the swim warm up and then waited until they kicked us out.

Male pros went off at 6:30am.  This race is not a big race by any means.  There were only 24 people in my age group.  So my wave was anyone from 18 to 44.  We got to wear a lovely powder blue cap.  I seeded myself right in the middle a couple rows back.  I am not a dominate swimmer so no need to be in front.  Unless I want to get swam over.  Nope.  The course is pretty simple - you go out only a little, make a right and swim a little, make a left, swim a little, and then a left back past where you started and then a left to shore.  Pretty smooth lake and an ideal swimming lake for a race.  I felt good in the swim.  Especially when I noticed that I was passing the slightly older women who started 3 minutes before me and then the 50+ males who started 6 minutes before us.  In all fairness, a couple red caps did catch me.  I don't get this, though.  I was swimming along, minding my own business and then this guy from the wave after me swiims up to me and deilberately places his hands on his shoulders and pulls me down.  What the hell??  Normally I would say triathletes are pretty friendly and welcomeing but at that point not so much.  My reaction?  He got an elbow to the face.  Then he grunted and swam away.  I said "jerk" and then it was back to swimming.  I swam a 36:10 which was shockingly slightly above average.  A new PR for the half ironman swim.  How could I further improve, which is needed for sure, would be swim closer to the bouys and fix my left arm crossing over.  It is a work in progress and let me tell ya, it throws you off course if you are constantly veering right.

Was pulled out of the water and ran up to the largest guy who just happened to be decent looking and had him strip me of my wetsuit.  And ran up the few feet to my transition spot.  Threw down the wetsuit, cap and goggles, snapped on helmet and sunglasses, grabbed the shoes and ran to the line, an awesome volunteer held my bike while I put on my shoes and then off I went.  Not my best transition but was done in 2:35.

Now the bike course.  At this point we are up to 80 degrees which grew to about 90 by the end.  The bike course is only shaded in one spot so I had on my Castelli T1 3/4 length sleeve top.  And I did not burn at all.  Nice to not have a tri top burn/tan lines.  Anyways, you exit transition, go like 40 feet and then you go up a 8.9% hill to get out of transition so be ready.  Coast down that hill, which is a 8.9% grade for the way back, cross a bridge and then up a  6.7% grade.  And this is where I have to tell you, this course is beautiful, fun and challenging.  If I was not racing, you totally must take in the view.  And speaking of which, if anyone is considering doing this race, be sure the at the very least drive the course.  There are some hills that I am glad I knew about ahead of time.  Anyways, after this you make a few turns and have some straightaways.  Which is normally my strong point.  Well it makes it ever so much more challenging when the winds are more than 25 miles per hour.  Which they were on race day.  But over and over the bike course, I was powering past guys that were struggling going up the hills and staying small in the wind.  Lucky me.

 So when you look that the bike course, there are 3 u turns.  I hate u turns.  I especially hate u turns on a two lane road with no shoulders.  On the 3rd one, I unclipped as it was ever so tight and the previous u turn scared me.  When they designed this bike course, I swear they thought, lets go down the roads with the challenging hills and then come back.  Each road before the u turn has a pretty decent sized hill.  The first has a slow 4.5% and 4.9% hill, the next has a 6.1%.  The next road has the "spiral staircase" with a 6.0% hill and then you go back.  Which you would think the winds at one point would be a tail wind.  Talk about an unlucky day.  The winds hit me in every direction with tailwinds only for like 1 to 2 minutes.  And these hills were narrow with traffic always coming up as you are trying to go down, so while there was coasting, you definitely should slow down, unless you want to hit another biker.  The aid stations are not exactly every 10 miles like most ironman branded races so I grabbed water where ever it was offered.  And there was a big gap from the last aid station to the end so make sure you fill up beforehand.  I ran out of water.  I drank about 5 bottles of water and some chocolate peanut butter Gu water and had some salt on the bike.  Now considering my personal best bike was in April in 2:24, you would think I would only slow down a little.  HA!  My bike was second fastest in my age group at 2:49:57.  Killer.

So remember that hill just out of transition?  Well you go down that to get back and make a fairly sharp left turn, Rode the brakes in and ran off the bike, I had already slid out of the shoes before the hill, re racked my bike, put on my socks and shoes and off on the run.  This transition wasn't idea eaither (the darn pavement with no mats was hot and hard on my bare feet) at 1:56.

I exited transition with another girl in my age group (she swam almost 7 minutes faster than me!) and she took off.  At the pace I wanted to go.  And this is when I realized I was in for a tough run.  Considering it was hot...and my legs felt like lead, no springs.  I know, I know.  They call it a brick.  Well I can tell you within the first mile how the run will be.  And this was going to be bad.  I was thirsty and my legs were tight.  Ran through the first aid station with water in hand and she didn't.  So I gained some ground, which that was the only time that happened.  She caught back up to me as we ran up to a hell of a hill.  Up she went, I slowly followed and then noticed a heart rate of 180.  Decided to walk a stretch, then run the HR back up and then walk.  Made it and then she was gone.  She definitely had fresher legs and I couldn't keep up.  The run was a battle and I did something I am not proud of.  I walked every aid station.  It was difficult to grab water x 2, ice and then sometimes a coke or perform.  Anything.  I was burning up.  And because it was so windy, my hat flew off not once or twice but three times.  And I like the hat and didn't want to through away my money, so I ran after it 3 times.  All while out on the run, I kept my eyes peeled to see if other girls would run past me, but I didn't get passed by anyone in my age group.  And after that hellacious hill was when the shoe issues started.  I wore my Newton elites which I have worn on some hot days in Houston and for over an hour and they have definitely not given me any problems.  Well it wasn't my day to have a good run.  The liners, not even half way through the run, started to shift, to the outsides of the shoes and this was causing an ugly feeling in my arches and toes.  I could feel the blisters coming on.  By mile 7, I could not take it any more and at the aid station, pulled off my shoes and fixed the liners.  Which my hands were damn swollen and losing feeling.  Uck.  More difficult than it needed to be.  Anyways, I put my shoes back on and off I went.  Mentally just telling myself to just make it to the aid station, take in the fluids and get back to running. And then I got a piercing stop you in your tracks leg cramp.  And then it was gone.  This happened three times on the run.  First time ever that this happened to me. All while making sure I don't get passed by a girl.  It is so frustrating now for me to look back at my training, seeing me hitting long sets at 7:10 - 7:30 pace to have my average pace now being around 9.  And struggling.  I ran past the whole like 10 people cheering and then finish.  Hallelujah.  The hot struggle is over.  Ran in 1:59::56, 4th best in my age group.  The girl at the beginning of the run with me ran a 1:51:40 and the girl that won the age group did a 1:44:27  which is still slower than I anticipated I would do, even with the heat.  But oh well.  I finished in 5:30:30.  Which Susan tells me is 3rd in my AG.  And this ended up being 19th female overall.  So really at the end of the day, I can't complain.  Except for the foot spasms I had post race that knocked me off me feet. Seriously, Susan said she could see my foot freaking out.  So weird.

This race, even though it is Ironman branded, has the feel of a smaller race.  The volunteers at this race were the friendliest of any that I have ever encountered and the race directors were so personable.  After the event, they do an awards banquet that evening.  The host hotel was the Holiday Inn and the food was as expected.  Only complaint is the room was super hot (no compression pants or you will overheat) and they kept running out of water.  They started the awards around 7pm going handcycles first and then oldest to youngest.  I waited patiently for my age group, the 30 - 34 females.  I watched time after time people saying that they didn't want to go to the 70.3 world championships.  Now I did Galveston 70.3 and got 3rd in my AG, there were only 2 slots, and the other 2 girls took them.  So the only reason why I did this race to get a slot.  Well they had the number of slots per age group posted and there was only 1.  So I was already thinking I didn't get a slot.  But of course I was hanging out to get the trophy.  Which OMG these trophies rock - it is a nice sized buffalo.  Totally brag worthy.  Anyways, they call us out and we go on stage.  They ask the first placed girl if she wants the slot.  She says no.  They ask the second place slot if she wants the slot and she says yes.  And is super happy.  And my heart drops.  But I smile as it was great that she got it .  And I could see the annoucer guy looking at his paperwork. And then he asks, "Claudia Smith, would you like to go to Canada?" and my reply?  "Hell yeah!!!"  So I got a world championship slot to go race in Mont Tremblant Quebec Canada!!  Awesome!  For like 5 hours, I had convinced myself I had no hope of getting a slot.  But I did!!!!!! So, while it was  not a PR kind of day, mission accomplished!  See ya in Canada!

Oh and driving a car for 8+ hours the day after a half ironman makes for a very stiff back!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My Galveson 70.3 Recap

A couple weeks before, there was an oil spill in the bay and then leading up to the race, the weather man was saying it would rain along with thunder and lightning. But got the all clear on the water and the weather was not threatening on race morning so the races proceeded as planned.

When checking in, my friend Amanda and I got to skip the long, really long athlete check in and went straight to the front. Why? Because we are what Ironman brand calls an All World Athlete. Still a little shocked at this because I only did two Ironman brand events last year and they were Ironman Texas which I got 31st in my age group and then Austin 70.3 which I got 13th in my age group. So I am only a bronze level athlete and they put a nice bronze sticker on my race bib to let everyone know. :)

Arrived at the race site at about 5:30am and quickly setup my transition spot. Nowadays, I am faster at setting this up. Sometimes I obsess about the transition setup, but I have set this up the same way for the last few times and it seems to work great for me, so why change things up? Well, this morning it was raining and looked certain that it would rain more, so I put my bike shoes, run shoes and all run gears in bags. Seemed to help a little. 
After this was setup, went to say hello at the JSC/SBS tents. Went for a quick "wake up" run and then back to the tent to begin the wetsuit setup. I was in the first non pro wave for 7:10. However, start was delayed by 5 minutes. Standing just outside the pier, looking at the pros swim and the kayaks in the water, I noticed some waves and it was still pretty dim out to see the first turn buoy. 

Anyways the first cannon goes off and the pros swim away. It becomes our turn, we walk down to the pier and hop off to get our first taste of ocean water. It wasn't that cold and well it is Galveston so the water isn't clear. Treaded water for 5 minutes and then off we went. I have been working on my swim, in the pool. But unfortunately, I need help in open water. I, even though I have done 8 tris now, still seem to forget how to swim when it comes to open water. I get so disoriented and tend to swim more than the race distance, every time. I need to find someone to take the time and watch me in open water. And fix it. Any volunteers? Anyways, the waves really don't help me with sighting or swimming in a straight line considering the current worked against me. 
My goal was to sprint the start and then find some feet to stick on. I made it all of 100 meters and then got a serious kick to my right goggle and when I went up to sight, took in a LOT of water. In my mouth. Galveston water. Eww. So no feet for me. Anyways I slowly made progress towards that first turn buoy, taking in water a few more times. Double Eww! At this point, I am doubting ever doing a triathlon again. (this was my first ocean swim) Never in a race have I been so happy to see that first turn buoy. The next straightaway was easier, waves not coming right in my face. Found some feet finally and hung on for a while, but then realized this person was leading me more right. Duoh! And then I saw the wave after us had already caught up. Bummer. Made it to the last turn buoy and swam straight towards the swim exit. Or so I thought. I went a little far right and missed the ramp to exit. Swam in 41:45 for 41st in my age group.

Ran to transition, passing people, seriously, why don't people run while in transition? And got straight to my bike.  Easy to find as it was racked in the first row.  And I was the only bike in my age group with lime green tires.  Maybe doesn't match the best on my bike but definitely makes it easier to spot.  Throw on my helmet, run to just before bike out, throw Considering my sub par swim, I knew I had to bring it on the bike.  On the way out, there was a tailwind. I capitalized on that for sure, hitting the turn around in like 1:06.  The turn around I slowed way down for - don't need to crash due to the roads being slick!  And at this point I couldn't see anymore out of my sunglasses, and took them off, putting them in my back pocket.  And hit a head wind.  But it wasn't too crazy.  The wind shifted a little like 10 - 15 miles from the end.  Crosswinds with my 80s on was a little interesting but I have been there, done that on these wheels.  Nothing new.  Had some guys pass me but I held on to one and then the turns to the end.  Got to say, I felt like I was flying on the tarmack.  That was kind of cool/unique.  I had the fasted bike split in my age group putting me now 6th in my age group with 2:24:18.

Quickly got in transition, put on the socks and shoes and off I ran.  At this point, the sprinkling of the rain was done and the humidity was in full force.  I got some water at every single aid station, some with ice, and tossed it over my head.  For like a few seconds of relief.  Thankfully they have aid stations every mile pretty much.  My tummy was begging me to make a quick pit stop, did that in like 40 seconds (record?) and off again.  My legs were a little heavy and boy did I just want to quit.  But again, not giving in.  It seemed like a lot further than just over 4 miles but made it through the first one.  At the beginning of the second, I was doubting that I could stick the pace.  I tried real hard and began the 3rd lap, just looking to at least stay the pace and if I can, pick up a little at the end.  I didn't really pick up the pace until a quarter mile from the finish but finished strong.  Ran myself into 3rd place in my age group with a 1:39:29. 

Going into this race, I had a few dream goals and realistic goals.  1. Go sub 5 hours - finished in 4:49:49 2. podium in my age group - got 3rd place 3. don't let any of the JSC guys finish before me - Colin passed me but I was just finishing up my 2nd lap where he was finishing the 1st so success 4. - get a World champs slot.  Well that one I failed on.  There were two slots in my AG and the other two girls claimed them.  So I waited for roll down and they rolled down in the 35 - 39 and 40 - 45 but then the older ladies didn't want their slots so that opened up some for the most populated age groups.  Those previously mentioned.  There were two ladies waiting around for them and took them.  I would have been next, if there was one more slot.  So I missed a slot by one, twice.  :(  Oh well, better race harder next time!