Monday, August 11, 2014

The long road to ironman

So yeah, I kind of wrote a handful of posts, threw out a huge "signed up for ironman!!" announcement and then went off the grid. Life got crazy. From IM weekend, til now, it felt like there was barely a weekend free.

Quick life recap: 4th of July fun, Missoula half marathon/getaway with mom-friend Alyssa, Seattle weekend with my ironman and kidlet (amazing and much needed), then we moved our whole life a whopping 30-40 minutes from where we lived, but to a whole new community (freaking awesome new location!!), one weekend of downtime, and then my first sprint tri in 2 years! Does that sum it all up? I should recap some of the fun that happened in those weekends, but I probably won't. So let's just start with the tri!

After I registered for IMCDA, I figured it might be smart to get in a little refresher before the summer ends, and more importantly, get my face into the open water at least once before next May! My favorite sprint fell on the weekend I was moving. The first time I did it was the day after I moved into my old house... so it wasn't unrealistic really, but not ideal. The ironman raced it, so I was still up at the crack of dawn after moving day to go cheer! God bless quad shot espressos. Just sayin. But when my friend Alyssa decided impulsively to sign up for the CDA scenic sprint, it didn't take much to talk me into it. The CDA Scenic Challenge has previously been only an olympic distance and boasts a challenging-hence the name-bike course. I  lack a lot of confidence, not to mention fitness, on the bike, so the olympic wasn't up my alley. However, a sprint? I could get on board for that. It still contained some decent hills. In fact, it was essentially the run course from the CDA 1/2 marathon I ran in May. I have an irrational fear that even in my granny gear, I will lose all momentum on a climb, roll backward, crash and die. But, I bit the bullet and signed up. The ironman decided to race the olympic, and he signed kidlet up for the kid's tri (his first)!!

My training prior to the race included a good amount of running, since I'm training for the Portland Marathon. I put in approximately 3 swims, but none since early July. I also got in 3 rides in 2 weeks after a lovely teammate gave me her old aero bars for my bike. So, with a whopping 3000 yds total swimming, and 48 miles on the bike (all flat) I was extremely anxious about how it would go. I set zero expectations. Well, I had a loose goal of 1:40 for my finish time, and the plan to make it as far through my race as possible before my boyfriend could catch me on course.

Race morning we were all up around 4:30. I didn't sleep much the night before... I would guess MAYBE 2 hours total due to a plethora of reasons. I was puffy eyed and congested when I woke up (well that sounds like I cried all night. I didn't. I was just exhausted). But, I popped in my headphones and turned on music trying to psych up for the race. Transition opened at 5:30, with the olympic race starting at 7:10 and my wave of the sprint was not until 8:05. For breakfast, I had a nutritional shake (generic brand ensure) and eventually a banana. We got all the adult bikes (our friend JJ was also racing the sprint) and kidlet's into the truck and headed out around 5:30. I love triathlon. There's so much morning prep involved, but it's just more fun to prepare for in the morning than a straight road race.
Alyssa and I battling our nerves! 
We met Alyssa and her mom at the parking lot where she was waiting with coffee I asked her to pick up. Bless this woman. We got our gear, pumped tires and headed in to be marked and set up our transitions. I set up next to Alyssa, and we chatted out our nerves and I made several trips to the porta-potties due to a really sketch stomach. We eventually cleared out of transition, and headed toward the water. The lake was choppy, and my nerves were increasing. This race was 1/100,000th of the IMCDA distance I will face next year, and staring out over the same venue was wake up call. The ironman warmed up and then after a quick good luck kiss he hit the water for his race and I wriggled into my borrowed wetsuit for the first time in years. Note to self: new wetsuit. I obsessively body glided my neck and we watched the lead olympic racers come out of the water. Once the ironman was out, we headed down to the beach to warm up. Alyssa wasn't getting in beforehand, so JJ and I got into the water. It was warm as bathwater. I waded out and started to swim and was immediately surprised by the comfort level. I didn't have any panic about being in open water and despite the waves smacking me in the face each breath, I felt immediately better about the odds of completing the swim. It sounds silly but it was truly a concern for me.

Gotta love mom photography. Ready to swim!

The race swim is 500 yds, clockwise in a triangle. When our wave was up, nobody was really moving forward so I found myself in the front row of the swimmers as we waited. I am not a fast swimmer, but I stayed put and told myself to just go for it! As the start sounded, I ran in like I knew exactly what I was up to and as soon as the others began to swim, I followed suit. I took off fast-for me, and my breathing was immediately ragged. I breathed to the right every stroke (in the pool, I can breathe bilaterally, but to stay calm in open water, I tend to breathe every time to the right, until I calm down) and didn't feel any sense of panic! This was new!! People passed me, but I wasn't feeling jostled, or like I was being dropped. I sighted a few times and green caps were plentiful ahead of me, but I was holding my own and even attempted to 'stay on feet' although I really have no idea how. Once I realized we were turning to the shore, I eagerly picked up my pace. I'm sure my swim was akin to a drunken crab, and will require a lot of work, but I made it out of the water feeling really pleased and calm. I got goggles off, unzipped the wetsuit, pulled it down to my waist on my way through the run to transition and cap off. Every step was smooth which shocked me. I expected to wrestle the suit, slip and fall in the grass, any number of unfortunate outcomes. But I made it to my bike feeling like I had my wits about me!
Thanks to Alyssa's mom for this pic. Swim exit is not flattering is it?

Time: 10:35

T1: 1:39

I got the rest of the suit off my feet without much difficulty, and without having to sit! I got my shoes on and strapped, helmet on and clipped, shoved a packet of Honey Stinger chews (cherry blossom) into my top and grabbed Baby off the rack! I trotted cautiously to the mount line and came to a complete stop to shakily mount and take off!

Heading out with Baby - photo and apparently editing done by kidlet?!

The course was 13 miles (or 14.53 per Garmin but I'm not complaining!) out and back. The course rides through downtown CDA and then out along the lake. It's gorgeous. I told myself to sit up for at least a mile until my breathing regulated. I also waited about that long before drinking a little. I had one bottle of Osmo on my bike (this stuff is amazing, and I'm loving it so far in my testing for nutrition). In my past (also wildly undertrained) races, I am passed by everyone on the bike. Everyone. Oh, kids with training wheels? They fly by me. So I was surprised to find myself passing cyclists as we wove out of town. Once we were out, on the first gradual uphill I stayed in aero and continued to reel in athletes, just waiting for the athletes behind me to fly by. After we pass the back side of the resort, it is a subtle downhill and then a flat stretch to Bennett Bay Hill. I just peddled what felt like a good cadence, drank every 2 miles or so, ate a few chews here and there and never stopped smiling! I was having a BLAST! As we came around the bend to the hill I'd been fearing I lowered my gears and sat up and told myself to just stay steady. I passed a few cyclists up the hill and felt pretty good. I was moving well for me. I never once looked at the speed on my watch so I just rode on effort. Once we reached the top, I worked up the nerve to get into aero and 'fly' down the backside!! Again, more smiling. We cruised down, turned around in the parking lot at Higgins point and began the ride back. It is a longer more gradual return up the hill, and a steeper descent. I continued feeling strong, chasing athletes, and smiling my ass off. We flew down Bennett Bay which is a little rough and I hit a few bumps that scared me but I just held on and rode it out. We followed the road back into town, and while I was excited to run, I didn't really want the ride to end. We merged with the olympic distance athletes coming off their extended loop and I did some quick math at that point figuring out where my ironman might be on the course. Per my math, he was about to the run, which I think was correct, or at least close. We cruised back into town and I was still riding strong and loving life. As I passed a volunteer through town I got a discrete "chick them!" as I went by. I did. If it sounds braggy that's not the point. I am not sure in the history of cycling I have ever passed other riders, and not had every racer fly by me as if I am walking my bike. So to ride strong, and handle the hills I had feared much better than expected filled me with excitement and joy! I chatted with or cheered for other athletes the whole ride, and thanked as many volunteers as I could on course. I came around the last corner to transition, hollered at my mom and dismounted my bike.

Time: 46:43/19mph per Garmin

T2: 1:05

I quickly racked Baby, got out of my shoes and into my beyond old Brooks ST-5 racers. My beloved orange and blue pair were retired after last fall's marathon, but as they are my only shoes with speed laces, I pulled them out for a 5k. I also tossed on my bright yellow Montana moose trucker hat that I picked up coming home from Missoula so that I would stand out. I clipped on my number belt, tucked in my tank and headed off. I came out of transition confused, and headed out the 'swim in' path. I was quickly corrected, but those couple seconds would haunt me later.

Best. Kit. Ever. Looooove Coeur. And a great final race to retire my Brooks for real.

The run was a 5k out and back through City Park, along the "dike road" toward Riverstone and back. The 10k also went that way, so it was impossible to know who I was chasing and who I wasn't. My breathing was obnoxiously labored while I adjusted to the run. Again I didn't check my watch and just tried to move. I checked when each split beeped off but that was it. First mile was 7:14 and just after that I passed a woman with 30 on her calf and tried to stay ahead of her. We ran past the sewage plant and I willed myself not to gag. At the turnaround, I told the volunteer "God bless you!" in relief and headed back. I was behind two 16 year old girls. One immediately took off, and the other stayed just ahead of me for the rest of the next mile. Mile 2 clocked in at 7:18 and by now, my quads were screaming! The hilly (to me) ride had gotten to me, and that spot right above my knees in my quad muscles?! Holy cow it was knotting and I was worried I might eat it. Just before the park I passed the 16 year old, but once we reached the park, and less than a quarter mile to go, she passed me back and began her kick. I said good job as she passed, but I was worried about my legs. Mile 3 was 7:27, and I finally found the next gear and trusted my legs wouldn't seize up and leave me face-planting so I kicked too. I didn't catch the youngun ahead of me, but I ran in strong to the finish! Final .16 was 6:24 pace, thanks for playing nice, legs!

Run: 23:02

In the end, I finished in 1:23.03 which blew all of my expectations out of the water. If I hadn't taken that minor detour out the wrong path, I might have pulled off a sub-23 run, which was the only thing in the run I could even complain about. Or maybe if I had just trusted my legs a little more in the last mile. It's hard to compare any sprint races due to varying distances in each discipline, but this was a 5k PR for my triathlon racing by over a minute.

The icing on the cake was finding out I was 4th woman overall, and had won my age group! What?? I was beyond giddy (...but what if I hadn't let that 16 year old outkick me. Nope, no what ifs. I ran my day).
Huckleberry ale and a first place medal. Things I don't normally have! 

Anyone who knows me knows I finish most run races complaining or disappointed in something. I was ALL smiles after this race, and couldn't stop saying how awesome it was and how much fun I had. That's my standard reaction after every triathlon I've ever participated in, which is a big indicator to me that I am heading in the right direction with switching my focus to triathlon a little more. I love it so much! I was so stoked that the entire day felt so smooth. I was worried about so many little things that could go wrong, and considering how unprepared I was for this, I felt like it was the best possible day I could have had. I had run a solid amount of faster than usual miles in the week before and yet my legs came to play. The bike especially surprised the hell out of me. I felt like I was in my element, which is something I never feel in a triathlon bike leg.

The rest: I raced in the Coeur chevron kit which was love at first wear (NO ANGRY KITTY! Those shorts are the best thing that I've ever worn on the bike and run ever). The top rode up on me, due to my 'narrow' waist and hips that don't lie. But after I reached out with sizing questions, Coeur and Kebby responded with so much enthusiasm and friendliness to help me get the right fit to avoid the ride up! The moose hat was the size of a bucket, sure, but I loved it.

Then I got to see ironman finish his race, and we ate some free BBQ, had our post race free brews, and then watched kidlet race. This was the cutest thing I've ever seen, and I think he smiled as hard as I did all day. He was hooked immediately, and watching my ironman, and our friend JJ and my mom cheer Ben on was one of those things that just melts your insides into sappy pieces of sunshine. It was an amazing day.
Moose on the loose and her triathlete dudes. 

Cannot wait to begin my Ironman journey now that I have reminded myself just how much I love triathlon!!

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