Sunday, September 17, 2017

70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga, TN

This year I earned my spot for the 70.3 world championships through a slot from Women for Tri and being gold All World Athlete.  They emailed me earlier this year letting me know I had a spot if I wanted and I definitely took it.  Sure, I went and raced another 70.3 and got a slot for the race, but was happy to pass the slot down to another girl that really wanted it.

The 70.3 world championships rotate location every year and this year it was in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  To save money, I decided to drive my Prius the 12-hour journey from Houston.  Thankfully I had my faithful Sherpa, Susan, there to entertainment (and drive most of the way back). Drive was very uneventful and honestly flew by. That first night (Wednesday) an amazing couple hosted us because the house we were sharing with Air Bnb was not ready until the next day.

Thursday morning, I got up early and headed to the practice swim. It was 55 degrees air temperature at that point and then 78 in water.  I swam in a swimsuit and was just fine.  I noticed the current swimming out but honestly it wasn’t that bad.  I did notice the sun more than anything.  I scurried back to the house to get ready and off we went to the Gold AWA breakfast that Ironman was hosting.  It was on a riverboat and unfortunately, I thought they would allow everyone time to eat breakfast and then cruise.  But when I arrived there at 8:45am, Dave Scott had already finished speaking. Anyways, the boat departed and it was a nice way to see Chattanooga.  Susan got to captain/steer the boat and we met some nice Australian blokes. When we were back and docked, we went to the Ironman Village, said hello to a few vendors and bought myself a coffee cup and a super cute tank they had this year and then registered.  

Pic by Melissa Christensen
The house we were staying at was in Rising Fawn, GA, 35 minutes from the race.  George from Tri Animals found the place and it was a beautiful retreat in the mountains.  We not on purpose took our time getting there and it was so high up in the mountains that I didn’t get cell service. 😊 We had the entire basement and it was awesome.  I put my bike on the trainer as those roads were not good for a TT and went through my gears to make sure everything was okay and ready to climb the mountains.  Well it wasn’t.  It was slipping gears and would not get into my lowest gear and I wanted that! At that point we were too far out and all bike shops were closed anyways.  Got ready and went back into Chattanooga and had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant. 

 Friday morning I went to the Quintana Roo breakfast extended to their teams.  While I don’t have a QR, I have considered getting one.  Their new hot pink PRsix is sexy! Did some socializing and met some people racing.  Of course I had my bike with me, so awesome Susan google and found a bike shop within walking distance (it was $8 each time I entered the parking garage and I didn’t want to drive if I didn’t have to) and I walked half of the way with her and then she dropped it off at the local Trek store.  They were so great and able to squeeze me in behind a couple people.  They were supper busy.  There was a mechanic in the Ironman village, but the line was seriously 2 hours long and I hate lines.  So Susan dropped off my bike and went for a run.  Me? I went to brunch (yes I ate twice that morning) with Angela Nath which was sponsored by Red Bull.  At the brunch, Angela, who started a great group called IRaceLikeAGirl, reviewed mental strategies and gave us a personal view inside what she is thinking on race day. It was pretty amazing to be able to attend and I know I learned a thing or two that I applied.  So as soon as I was done, I walked to the bike shop and thankfully my bike was ready! Susan and I then walked back and got lunch and then it was time for bike and gear check in.  After dropping that off, we went to the grocery store to pick up pre-race dinner and then went back to the house. Early to bed because Saturday is race day!

I have this weird skill of getting up before my alarm clock went off.  Oh and somehow having my lady time on race day. Anyways up at 4am and off like a rocket.  Pound down some coffee and oatmeal and get on the road around 4:50am.  Was able to park in the same garage and since all my gear was dropped off the day before, all I had to bring was my bike nutrition, goggles and wetsuit.  Yes, the water dropped just barely to the cutoff at 76.1.  Quickly dropped off nutrition and then meandered down towards the water.  My trusty Sherpa took my morning clothes and I slugged on my sleeveless Roka suit and stood in my starting corral. 

Photo by Susan Benton
The swim start was different – they had like in a horse race, starting corrals  on the dock and then you had a 5 beep countdown sound and then a high beep telling you to go.  So a rolling age group start.  I put myself in the middle as I am not the fastest swimmer when it comes to a national championship level race and I ran off the dock and somehow was leading the 10 of us that started when our beep went off.  I lead for halfway out the first buoy and then backed off so I could draft.  That was with a sideway current so not too crazy.  And then you turn right and then to do the 840 against the current.  Honestly, having swam in a washing machine at last year’s long course world champs and having swam in San Francisco bay, this current was not that bad.  However, what was bad and I’m sure cost me a bit of time, was the sun.  It was low in the sky and was right in my eyes.  I struggled seeing buoys and so I just tried to draft as much as possible.  But well some of these girls don’t swim that straight.  That way out seemed to take forever.  Of my slow 39:06 minute swim, I bet you that 25 minutes was spent on that portion of the swim.  Anyways, you round the buoy to the right to start heading back and the current was pushing some people out but I did my best to stay right.  And then round the last buoy to make the way back with the current at your back.  The current didn’t push that strong, not as great as IM Cozumel, but I did have some sub 1:30 splits on the way back.  You round the last buoy and out with the help of some awesome volunteers. 

Found myself some awesome wetsuit strippers and then you grab your bag off to the left as they are all lined up on the ground by number and then round a turn to run up some ridiculously steep ramp.  Seriously would have preferred stairs as they put down a carpet but everywhere the carpet was taped down was slippery as hell!  It was a bit of a run to your bike but I had my shoes on there and ran all the way to the line and did my flying mount. Slipped my shoes on and quickly found my groove. 
I live in Houston, Texas.  There are no mountains here.  And a few miles into this course, there is a mountain.  I actually really enjoyed the climb.  But there were a couple of mountain goat girls that passed me as I was trying to think of not trying to get a QOM (road racer in me wants to kill it) but overall, I passed a lot of girls on this mountain.  And stayed in my power targets.  Then you would think you would be awarded with a downhill, but no.  This course basically was full of tons of rollers that are much more substantial than where people in Houston go to do their “hillier” long rides.  I was doing great and I was keeping my prescribed heart rate and power in check but about mile 42 my
back started really, really, really hurting.  And I could feel the pain in my legs and hips something furious.  Normally I can muscle through these and honestly, I don’t usually get that much pain while racing in my targets for a half ironman as bike is my strength.  But a few miles later, my legs were toast.  And my back was spazing.  So unfortunately, I got passed way too much on the only flat part of the race, normally my strength but I knew that I still had to run a half marathon and I would need my legs for the hilly run.  So, I took a lot of pressure off the pedals and just focused on high turnover as much as possible. It was a long last 30 minutes, let me tell ya. I was spot on my nutrition with taking in tons of fluids (had to go potty twice) and salt and gels so I believe it really just came down to the issue of just not enough climbing work.  SO, if I do a big hilly race like this again, I am going to Colorado or California a few weekends to train! Bike split was a slow 2:54: 42

Photo by Susan Benton
I fully intended to do a flying dismount but I thought I would fall over if I did or my legs would buckle under me. So, I just stopped and got off and then. Ouch. Trying to remind my body how to run at this point was a struggle.  I am pretty sure I looked fairly damaged and I ran along to the table with my run gear bag.  I fell/sat onto the chair fairly defeated and put on my socks and shoes and off the shuffle went.  I rounded onto the run start and all these people were cheering and I quiet literally stuck my tongue out at them.  I was not looking forward to this run.  I knew it was hilly and it was starting to get warmer at this point. Not Houston warm but not exactly 60 anymore. Like a quarter of mile in, the legs did loosen up a bit and the back did release a little so I was able to find close to my semi programmed pace, even though I was in pain.  But well they say a lot of these races are for the
mentally strong. And no way I was walking in a world championship race.  I made sure to take in plenty of fluids (thank you Red Bull station that that ridiculous/obnoxious hill) and just tried to get into a rhythm.  I was doing actually fairly good, running at the slower end of my pace range (damn near impossible to get into a rhythm because when I did, I was disrupted by another hill) but at mile 10, the wheels just came off.  I was on the struggle bus.  Somehow still passing some ladies but getting passed by equally as many or more. I’m not used to getting passed that much.  Ouch. Anyways, my pace slowed a bit towards the end and I was definitely soooo happy to round the corner and find a last little bit of adrenaline to run a respectable pace to the finish line. Run split was 1:49:24
All in all, I posted a respectable time.  But nowhere near the time that I know I am capable of and I would maybe like a redo someday. :P I did 70.3 WC a couple years ago and was 95 I believe of like 120 girls in my age group.  This time, the final results showed that I was 85 out of 200+ ladies, so I will take it.

So the women raced their own race on this Saturday without the guys and I have to say, it was fantastic doing a world championship women only race.  No offense to the guys because not all are like this, but most guys have a serious issue with chicks passing them and just it is an entirely different atmosphere with just women out there.  Not only that but the women pros tend to get the back seat to the men’s race when both are happening at the same time and it was so great to see the clips from coverage without having the announcers have to struggle between showing the men’s and women’s leaders at the same time.  I honestly hope they do something like this at Kona, if the big island can handle that. But I’m sure many have mixed opinions on that…

So post race, my awesome Sherpa was there with my requested recovery shake.  And then they gave us a ticket for a free beer and food item of choice.  It was a little too congested in that area, to be honest. They only offered free Michelob Ultra beer (boo) and then a choice of pizza, burgers, tacos and some mac and cheese thing.  I got the trusty pizza and gave half to my Sherpa. Lol. Sat there a bit to digest and then wobbled my way slowly towards bike check out and then the car and back to the house.
Pic from Reiko Donato

That night, we went to the Coeur Sports after party.  The Coeur Sports team is great.  Some of the nicest, sincerest, most amazing women you will ever meet.  I have been so honored to be on the team this year and they are some of the happiest looking racers out there. (I need to work on my racing smile….) It was great to meet a lot of the in person as I have only seen them online.  And then after that, we went to the Women for Tri party and talked to a Czech girl and had some well-deserved chocolate. 😊

Pic from Jackie M David
So because the guys and girls raced separate, I had signed up to be a volunteer on Sunday for the guy’s race.  I signed up to be a sunscreen person but I didn’t get to do that all day.  HA! As soon as Susan (did I mention she is the best Sherpa ever?) and I arrived, we were asked to join the wetsuit strippers station.  HA! I had such a blast doing this.  I have never volunteered as stripper before but I have never been able slap so many men’s asses in my life and get away with it. :P If you want to have a couple hours of volunteering fly by, that is how.  It is also like being in the front row/VIP section for all of the athletes you wanted to cheer for!  And so, once that slowed down, we went to where were we were supposed to be and ended up filling water at the first station just before starting the run in transition and that was hard work.  I was thankfully already soaked from wetsuit stripping and was also thankful the sunscreen was right there because it got hot for the men’s race! I was able to see some pros start their run and I saw all my friends as they started their runs. (I may have even slapped another ass here….) This was hard work.  Almost everyone was grabbing water because it was so hot and there were over 2,000 men racing.  Anyways that went by super quick too and before we knew it, it was 2:30pm and we were done.  And I looked like I was done.  Defeated. Zombie.  BUT I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.  Went back, took a well-deserved nap and then had some beers with the guys when they got back.

The next morning, we lazily got up and got on the road.  Sadly, my jam-packed weekend took its toll on me and I came down with a migraine.  So, Susan ended up driving.  I started trying to drive and that lasted a whole hour since I literally had tears in my eyes. We were supposed to party in New Orleans, LA on the way back but that just didn’t happen.  So, we trucked on home the 12 hours back to Houston 

It was an interesting season this year adding in bike racing and while my FTP has gone up about 20 watts since the beginning of this year, my run has suffered a little.  I am taking a break now from racing for a few months as my body deserves a break and then my next race I am signed up is for a marathon in April – the beautiful Big Sur Marathon.  Thanks to all of the sponsors for their support and here’s to a bigger and better 2018!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ironman Texas 2017 Race Report

photo by the man, Philip Shama himself
Ever since I did my first Ironman in 2013, which was Ironman Texas, I have decided to race about one Ironman a year.  When I heard that Ironman Texas was being moved to April for 2017, I thought in the back of my mind that would be my Ironman for 2017.  Plus, following my plan of doing the race every other year (I raced 2015) and to save money by racing locally, I signed up for Ironman Texas. 

The lead up to the race was pretty smooth, for the most part.  I was nailing training and feeling good while doing it.  I had some pretty good swims and power on the bike and slightly better on the run that I felt like I had a great chance of having a PR at Texas.  However, on the Thursday before the race, I was going to do a flip turn at the pool, which there are pool lights right on the lane lines on the wall where you flip turn, and freak accident, the second smallest toe on my left foot banged it just so that it stopped me dead in my tracks.  I maybe yelled out a bad word in the pool (not the first time, probably). It took a few hours, but it became quite swollen and black and blue.  I thought it was sprained.  I iced it and did everything possible for trying to heal it.  Needless to say, I did no running the week leading up to the race.  Unless you count pool running….which was a first for me.  Not terrible, but not something I want to get into the habit of doing.  And I had ordered new shoes a couple weeks before the race, but they didn’t arrive until the day of the race.  Don’t recommend doing this, but I ran in those shoes….

Morning of the race was nothing spectacular to note.  Yes, the swelling in the toe had went down at this point and it didn’t look quite as black and blue.  But still wasn’t putting weight on it! Oh and I woke up with a bit of a migraine! I chugged maybe too much coffee and it dissipated.  That and the excitement of getting ready to do an Ironman I guess made it lessen.  Needless to say, I was kind of in denial that I was going to even make it through the day.  I parked by where I knew I would end up and discussed meeting up with my Sherpa Susan.  Ran into my riding buddy, John, at transition as I just finished setting up my bike in the muddy transition, and we walked towards the swim start like 10 minutes away.  Ran into a girl wearing a Coeur onesie and chatted about her loving the kit and how her training went.  Killed some time, dropped off the morning clothes bag and popped a couple of gels in the mouth.  Yummy sugar for a snack. 😊

Swim: I lined up somewhere around what I estimated was the 1:10 swim area and then waited for the cannon to go off.  Finally it goes off and shuffle on out in the water.  I estimate I actually swam a 1:10 because it took forever for people in front of me to get in the water after I crossed the mat. If there is one thing I am proud about, I felt like I did a good job of navigating through people out of the gate.  I didn’t get hit in the face until like 1.5 miles in, which is rare for me.  All in all for the swim, I took on water up the nose 3 times….wtf? And I kept swimming up to swimmers that wanted to swim a slightly different angle than me.  Annoying. I felt like I had a decent swim and felt fresh getting out of the water.  But somehow my watch said 1:11. This is slightly frustrating because I have gotten way better at swimming in the pool and have been putting in some serious yardage. Not the time I was hoping for.  This is even with my swim time (which was also non-wetsuit) in 2015.

T1: didn’t slip in the mud, didn’t have a shoe fly off the bike, didn’t run into anyone, so I would say it was a success!

photo by the bike godfather, Philip Shama

Bike: They allowed the helmet and shoes to be placed on the bike so I was ready to roll as soon as I hit the mat on bike out.  Adjusted my shoes a couple times (112 is a long time to bike without your shoes just right) and then got to work.  It was kind of congested for the first 20 miles of the bike.  Later I saw some people serving time at the first penalty tent.  There was a lot of drafting going up one of the first overpasses.  I just tried to stay out of it, as tempting as that all was.  I got water and Gatorade at every aid station except one where I missed a bottle.  But somehow, my migraine crept back to visit at about mile 30.  I was just trying to keep drinking and putting down the calories, but my head was pounding.  I am going to switch aero helmets before my next race because I swear my head was overheating.  The water I was grabbing at each aid station (which it seriously takes skill to grab a water and Gatorade at each aid station while still moving on a bike) was being tossed over my head and body, keeping me wet and cool. Trying to anyways.  At about mile 40, I got to a really, really low point.  I was just really not wanting to be there.  I just couldn’t think of why I was out there and my head and toe hurt.  I debated dropping out at the turn around to the second loop.  Seriously, the only thing that kept me from dropping out is that I didn’t want to wait for a sag vehicle to drive me back and I was afraid that I would have to come back later that evening to get my gear back (I live 35 – 1 hour+ away).  Pathetic.  So, I went out for the second loop.  The way out was so unbearably boring as I was getting passed on repeat, but I just kept on pedaling.  I pulled off at one aid station and chugged a water and Gatorade, yes, an entire one, ate a banana.  I hoped back on the bike, made it to the turn around to come back and then holy hell, that wind!  I was struggling something serious for the way back.  And my power numbers were way off this entire ride. My mind was saying “give me more power” and my body was like “hell no!” And it shows in my file.  Average speed was over 1 mph average lower, cadence was 10 rpm/leg slower and power was 40 watts lower than I did on my two race rehearsals leading up to the race. How was it biking on the Hardy Toll Road, you ask? Well other people had some amazing times that were blazing fast and the surface did feel very fast.  But the lack of scenery and well anything, I don’t think I will want to race this again when there are so many other more scenic options.  Anyways, I get to the turn off to finish the bike and I quite audibly said “thank God!” and just kept it easy on the miles back in.  Surprisingly, my bike split was the same as my Lake Placid bike split which had around 3,500 feet more climbing.

T2: I had left my shoes on the bike and so this made for a fairly quick transition.  I didn’t slip again, although I thought I would as it was all mud at this point (they must replace the grass every year), and ran into the tent to have an amazing volunteer, bless her heart, unpack my bag and put my socks and shoes on (Seriously, thank you!) and out I went, like a rocket.

photo by Leslie, best lane buddy eva
Run: Look, I am competitive.  I saw a lot of girls (and guys) pass me on the bike. So, I knew that if I would want to podium, I would have to have a fantastic run.  Which at this point, the adrenaline kicked in again and the headache lessened.  On a side note, I loved my new shoes.  They were by far the right choice over my old shoes they replaced.  Anyways, I flew through the first loop, forgetting about my headache and toe mostly and then starting the second loop was when it all hit me.  I was doing extremely well running through the aid station and, I kid you not, taking in 2-3 cups plus ice every aid station, but still could feel myself dehydrated.  That was when I allowed myself to walk to get some more fluids in my system and salt and stopped once to go to the bathroom. :/ At this point, the race plan changed into, give it your best and try not to walk any more than the aid stations (I failed in a couple points).  I finished up a very slow (for me) second lap and then threw myself and throbbing toe through a third loop.  I decided at that point, I was going to try to run faster no matter how much it hurt…because the sooner I finished, the sooner I was done running. 😊 Ran through half of the last aid stations, walked the others, taking in fluids and nutrition at each one.  Quads really were on fire for the last few miles along with my left hamstring from slightly adjusting my stride to accommodate for my throbbing foot.  I do have to say that Ironman Texas run course is way more exciting than the other two Ironman locations I’ve done thus far (Cozumel and Lake Placid) and better than all the 70.3s except maybe the 70.3s world championship when it was in Mont Tremblant.  There is something to be said about racing in your hometown and having a lot of people you know out there cheering you on.  Although, I doubt any race has a tri club cheer squad that could top the JSC/SBS Catapult corner.  Seriously! I hope they made some pictures because it is a riot every year.  And I will be there next year instead of racing (well, except the beer mile 😉). Anyways, back to my run, I remember how the finish line feels quite distinctly when I hit mile 24 and while I felt like I was really hauling, looking at my splits I really wasn’t going that entirely fast (for me!).  But I gave it one little push because I knew I was really close to my Lake Placid time and heard the voice himself say that I was an Ironman for the fifth time. 

photo by Sylvia E

Swim: 1:11:30
T1: 3:25
Bike: 5:41:41
T2: 3:38
Run: 3:49:49
Overall: 10:50:03 (a new Ironman PR by 7 minutes and 17 seconds)

So post-race thoughts: I was really hoping for a faster time and my training leading up to it said that I was capable of doing so.  I think you learn something in each race and I learned that I can’t make too drastic of food or caffeine changes before the race, I need a new aero helmet, avoid freak accidents, take in even more nutrition on the bike, train more in the wind, I do better at hills, and the Ironman runs really hurt (well that I already knew).  From looking at the results, even if I would have ran what my goal/planned time was, I would have only moved up one, maybe two places in my age group.  Ironman Texas, being the North American championships, brought out the fastest girls, I swear, like another mini Kona.  So, at the end of the day, I may have not had the race I hoped/dreamed for, but I feel good knowing that I put forth a solid effort and did not give up when I really, really, really wanted to.  Now I am going to take some time off my toe, see when I can run pain free again and work on the summer of speed.  I am going to have to get faster if I want to remain competitive in this new age group, so there will be some painful intervals in my future.  And finally, some road racing that I got this awesome road bike for.  What better way to build bike fitness?!? Next triathlon I am signed up for is Buffalo Springs Lubbock Texas 70.3, again, so I have a couple solid months to recover and start to build speed.

Seriously, thanks everyone for the support and cheers and best wishes.  I am seriously blessed to have so many people that care about me and believe in me racing this awesome hobby. Thanks to Team Coeur Sports for the sweet kit, Roka for getting me set up with an awesome swim skin and sunglasses (seriously cool looking shades for the run!), Inside Tracker for using my bloodwork to help me be the best version of myself, Houston Coogs for helping me improve my swim, TriDot for the training plan, Shama Cycles for looking after my bike and JSC/SBS Catapult for the support.  And to the world’s best Sherpa, Susan, which I will someday hopefully repay.  Happy training, y’all!