30 July 2011

Ironman: The Aftermath

To say I've enjoyed my recovery to the fullest would be... well, an understatement. In the week since the event, I've managed to go to bed before midnight exactly once. I've indulged in doughnuts, hunks of cheese, baked cheese wrapped in pastry dough, beer, oreo cake smothered in homemade frosting. I'm almost done with the one pound bar of chocolate that I opened 4 days ago. I ate a huge, HUGE ice cream cone at Ben and Jerrys. I've done nothing athletic, save the 30 minute ride I did on the trainer this morning. I just finished a gigantic bowl of cold potato soup (main ingredient - milk and heavy cream). And I'm on my way to get frozen yogurt. On the car ride home from Lake Placid/Burlington, as I was polishing off a bag of Skittles and some orange soda, I said to Mark "I don't know how long I can eat and drink like this." Well, apparently I can do it for least a week. Like anything out of the ordinary, it can take a little while to get adjusted. And... I'm adjusted. This food binge hasn't been quite as epic as last year's post-Ironman tour of Italian food and culture (a record 5lb weight gain in a matter of days), but it has still been fun.

Tomorrow we're supposedly going on a bike ride (if I go to bed before midnight and wake up before 8am). And Monday I'm going to start bike commuting again (getting boxed in by tourists on the metro escalator, waiting 20 minutes for a train, and then getting cropdusted on the bus Friday afternoon was enough to make me remember why I bike commute in the first place). It's back on the wagon next week - otherwise I don't know if I'll ever find the wagon!

My Thursday night project and weekend breakfast-lunch-dinner

Which is the tougher endurance event? Ironman or eating a pound of chocolate?

27 July 2011

Ironman Lake Placid 2011: The Race Report

I know, not the most creative title. Actually, there are several race report titles that would've been appropriate:
- Saltstick tabs, where have you been all my life?
- The rest of America may have been melting, but it was a perfect day in Lake Placid!
- Volunteers and cheering spectators are the best!
- Who needs a Bento Box when you have a half-empty sports bra?
- How I gave up being a vegetarian at mile 24.5 of the run.
- But the most fitting would have to be this: Not a perfect race and not my best time, but by far the most solid Ironman performance I've ever pulled together.

IMLP 2011 was my 5th Ironman race. My first two were flat, flat, flat courses - Florida and Beach2Battleship. Both yielded times that would be hard to top. My third and fourth Ironmans were hilly - France and Wisconsin. I also fell apart on the run at both of those races and was very disappointed in my finish and overall effort.

So far, this year had been different from previous seasons. I've set PRs and reach time and place goals. I believed in myself and in my abilities. Things were... different, in a good way. So, going into IMLP, I felt calm, confident, excited and ready to race. My number one goal was to put together a solid race plan, stick to it, and have a consistent, strong race. There would be no "balls to the wall" racing; I'd actually keep tabs on my HR, be conservative on the bike and start the run off easy. I'd try to be smart and patient. I'd actually have to turn my brain on to do some thinking so I could pull off a smart race.

There is something almost magical about the week before Ironman. The hard work is done. You have your race plan in hand and you think about it during every spare moment of the day. You visualize the perfect race (and the perfect post-race meals). The possibilities for a perfect race are endless and untainted by any realities of race day (flat tires, bad weather, nutrition blunders). You can't wait for the race to get here so you can see if your aspirations become a reality. You try to eat right, sleep enough, and mentally review your race-day packing list every hour. You arrive at the expo and get that race bracelet slapped onto your wrist (which you later will not want to remove, even days after the race has passed). You are surrounded by 2500 other athletes who are just like you, an exclusive club made up of only people dedicated enough to spend 15-20 hours/week training. You see the finisher's chute and imagine what it will be like to run down it. You sign up for IMLP 2012 the day before the 2011 race - and cross your fingers that you really, REALLY like the race the next day because you and your bank account are fully committed for another 365 days.

We stayed about 30 minutes away from Lake Placid on Rainbow Lake (thanks Aunt Vicki and Doug for being wonderful hosts and letting us crash at your vacation house!). We discovered that swimming is our dog's favorite sport (he swam after dragonflies for 50 minutes straight on Saturday) and I (tried) to learn how to drive a motorboat (disaster! I think I will stick with biking). I got my practice swims in, took the bike for a quick spin to show off the rented wheels and make sure all was right, and tried to stay off my feet in the days leading up to the race.

Race morning dawned early, 4am. I actually slept well the night before, after I made Mark take the top bunk on race day eve (on the first night I had enthusiastically claimed the top bunk, only to realize shortly thereafter that I was deathly afraid of plummeting off the edge of the bed and ruining my race before it had even started. I slept the whole first night crammed against the wall, using a pillow as a railing against the abyss). I toasted two Dunkin Donuts bagels and topped them with peanut butter, just like I planned, only to find that I wasn't in the mood for peanut butter at all. I managed to choke down 1.5 bagels and part of a PowerBar for breakfast, along with some water. There wasn't much to do race morning once we arrived besides double-check the gear bags, have the bike techs pump the rented Zipps since I was too chicken to do it myself, and set up my nutrition on the bike. Saw the rest of the Team Z'rs/Strike Out MS group before the swim start, pilfered some sunblock since I had forgotten my own, and opted not to wear a wetsuit since it was wetsuit-optional and I dislike wetsuits anyways.

The Swim:
Kerri Kramer and I entered the water together. I decided I'd try to be brave and start a little closer to the middle than I had initially planned, take full advantage of the draft. So, the swim was a bit more crowded and violent than I would've liked, but it thinned out much faster than IM France did and I quickly managed to get myself into a rhythm. I wasn't going to go all-out on the swim and I figured I'd finish my swim around the usual time, which turned out to be true. I did manage to get myself on the cable line for parts of the second loop and I focused on a good pull and smooth stroke. I love the swim, and even though I'm not fast at it, I think it's the most relaxing part of the whole race. When I started the second loop, I was amazed at the draft as I re-entered the water - it just sucked me out to the buoys!

T1:
I've had my Garmin for 10 months and still haven't mastered the MultiSport mode. I fiddled with it for awhile, gave up trying to make it show me HR (if anyone knows how to do this, TELL ME), and just switched it over to Bike Mode instead. This made for a longer-than-ideal transition time and I think my volunteer was puzzled by slowpoke-ness.

The Bike:
In the weeks leading up to Ironman, I'd been silently fretting about how I would carry all of my nutrition. I was going to eat mainly gels, with one or two powerbars mixed in. The plan was for 3 Hammer gels per hour, with one or two of those hours eating a PowerBar instead. So, this amounted to about 18 gels (in case I didn't want any PowerBars) plus a couple of extras (because you never know) plus some PowerBars. And a flask of gel, for insurance. There was no way 18 gels and a gel flask and two PowerBars were going to fit inside my Bento Box. I also forgot electrical tape to tape anything to nutrition to my bike. I also had saltstick tabs and Nuun tablets to tote along as well. Fortunately, my sports bra is quite roomy and in went the gel flask, salt tabs, and a tube of Nuun tablets, with room to spare (I don't know if I should be happy or saddened by that). And off I went on the bike, with the full intentions of sticking to my race nutrition plan. The first hour went by quickly - I was taking it easy, trying to ignore my slow average speed staring me in the face from the Garmin. An Ironman is about patience and the slow bike speed was testing that patience, but I knew it had to pay off in the end. I started taking salt tabs immediately, every 30 minutes. I sipped water with Nuun every 10 minutes and I took in a gel every 20 minutes, for about 280 calories/hr. When the second hour started, I was feeling hungrier than usual and decided to take in a gel every 15 minutes for about 360 calories/hr. I continued that trend during the 3rd hour, just to be safe, frontloading the calories. The salt tabs seemed to be working well, this was my first time using them in a race and I felt strong and alert and better than I usually feel on the bike during a race. I was aiming for about 500mg of sodium/hr Mentally, I felt like I was in a good place, I saw the other Team Z/Strike Out MS girls on some of the out-and-backs, as well as my friend Brian who was doing his first Ironman. I focused on keeping my HR in check, in the 130s for the downhills and flats and letting it climb into Z3 for the hills. My legs didn't feel fried after the first leg and I actually came into Lake Placid after the first loop a little sooner than I had anticipated. Passing by the Team Z tent was great, hearing everyone cheer. My parents were out watching their first Ironman so it was great to see them. Tim, Matt and Jennie were rockstars and I saw them all over the bike course cheering. I started the second loop feeling just fine. The second loop was pretty uneventful, besides the fact that I found I was only craving the Hammer gels and had no interest in the PowerBar (which I had to eat anyway since I fumbled around and lost a gel late in the game). I probably should've drank a bit more water, as I started the run feeling thirsty, but overall I am happy with how my nutrition panned out. Those salt tabs were MONEY. I finished the bike, happy to have avoided any flats, and was ready to run.

T2:
Faster than T1, had already given up on MultiSport mode.

The Run:
In my previous two Ironmans, I wasn't looking forward to the run at all. I simply wasn't in the mood to do it. At France, I remember yelling out to my family that I didn't feel like running. Not the best attitude to have when a marathon is staring you in the face. France and Wisconsin showed me that a total implosion on the run can ruin any good feelings you might've had about your race prior to that point - it showed me that you can feel good one mile and terrible the next. It showed me that the Ironman marathon doesn't give a crap if you are a good runner or think that running is your strongest discipline. All of this was in the back of my head when I headed out - I would take the run one mile at a time, running absolutely no faster than 9:15's, drink water at every aid station, take a gel every 35-45 minutes, and stay mentally focused on the positives. I cracked mentally at France and Wisconsin and my number one goal on the run was NOT to crack this time around. The weather was perfect for racing and it was about 2:45ish by the time I made it out to the run course. I didn't want to run the risk of overheating, so I took cold sponges, dumped ice in the sports bra (which was also carrying more Nuun tablets and salt tabs, ditched the gel flask though) and pour cold water over my head. The first few miles felt OK-ish. They were downhill, so that helped with the pace. But I quickly discovered I needed to exert some self-control when it came to fluid intake at the aid stations. I would've drank every cup I could get my hands on, I suddenly felt that thirsty, but I knew I'd feel terrible after with all that fluid just sitting in me. Some aid stations I was more disciplined than others. I started walking the aid stations, just so it would make taking in water a bit easier. I usually felt icky after drinking the water, but I didn't want to run the risk of dehydration. I took in the gels at the times I had planned. The turnaround for the out-and-back down River Road felt like was never going to come into sight. My pace was slowing and I knew before the first loop was out that I probably wasn't going to get my goal run time. However, besides the aid station walks, I was running everything, including the hills, and that was something to be happy with. There were a few mentally low moments on the run (you know you've hit bottom when you find yourself feeling pangs of envy for people who dropped out of the race and were now being driven back to the start area on the back of a 4-wheeler - at least they were done RUNNING). That was probably the lowest moment and once I started the second loop, I felt better and better. My stomach was more settled, I didn't need to take in as much water, I managed to wait to go on the Coke until mile 18. I had hoped to pick up the pace at mile 18, but that didn't happen - I just managed to keep things consistent (consistently slow), mainly in the 10's, with a couple of 11's mixed in when I came up to the steep hills. But there was no unplanned walking, no pity-party, and no negativity on my part. I was no longer focused on time and after awhile it didn't seem like I was out there all that long. Time stood still. I was enjoying being out there, I savored the cheers and the music blaring from the houses and spectators as I made my way back into town towards the finish line. By the time I hit mile 22, I knew that I could make it to the finish without imploding. Unfortunately, I didn't have much left in me to go any faster, it was just a slow shuffle for those last 4 miles. At mile 24.5, I conveniently forgot that I was a vegetarian and enjoyed some hot chicken broth (SO GOOD). I saw a guy riding a stationary bike that was somehow hooked up to a margarita blender. It took alot of willpower not to steal the whole pitcher of margarita and down it right there. The last 3/4 of a mile to the Speedskating Oval seemed to take forever. And then, right as I was coming down the last hill towards Main Street and the entrance to the Oval, it hit me: I was about to be an Ironman. People had their hands out for high fives from ME. I was 3 minutes away from a cold soda and any kind of food I wanted. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I had spring in my step. I couldn't stop smiling. No, I wasn't about to cross the finish line under my goal time, but I had put together a solid race and I enjoyed myself until the very end. I hadn't savored any of my other Ironman finishes besides my first one (too hungry in Florida to care that I was an Ironman, too dejected and disgusting-feeling in France or Wisconsin to care) so I was going to savor this one all the way to the end... until a girl in my age group whipped by me in the last 30yds. Dammit! My planned finish line stroll became a sprint as I passed her back. She yelped in surprise, ran harder and caught up to me, and we crossed the finish line neck-and-neck. Neither of us had any idea who actually crossed first, but there was a hug and congrats to each other anyway because it really didn't matter (OK, it did - first thing I did when I got home and had internet access was check). I crossed first by one second. Hardest I've ever worked for 32nd place in my age group - and probably my proudest moment in the whole race. Though, perhaps the sprinting is a sign that I had enough left to work harder earlier in the race?

Final Thoughts:
I loved this race. And while there was some initial disappointment about my overall time, I got over it quickly because IMLP is not a PR course (unless you are Jackie McCarthy :) ). I had stuck to my plan, had a Plan B for when things weren't quite right, and executed a solid race that I can be proud of. I didn't bonk once. I'm also super excited to race Placid next year and hopefully blow my 2011 time out of the water. I've been enjoying my recovery period (probably a little too much judging by the amount of crap I've been eating) and my post-race indulgences have lived up to all of their pre-race expectations and dreams :) Did you know that there is something better than chocolate ice cream? I didn't until I went to Ben and Jerry's in Burlington and had their Chocolate Therapy ice cream. I haven't been the same since. A big congrats to all who raced on Sunday, especially Brian, Annie, Harriet, Jen, Kerri, Jackie, Aileen, Mike, and Kate. Watching all of you run your way to the finish was the best part of the day. My parents had a great day, so hopefully they will be up for Placid in 2012. My dog still hasn't recovered from the 19-hour spectathalon, and Mark and Aaron were sherpas extraordinaires. And Mel, Iwan, Tim, Jennie, Nelson, and Matt were super awesome for giving up their weekend to cheer for us racers - any chance you want to do it again in 2012?

Now, some recovery time before ramping up for Timberman and Galway! So glad the season isn't over yet!

17 July 2011

They have flown...

... Pigs, that is. Today is Sunday. We leave for Lake Placid on Thursday. And I am essentially packed and ready to go. This never happens. I am always the one up super late the night before a trip, packing at the last minute, freaking out that I don't have everything, having a bird because I can't find something important. It's only when pigs fly that I am actually ready early for something.

This week is all about minimizing stress and maximizing sleep. We did all our our laundry today, cleaned the house top to bottom, I cleaned my bike, my suitcase is packed, I have all my nutrition and last minute items purchased, I've found race wheels to reserve, and most of my race-day tri stuff is also packed. I have my lunch all packed and ready to go for tomorrow and we even have our dinner pre-made for tomorrow night. It feels awfully nice to have things squared away - I should do this more often!

Workouts this weekend went really, really well. And I managed to do every single workout this entire week. This is my "A" race and I want to do everything right. Unfortunately, I'm not bike commuting to work this coming week - I've made it this long without any biking injuries, I don't want to tempt fate the week before Ironman by biking to work. Plus, it's not in my taper plan to bike an extra 18 miles a day.

Focus for the rest of the week - quality sleep and race focus. I have goals in mind and I need to keep them at the forefront until I cross that finish line. I've been visualizing the race over and over in my head over the past week. I think I am as ready as I will ever be. I don't care about the weather - I'm going to swimbikerun 140.6 miles whether it is sunny or it is pouring (I just hope for my parents' sake that it is not pouring - it will be an unpleasant IM spectating experience if this year is a repeat of 2008).

Now it's time to get some of that quality sleep I was talking about.

11 July 2011

It's getting shorterrrrrrr.....

The workouts... the countdown... they are all getting shorter and shorter. IM Lake Placid is almost here! 13 days!
I'm excited. The nerves are there too, of course, but that just adds to the excitement. I think about the race in my free time. I spent 2.5 hours thinking about it on my train ride up to New Jersey today. I had motivational tunes blasting on my iPod and just visualized how I wanted the race to go, from start to finish. What I wanted my emotions to be, how I would feel during the swim, how my legs would feel during the bike, and what it would feel like to run the whole marathon. How it would feel to run around the Olympic oval and cross that finish line. Would this Ironman finish feel just as amazing as my first Ironman finish? What do I need to accomplish to get that same high? Is there anything better than your first Ironman finish?

Anyway, enough deep thoughts. Even though the workouts got shorter this weekend, I was still tired. Maybe I need to go to bed earlier. Or maybe I would sleep better if I didn't have a cat sleeping on my head, another cat sleeping on my side and a dog sleeping on my feet. I did an open water swim on Saturday morning. There aren't a whole lot of open water places to swim nearby to DC... except... the Potomac. One word: ick. You couldn't pay me enough to ever do the DC Tri or Nations Triathlon and swim amongst the "sleeping" fish in the heart of DC. The lower Potomac, where the swim was held, appeared to be cleaner. The water didn't stink, no "sleeping" fish, and there were living things in the water (in the form of LOTS of weeds). So, the open water swim wasn't too bad, once you got past the weeds. Then it was off on an hour run through some nearby neighborhoods. Then a BBQ with the team, a great way to cap off a morning workout. Mark treated me to an awesome dinner of homemade pasta, red sauce and grilled vegetables on Saturday night. I managed to stay awake through half of the Deathly Hallows movie before crying uncle and going to sleep before 11. The exciting life I do lead.

Sunday was the last substantially long brick before Ironman. I wanted to make it a good one. The past few weekends I haven't been as focused as I should've been through the workouts. I was supposed to do a T-run after my long bike ride 4th of July weekend. I forgot to write it down and forgot to do it. I was so irritated with myself when I figured out my mistake a few days later. Swims have been cut short here and there because of time constraints. So, even though I'm excited about Ironman, I still feel like there are a few things I could do better, like be more focused. I need to focus on more than just the emotions and feelings of the race - I need to figure out a race strategy and make sure I'm taking the necessary steps over the next few weeks to execute that strategy. Anyway, Sunday's brick was good. I FINALLY rode with Kerri, we're both doing Placid and I kept missing group rides with her because I never manage to get my lazy butt to a ride on time. It was a good, hilly, hot ride with an equally hot and hilly T-run (yes, I remembered to do my T-run this time). We rode on some different roads in Poolesville and had a really great time, it was nice to switch up the ride from the usual route. Though, I did take a wrong turn and found myself riding up a dirt road. I was too stubborn to admit that I might've been going the wrong way, so I just kept going, until Kerri finally called me out. Tri bikes don't make the best off-road bikes, I really thought I was going to bite it once or twice.

So, last big weekend of workouts complete. Taper has begun. It's time to make time for more sleep, eat healthy, drink lots of water with Nuun tablets. Write up lists for packing, think about race strategy. Dream about the perfect race. And plan out a strategy for the post-race food binge.

06 July 2011

Tennessee: Home of Friendly People. And Giant Farm Equipment.

Best friends and a baby

This past weekend, Mark and I ventured into the South for the 4th of July. My best friend Erin, her husband Ashley and daughter Reagan live about 45 minutes west of Nashville, right on the border of Kentucky. A long drive, but totally worth it. It was a truly great weekend.
Are we there yet?

A rundown of what I did:
Biked 80 miles and saw more tractors than cars (more on that later). Took a nap. Ate the best popsicle in the world (mint chocolate chip). Went to a U2 concert. Had dinner and a girl's night out with my best friend. Set off pyrotechnics. Lit a sparkler. Slept. Ran 19 miles in ridiculous humidity. Swam in an outdoor lap pool. Baked cookies. Ate cupcakes (of the homemade AND of the Georgetown variety). Played in a sprinkler. Watched the Tour de France. Ate cinnamon toast crunch cereal and ENJOYED it. Drank sangria (OK, only half a glass, but it was something!). Read 5 books with my goddaughter. Didn't turn on my computer or check e-mail or facebook once. Got chased by a dogs on three separate occasions on my bike.

My 80 mile ride on Saturday morning was bliss. I managed to get out the door by 6am (!!??!!) and was done before 10:30am. I watched the sun rise over the cornfields of Kentucky and had the roads completely to myself for long stretches of time. It was a bike rider's dream (strangely, however, I didn't see a single recreational rider out there besides myself). Barely any cars, sunny weather, quiet roads, and beautiful scenery. I did, however, almost get run over by a tractor on steroids. It looked like something straight out of Transformers. As I was biking down this stretch of quiet road, I heard a rumbling behind me, looked back and saw a tractor that spanned the width of the road lumbering right at me. Fortunately, there was plenty of space by the cornfield to pull over, which I did immediately. And that was my excitement for the ride.

Saturday night = U2 concert. Erin and I went out to a fancy-shmancy dinner of tapas, just the two of us (the boys were in charge of the baby and took her out to buy booze and fireworks - awesome). The Vanderbilt stadium only held about 43,000 so every seat was a good seat and it was an amazing show. All the songs I wanted to hear were played and I can now check this off my bucket list.
The mothership has landed.
Sunday was all about recovery. Recovery from a long bike ride. Recovery from a late night out. Recovery from too many sweets.
This is what I want to do every time I am within a 10ft radius of a red velvet cupcake.

No, scratch that last part. Sunday was all about the sweets. Erin and I went on a baking rampage and filled the kitchen with cupcakes, frosting, cookies, and almond-coconut-pecan balls. July 4th weekend was my last hurrah with recreational sugar before attempting to give it up until after Ironman Lake Placid. You know what's going to get my through those last difficult miles of IMLP? The magnum bars, with a side of oreo balls and brownies, that will be waiting for me at the finish. Maybe I can even finagle some Cadbury Mini Eggs out of thin air to add to my feast. So what if Easter was three months ago - there have to be Mini Eggs somewhere!
Anyway, what better way to recover than with a swim? A swim in an outdoor 50yd pool. A swim in an outdoor 50yd pool that isn't crowded. And I did just that on Sunday. I have the sunburn on my back to prove it.

Monday was my long run. I wouldn't say I was dreading this run all weekend, but it was hanging over my head all weekend, getting in the way of important things like alcohol consumption, cupcake and cookie eating (who am I kidding, nothing gets in the way of cupcakes and cookies). Thanks to Miles, I got up with the sun. I ended up doing the majority of the run on quiet neighborhood streets. Everyone was so friendly - people in their yards would smile and wave at me. People in their cars would wave at me. It made the run so pleasant - why don't more people smile and wave up here in DC? 19 miles later, I rolled back up to the house, looking like I had jumped in a sweaty pool of water. Ick. Last long Ironman run in the bank. My weekends (except for that one on July 24th) have suddenly gotten easier and emptier. Strange. But I am definitely OK with it right now.

I've always gone out to watch the fireworks shows in the past. But in Tennessee, you can buy fireworks and make your own show. So that's what we did. And now I have a better understanding of how people can hurt themselves setting off pyrotechnics (we didn't have any major mishaps, just a few minor ones). Between the 4 of us, we have 25+ years of higher education. But apparently that means nothing when setting off fireworks. We managed to hit the house with one. And then had another explode in the yard. Oops. Nobody was hurt and it did make for a good story.
After the second mishap, we decided to hide behind the car

Seriously guys, stop blowing stuff up.
And that was the weekend in a nutshell. Here are a few of my favorite pictures we managed to take of Reagan. I saw her back in March and she is a different baby 4 months later, but still super cute and very sweet. On my last night, I gave her a bottle and put her to bed. The little stinker already knows how to play me like a harp and managed to get me to read five books to her before going to bed! Being smart and cute is quite the irresistible combination :)

Cute Reagan

She looks like trouble. Fun trouble :)

Wouldn't you read 5 books if those eyes were staring at you?