31 October 2011

Born in the USA

And THANKFUL for it! I love traveling for two reasons - seeing new places and gaining a new (or renewed) appreciation for everything that I have at home. Visiting Burkina was great for both of those reasons. I have so much I want to write about that trip and pictures that I'd like to post, but I'm too tired to do it justice at the moment. I have workouts waiting for me in Training Peaks, which means I should find my running shoes and see what it feels like to ride a bike again. I also almost forgot my Training Peaks login this morning. Awesome. I feel like a very out-of-practice triathlete at the moment. But I'm totally OK with it. I've rested and relaxed over the past three weeks, and I'm not going to rush the off-season. I cheered at the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday and didn't feel a twinge of envy of the runners doing the race. 2011 was a long, busy season and if I want 2012 to be a success, I can't push myself back into heavy, regimented training until I am truly ready. And I can tell that I'm just not ready. Light exercise - yes. Swap my workouts around if I feel like it - yes. Eat Halloween candy - yes. 15 hour workout weeks - no. 4 hour bike rides - no. 5am swim practice - no. And that's where I stand!

14 October 2011

10th Grade French class

I've known my co-worker Rachel for 15 years now - we both went to high school together in NH before moving down to DC post-college. Two years ago, she helped me land an interview, and subsequently a job, at our current company. Rachel and I met in French class my sophomore year. I don't know if any of you ever took language classes during high school, but if you did, surely in the recesses of your mind you can recall the dialogues the language books would use at the beginning of each chapter to introduce upcoming concepts. There was one dialogue that both Rachel and I recall being particularly memorable. Memorable enough that we still remember it to today.
"Ou est le guerisseur?" (where is the local healer)
"Il est dans la brousse." (he is in the bushlands)

Etc, etc, etc. It was introducing a chapter on French-speaking West Africa, a completely foreign concept to us New Englanders (especially to me who didn't even own a passport at the time). HAHA, when would we ever need this vocabulary?!?

Well, as Rachel informed me this morning - I might actually get to use some of the vocab from that dialogue on my trip to Burkina. Hopefully I won't need to ask where the local healer is, but if I'm in a pickle, at least I'll know how! That high school French lesson was good for something!

11 October 2011

Waterman's Half Ironman - last one of the season!

At the beginning of the year, I was looking for ways to stretch my season out as long as possible. Triathlon in November? Sign me up! But then my schedule changed a bit and some scheduling conflicts appeared and instead my season was going to end the second weekend in October (and no, not at a race on some tropical island - I'm saving that race for when I'm 80 and the rest of my competition is in a nursing home). I figured I'd be disappointed ending my season early, but by the time October came around, I was ready to be done. Truthfully, I've not been 100% plugged in since Lake Placid. I've enjoyed all the races I've done since then, and PR'd on each one, but there was a lack of focus on my part during the training and I think it showed, despite the PRs. I chose not to resist the sweet nothings being whispered by the ice cream in the freezer or by the chocolate bars at the store down the street. I also made this a few too many times:
Ultimate-Chocolate-Chip-Cookie-n-Oreo-Fudge-Brownie-Bar-11

It's an atomic calorie bomb.

I didn't get enough sleep and didn't make training the priority it should've been. I stopped reading the mental focus books that had been such a big part of my early season. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was burnt out - I was still having fun. But other things were worming their way up on my priority list and I simply let it occur. This is something I want to work on for next year.

So, after that little intro, ready for the race report? Watermans was a small half ironman taking place up in Marbury, MD, less than an hour from DC. This also happens to have been the site of my very first road triathlon back in 2007. That one was a sprint and I distinctly remember during the run thinking that anyone who did more than a sprint was crazy. Race day dawned perfect - sun, coolish temperatures (I think it only got into the high 70s) no humidity and very little wind. The great thing about this race was how small it was (3 swim waves!), the no-frills attitude (got my packet picked up, body marked, and transition set up in about 10 minutes flat), and the 8am start :)

I wanted top-5 overall. It was a small race so I figured that maybe I had a shot. I'd read that the water temperature was 64 so I pulled out the long-sleeve wetsuit (I think I was still traumatized from the temperature at Galway 70.3). Turns out that 64 was way warmer than whatever it was in Galway and I could've totally gone with the sleeveless. At least the full wetsuit kept the fields of seaweed from touching my skin - ewww. The wave, even though it was all women racers, was small. Just the way I like it. After the gun went off, it didn't take long to find clear water and be on my way on the two loop swim. Almost immediately my arms felt fatigued. Was the full wetsuit constricting? Was it general lack of swim fitness from missing too many AM swim sessions? Who knows. By the second loop, I got into a rhythm and my arms were actually feeling better. Sighting was no problem and neither were crowds. Unfortunately, my swims are terribly predictable and I finished in almost the same exact time as the rest of my 70.3s this year. Maybe next year will be when I finally break through the elusive 35:00 barrier. I had no idea where I was in the pack of girls but I ran to T1 like I stole something.

The timing mats turned out to be broken in the transition area so there isn't a record of my only fast transition times this whole season. I got on the bike and started looking for the girls ahead of me. I found a few, but not before I was caught by the speeding bullet that is Kendra (who ended up winning the ENTIRE race - who, one year ago, had never clipped in on a bike or been to a swim practice - if that's not rockstar, I don't know what is). The bike course was hillier than I had expected, but it wasn't terrible. The roads were in decent condition and didn't have alot of traffic on them. All good things. I rode on my own quite a bit because competitors were so far apart from each other. Throughout the ride, I felt really decent. Kept to the usual nutrition plan of a Hammer gel every 15 minutes for the first two hours (then every 20 minutes for the last hour) and a sip of water every 10 and a Saltstick tab every 30. This has worked great in all my other races and Watermans was no exception. But partway through the ride, I don't know if I let my head get to me, or if I really was slogging through molasses, but I just felt slow. By the time I finished the ride, I was convinced this was my slowest ride since Quassy even though it shouldn't have been because it wasn't all that hilly. I never remember exactly what time my Garmin says when I start the bike, so I can never calculate the bike time while riding. It's probably for the best, since it usually keeps my head out of the game, but lately I've had myself convinced that I rode super, super slow and I get off the bike all pissy. Whatever.

As I rode back into the park towards T2, I only saw a handful of girls out running. This was heartening. Maybe I wasn't as far behind as I thought. I had another faster-than-usual transition time on my way out to the run. The run was hilly - comparable to basically every other half ironman run this season (except for Wildflower, that deserves its own category, and Galway which was pancake flat - but there were 30mph winds, I don't know which is worse). There is always the lofty goal of running a 7:xx pace in a half ironman run - a lofty goal that I've never achieved. Oddly enough, the closest I came was at Quassy which was RIDICULOUSLY hilly on the run. My watch also crapped out on my at Mile 2 on that run and beeped at me every 2 seconds and refused to show me my mile splits - I think I need to run without knowing my mile splits from now on and run purely on feel. I've come to believe that the body is capable of much more than what the mind allows it to do. But I'll measure progress in small increments. No stopping and no walking and be consistent. I took in a bit of a Hammer gel during the run and had water at every other aid station. On the first loop, I counted myself as 6 back when I got to the turnaround. As I made it around the turnaround, I saw two girls not far behind me and both were looking strong. I had a talk with myself and kicked it up a notch - I didn't want to finish the race having any regrets. Mentally, I felt like I was in a good place throughout the run. No I wasn't getting the splits I wanted, but it could've been worse, and at least I was hitting around the same times each mile, with a few exceptions. As I approached the turnaround, with about 3 miles to go, I passed one of the women in front of me - putting me in 5h place. One of the girls that was behind me was slowly gaining so I just put my head down and ran. With the exception of a little nausea and dry-heaving action 1/2 a mile from the finish, the rest of the run was uneventful and I held off the girl behind me. I finished 5th overall and 2nd in my age group, with a shiny new 5:23 PR time. I'll take it.

This was a great race to end my season on. A few days after the race, I was looking back at some of my old race times and it hit me just how far I've come. The time for my first half ironman was a lovely 6:16 or something like that. I was on my bike for almost 3.5 hours and thought I was going to die on the run. I seriously considered getting a refund on the full iron-distance race I was already signed up for and proceeded to tell everyone and their mother "I'm done with this crap" for the rest of the afternoon after the race. Breaking 6:00 seemed unfathomable and I figured people who got times like 5:25 were Kona material. I never in a million years thought that I'd be getting times like the ones I got this season. And the best part - I feel like I can do even better. I think it's an absolute possibility that I'll shock myself next year and manage to go even faster. Part of this is the physical training, but part of it is mental. Not only believing in what one is capable of, but learning how to shut one's mind off so the body can do what it was trained to do. I still have alot to learn, but that's what makes every race fresh, new, and fun. That's why we keep coming back, right? You don't know the limit to your potential and every race is way to find out what you're capable of. Alot of this realization has been thanks to my awesome coach Jen who has given me not only great workouts, but lots of stuff to think about in terms of the mental aspect of the sport.

The race was also a perfect way to catch up with old and new friends from Team Z and elsewhere. I think I scared poor Katie by ambushing her outside the chip pickup tent ("You're Katie - I read your blog, I LOVE your blog!"). Gina was wonderful enough to lend me a chip strap because I forgot mine again - my ankles thank you Gina! And Lauren executed a great race and is totally ready for Cozumel. It was so nice to see Dawn and Kendra and I'm looking forward to racing with them next year :)

And so the season is over. I've yet to buy a can of frosting, but I'm sure that'll happen soon enough. I'm off to Africa on Saturday for a two-week work trip to Burkina Faso! Do you know how long I've always wanted to write those words - "I'm off to Africa for work!" I think I've been dreaming about that since I was a little kid, traveling to places completely different than anything you'll find in the US. It opens your mind to other things that are out there, but also REALLY makes you appreciate what you have at home. Like electricity.

Sidenote - every time I try to tag my post with the label "triathlon", it automatically adds in the tag "Living like a feral cat." I need to find whatever posting I gave that tag to - I'm sure it's probably an interesting read (and, sadly, probably has to do with how I live when Mark is away on a business trip).

06 October 2011

70.3 Galway race report

I raced in boots and a scarf. It was that cold.

Not going to lie, this whole idea of turning 30 was a bit traumatizing. So, to prove to myself that I'm still young, I can still have fun, I'm still cool - I decided I needed to do something really special. And when I saw that Ireland was hosting an inaugural 70.3 the SAME DAY I was turning 30, well, that sealed the deal. Didn't hurt that we were also celebrating our 5 year wedding anniversary a few days later and would make an extended vacation out of it.

We arrived in Ireland on the morning of September 1st, so about 3 days before the race. Within hours, Mark was practically an expert at driving on the left. And navigating the Irish roads. We somehow managed to found our B&B with no help from the GPS and without getting lost ONCE. I was super impressed with the B&B - we were staying in Salthill and not only did we have a view of the ocean, but we could also see Transition from our bedroom window. Score! This proved to be especially great on race morning when it was freezing cold and windy and the last thing you felt like doing was getting to transition early.

The ocean - and Transition!

We shook out the travel cobwebs with a short run on Thursday afternoon, scoping out the transition area along the way, and trying to figure out the swim start and finish. I'm terrible with T1 and T2, and the fact that this transition area was super long and narrow probably wasn't going to help me much on race day. Thank goodness for jetlag - by the time 5pm rolled around, we were starving and tired. We strolled out to the Latin Quarter for an early dinner at the Kings Head Pub, and walked back to the B&B through the park along the water, previewing most of the run course along the way (I'm all about multi-tasking). And we were in bed, asleep before 8:30pm. I think I was 10 years old the last time I fell asleep that early :)

They like triathletes here!

The poor B&B owner, I think we may have slightly offended her by NEVER being around for breakfast. The first morning we overslept (I slept 12 hours - TWELVE HOURS!), the second morning we ran out to the beach for a swim, and the third morning was race day and they don't serve breakfast at 4:30am in most B&Bs. Friday was a stay-off-your-feet day. So we drove the bike course and simultaneously went sightseeing around Connemara (see-multi-tasking). The bike course was an out-and-back from Galway, out the N56 to Maam's Cross, and then back to Galway. It was during our drive along the bike course that it dawned on me "I have to bike on the left and pass on the right." Thank goodness the course was NOT technical and instead was very straightforward; otherwise I could see myself making a few mistakes. I also carried enough water with me so I wouldn't have to do bottle handoffs with my left hand. Connemara was beautiful, even though it poured almost the whole time. We (well, Mark) had a Guinness in an Irish pub in one of the towns along the way, we took some photos of a castle from afar (too cheap to pay the entrance fee), and that was about it. And we drove on the left most of the time. I don't have any photos of how narrow the roads were, but let's put it this way - there was no way I could even have my window open, because half of the shrubs alongside the road would've ended up in my lap.

Bikes! In the sky!

We went to packet pickup on Friday, before heading out to Connemara. They had the usual stalls selling stuff: IM gear, wetsuits, toy rifles - you know, why use your words to encourage racers to go faster when you can shoot them instead?

Saturday we met up with Angelina and Charisa at the practice swim. They had both already been in the water and said it actually wasn't all that bad. HAHAHAAAA, FUNNY! Well, at first, the water was bad. Like ice cream headache bad. And even though it looked calm from shore, there were some waves. But then I got into a rhythm and my head got used to the water, and it really wasn't all that bad. Nothing that I couldn't deal with on race day. After dropping off our gear bags and bikes, we had a long, 2+ hour lunch that afternoon at a local pasta place and then dinner at the pasta place next door to the first pasta place. I had a Magnum bar for good luck before heading back to the B&B for sleep. I didn't sleep all that great that night, but what can you do? I kept waking up and hearing the wind howling all around us - maybe the wind will die down race morning. Fat chance.

We love to race! We love to race! (we also like to match)

Race morning - woken up by wind, not the alarm clock. Lovely. It was also my 30th birthday. Even more lovely. Thankfully, I was more focused on the race than my gray hairs that morning. According to the locals, the remnants of Hurricane Irene were drifting by. Could things get any more lovely? We waited until the last possible second to head over the the race site. I put on every warm article of clothing I owned. Including my wetsuit. At least it wasn't raining - yet. The winds were ridiculous. And at first it was too dark to see the water, but when it became lighter, you could see the whitecaps and the boats getting jostled about. They made an announcement that they had pushed the race start to a little later and shortened the swim to 1000m. I was relieved they hadn't canceled the swim outright. No, it wasn't going to be fun to get soaking wet before biking in the 50 degree temperatures and wind, but I'd rather have that than a cancelled swim and a pretend triathlon. Angelina and I were in the second to last wave. It gave us lots of time to stare at the water and realize just how choppy it was. By the time it was our turn to make our way down to the water, there were girls in our wave who were in tears looking at the water.

Don't be fooled by this photo - it was REALLY choppy! Honest!

The gun went off and in we went! Within moments, it was obvious that this was NOT going to be a PR swim of any sort. I was only about 12 minutes faster than my usual 1.2 mile time. We had to fight the current on the way out, all while getting slapped in the face by waves if you sighted at the wrong moment. More chop and current after the first turn, but then with the second turn on the way back in, it sort of felt like flying. The whole swim felt like some sort of warped carnival ride. But, it wasn't as cold as I thought it would be - not a single ice cream headache! I passed a number of guys in the waves ahead of me, and when I got out of the water, I saw a few girls in front of and around me, so I was in the mix.

Bike on the left. Pass on the right. And don't fall.

I ran forever to get to the transition area. Then I tried to get armwarmers over my wet arms using hands that were blocks of ice. I didn't bother with sunglasses (it had started raining at this point), remembered my helmet and my race number belt, and then ran forever to get to my bike. I put my bike shoes on at some point too, don't remember when. Got on the bike and spent the first few miles reminding myself to stay on the left. I had no idea where I was in terms of my age group. There wasn't any body marking (booo), but I had sort of an idea of what race numbers were distributed to girls in my AG. I loved the first few miles of the bike course - - there wasn't any rain, I was passing people, and spectators were shouting things like "Brilliant job!" I made the left turn onto N56 and felt like I was flying - no idea what my mph were, but when the splits popped up every mile, I was pretty happy with them. We had been told that there would be a headwind going out and tailwind coming back in - so when I was seeing those splits, despite the "headwind," I figured I must've developed some crazy bike skills overnight; the alternative - that there was a tailwind - just wasn't an idea I was willing to entertain. Around mile 10 or so, it started to rain. And by mile 20, it was raining hard. Around the halfway point, I started to hit a low point where this suddenly wasn't all that fun anymore. I was wet and cold and the wind and rain were showing no signs of giving up. And I discovered that there WAS a headwind on the way back to town. But there was a bright side - I was doing OK in the girls race - I'd seen a few girls go flying back from the turnaround when I was a mile or two away from it - and the out-and-back really gave me a chance to see where I was and things were OK. And when we were about 6 miles from town, the clouds started clearing and the sun came out - amazing! We went from dreary, disgusting weather, to beautiful weather - just in time for the run!

Ohhh Emmm Geeee - the sun!

I saw Mark right when I headed out of T2 and he told me that he'd found carrot cake for my birthday (Carrot cake is my favorite birthday treat). If that isn't motivation to run fast, I don't know what is! The run course was three loops through Salthill and into town, with an extra 1000m tagged onto the last loop as you made your way to the finish line. The first 2.5 miles were zippy - all due to a tailwind. Which meant the last 1.5 mile of each loop was a bit more of a struggle - we were running straight into the wind through a park along the water - absolutely NO shelter from the wind. Again, the spectators and volunteers were awesome during this leg - lots of cheering and lots of Irish accents and lots of use of the word "brilliant." Can all races have cheering spectators from Ireland? I kept a relatively consistent pace on each loop, but it was never quite as fast as I had hoped. But I had no GI issues and I didn't spend any time during the race dreaming of food or water or fruit smoothies - this is always a sure sign that I nailed my nutrition. The last 1000m were a struggle - lots of headwind and general lack of desire to still be running. I was beyond thrilled to see the finish line.

First loop - feeling good.

In the end, I don't really count this race as a PR because it wasn't a true 70.3 with the swim being shortened. But this was DEFINITELY the worst weather I have ever raced in. However, it also had one of the best post-race buffets. Hot stew anyone? Back at the B&B after the race, I gorged on my carrot cake and put on layers of warm clothes. We headed over to the host hotel under the guise of checking the results since they weren't posted online. My visit also coincided with the 70.3 Championships rolldown. I told myself that if I came in the top 10 in my AG, I would stick around for the rolldown. I came in 8th. Stuck around for the rolldown. AND GOT A SLOT (and not even the last slot!).

Vegas. 2012. 70.3. Be there or be square.

This was an awesome race and I would do it again - even without making Mother Nature sign a contract guaranteeing better weather. Angelina and Charisa did great - and Charisa got 3rd overall - rockstar! I loved having the chance to catch up with Angelina - she is one of the nicest people ever. I am hoping we will both be at Jen's tri camp again next March. Mark was a trooper for cheering in the terrible weather AND for finding me carrot cake for my birthday.

And while I'm still getting over the shock of turning 30 (humor me, one of these days I will stop talking about 30), if my birthday was any indication, it's going to be a great year.