Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Austin Ironman 70.3 Recap

Race-day morning came, and I hopped out of bed to take a shower. I thought this would wake me up and make me feel relaxed and ready to face the day. I couldn’t believe this day was finally here! After obsessively checking my bag about fifteen thousand times, we were off to the race site. I checked my T2 bag, and then we took the shuttle bus to the race start. When we got there, I headed into T1 to check my bag, put my nutrition and water bottles on my bike, and borrowed a pump from the girl 2 spots down from me to fill my tires. She and I chatted for a little bit- and it was nice to talk to another 70.3 newbie. 
Bikes racked before the race
I left transition and hit the port-a-potty before eating my bagel. Soon after, Mo found us and we all sat on the grass watching the crowd of people getting things in order. We saw the pros arrive with their fancy bikes and helmets. Alicia and John found us soon after, and we took a pre race picture before heading down to the swim start. 
Pre-race shot
The sun was finally up, and the race was about to start. While watching the pros go off, I took another trip to the restroom before heading over to my wave.  I was really really nervous at this point. I was on the verge of tears. I think part of that was the excitement of “holy cow after this race I will have completed a half ironman” and part of it was me just being terrified – after all, the last swim start I had didn’t go so well. And, the buoys looked really far out there. I mean, 1.2 miles is a long way! I got my swim cap and goggles on, said goodbye to Mat and lined up. I had to pee again, so I went in the water and then dunked my body and my head in to get a feel for the temperature. It felt great, and I was so thankful that it was wetsuit legal. After the gun went off, I hung back for a couple of seconds and got mentally ready. Ok, I thought. This is it!

I started swimming and felt great. No panic, no nerves. I decided to sight every 5 strokes, so I kept an eagle eye out for the buoys. 1.2 miles was long enough, no need to drift too far away! I quickly caught up to the pack that I let go ahead of me, and was swimming in a pretty tight group of people. I accidentally hit the legs of girls in front of me, while those behind me did the same to me. I hadn’t ever been in such a tight group before in a race, but I just kept my cool and kept going. Count 5 strokes, look for buoy, adjust course. I didn’t ever get ridiculously far away but I did have to alter my direction back a lot of the time. I watched the bubbles of the swimmers in front of me and wished I knew how to draft without hitting them. Eventually I made it to the first turn, which felt like a long way. Shortly after this, the swarms of the men from the next wave started catching up. This was probably one of the most unpleasant parts of the swim- they showed no mercy as they plowed through the water, and one knocked me such that I got water in my mouth and swallowed funny, causing me to have to clear my throat a bit as I swam. But, it didn’t stop me, and I eventually reached the final turn. This portion of the swim seemed a little rougher. I’m not sure if it was the company of later waves or the police boat motor causing some current in the water. Many times when I looked up I was quite far out and had to swim diagonally to get back to the buoy line. I finally got to a point where I saw the last few buoys, and got really excited. When I reached the land, I glanced at my watch, and saw that I had been going for approximately 44 min. My goal had been 45, so I know I had beaten it, and I was just feeling great. As I ran up the sand towards the transition, I kept my eyes peeled for Mat, and he took a picture of me smiling, knowing that I didn’t flail and had a great swim! (Time: 44:04)
so happy to be back on land!
I made my way to the wetsuit peelers who instructed me to get on the ground and they pulled my wetsuit off from there. I headed into transition to get myself ready for the bike. The transition area was a ‘clean’ transition, meaning everything had to remain in a bag at all times- nothing could be strewn about. The crew would come grab all the bags while we were out on the bike course and deposit everything back at the expo center near the finish line. I dumped out the content of my bag, put my helmet and socks and shoes on, put my swim gear back into the bag, and took off. When I entered the ‘mount’ area, I had trouble clipping in (embarrassing!) but eventually got it, and took off! 
heading out of transition
They had very strict drafting rules, which kind of made me nervous. You had to leave 4-5 bike lengths between you and anyone else, which is kind of a long distance. Especially at the beginning, but really all throughout the course, I found myself catching up to slower bikers, who I didn’t always WANT to pass, but for fear of drafting, I felt like I just had to gun it and get past them. It became tricky when the super fast people were trying to pass me, so it was kind of a logistical challenge of trying to pass and be passed without causing any trouble. Overall, though, looking back, I think this fear I had of getting caught drafting made me push harder, because if I ever got close enough that I thought I could possibly get into trouble, I’d just push ahead and pass them instead of slowing down.

Right around mile 5 or 6, I think, was the first larger hill, and I was trying to drop into my front little ring, but it got stuck. I couldn’t finish shifting, and I couldn’t really pedal, so I had no choice but to stop and walk my bike up the hill. I felt a little silly, considering we had barely begun the course, and a handful of people I had just passed passed me back while I was dealing with this situation. At the top of the hill, I got off the bike and fiddled around with the pedals and gears until it switched, and hoped this wasn’t going to be a problem. I hopped back on and tried to catch up and re pass all of the people who got ahead of me. I caught up to most of them, I think, and for the rest of the race I had no gear shifting issues at all. For a little while there were a few girls in my age group that I was alternating passing and being passed by, but at some point they never passed me back. I felt great for the first 25 or so miles- I was having a blast out on the open roads, passing people from time to time and watching the super fast folks with their expensive bikes and aero helmets pass me.  As I passed by women in their 40s and 50s (we had our ages on our calves), I was in awe. I hope I can do events like this when I am that age!

I had my Garmin with me, mostly so I could remember to eat and drink, and partly because I thought it would be cool to get some stats from the race. I looked roughly every 10 miles to see what time it was. In general, I have a well known fear of taking my hands off the handlebars to grab water, but on this super hot course I made certain to be eating and drinking as often as I could. I tried to eat a granola bar square (that I had pre cut the night before and stowed in my bike bento box) every 5 miles, and drink whenever I had the opportunity (ie flat grounds, not too crowded with people, or if I felt thirsty at all). I had ended up going through almost all of one water bottle (which admittedly isn’t a lot in general, but a great accomplishment for me!) by the 3rd aid station, so I stopped there for a bathroom break and to switch my two bottles. I hopped back on my bike and continued forward.

Around mile 45 I started to be really wishing I was done. The course had gotten very windy around mile 30 and it wasn’t letting up, which meant it was even more work to plow ahead. There were a few substantial hills, and while they were nothing like the MA hills I have been training on, they still were rough, especially in the wind. I started to get very uncomfortable- there was pain in my shoulders, in my lower back, and on my sit bones. As I heard someone say later in the run, there was just no position in the saddle that was at all comfortable. I tried wiggling around, adjusting where I was sitting, rolling my shoulders, and stretching my back, but it was to no avail. The last 6 miles, particularly, were quite miserable, and more than anything I couldn’t wait to get off the bike. If I ever do another of these, I need to get a cushier bike seat for sure! When I finally rounded the bend up to the bike dismount, I saw Mat snap a picture and I happily got off of my bike and headed to my rack. (Time: 3:20:01)

Bike dismount
By now it was super hot, and I grabbed more water, my package of shot blocks, traded my bike shoes for my sneakers, and headed out. I took my time in this transition because I was already so exhausted (and even on the bike was wondering how the heck I was going to finish a half marathon!). I headed out on the run and grabbed a wet sponge to cool myself off and started the first of three loops.

Starting the run
The sun was beating down, and I was already exhausted, so I made the goal of running the whole first loop, and then letting myself take walking breaks after that. At the first aid station, there was a misting tent, which was just so awesome. I stopped to grab water, took a few sips, then splashed the rest over my head. I continued on and saw my first mile clock in at 8:35. Crap. I knew that was way too fast, even in perfect conditions, for this run. I tried to slow down and I think the 2nd mile was something like 9:12. I continued on jogging along and then all of a sudden just got too hot and too tired and walked up a small hill. Crap again, I didn’t even make my goal of running the first lap. People around me were walking too. I started running again and made myself little goals- run to the aid station, run to that port-a-potty, run to that pole. As I made my way back up to the expo for the first time, I saw Amy, walking in the other direction. We cheered for each other as we plowed along. A little further along, I saw Mo, and cheered for her as well. Seeing people along the course really helps keep you motivated! As I was nearing the end of the first lap, I saw Mat, and told him, I’m dying here. It was a really hard 1st lap and I had 2 more to go! By this time I was slowly watching my mile splits decrease as I did the marathon shuffle and walked when I had to. I made the goal of running each downhill and allowing myself to walk portions of the uphill. I was discouraged about how much I was walking – I’m a runner for heaven’s sake! But when I considered that I would rather finish the race walking than pass out running, I did what my body was asking me to do. When you start getting chills in 90 degree weather, it’s ok to take it easy. I walked through every aid station, drinking water and dumping the rest on my head. When I finished the 2nd lap, I was starving, and the shot blocks weren’t cutting it, so I grabbed a half a banana from the aid station. They also had cookies and pretzels, but I wasn’t sure how my body would react to more substantial food on the run, so I passed those by figuring I’d be done soon enough. I kept loading up on water- ice water has never tasted as good as it did on that run!

During that last loop, the only thing that kept me going was that it was the last one. I ran the downhills, bribed myself to run portions of the uphills, and just kept plugging forward to the best of my ability. At this point, it seemed like almost everyone was adopting the same run down-walk up philosophy. It was really miserable out there. The one benefit to the 3 loops, however, is you know when the hills are coming. When I hit mile 11, I told myself  “2 more miles, you can do this." I didn’t care at all about my time as my splits got longer and longer. After the mile 12 marker, it was the last stretch. I told myself to run to the red tent, then walk the rest of the way up the last hill, and then I would run the entire way to the end of the course. I rounded the corner and headed into the expo center towards the finish line. I removed my sunglasses, and sprinted (as fast as I could at this point) to the finish line with a huge smile on my face. I crossed the finish line- I am a half ironman! (Run time: 2:13:27).
I stopped my run time on my stop watch and garmin, let the volunteers grab my timing chip and give me my medal and water, and hobbled over towards the end of the chute where I found Mat. I did it! My total time was 6:26:35- I came in under the 6:30 mark, which was my goal! I couldn’t be happier!
At this point, I was also famished so I went over to the food area and got a veggie burger, some snacks, a cold water and blue bell ice cream. We found Mo’s family and hung out with them waiting for her to finish. She was about one lap behind me (she was in a later wave) so we figured out approximately when she was coming. We went down to cheer her in and then hung out eating and relaxing for a little while basking in our half ironman glory!
Happy Half-Ironmen!
It was so great to achieve this goal with a handful of friends to cheer for on the course and Mat watching and cheering from the sidelines! I am so thankful for them, for Coach Alicia for getting me to this point to complete this race, and for all of my family and friends from afar who offered so much support and many well wishes on race weekend and throughout the training process! I couldn't have done it without all of them!  

Looking back on the race, I don’t really think there is much I could have done better (except maybe eating more) or any harder I could have pushed. There were moments in the run where I wasn’t sure I’d make it (or that I would have to walk the entire last few miles). I am so proud of myself for pushing through on race day and for all of the hard work and training that went into this. I know I gave it my best effort and truly left it all out there on the course. I couldn’t be happier with my overall performance. I am a half iron woman!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pre Race Recap

I decided this warranted 2 posts because the events leading up to the race had as much to discuss as the race itself!

The week leading up to the race consisted of light workouts and sorting out the remaining logistics. I practiced packing everything to make sure it would all fit into a small suitcase and backpack, and to ensure I didn’t forget important items like my wetsuit, helmet or bike shoes- things that would be possible, but annoying to replace.

Friday morning I woke up and headed out to the airport. I couldn’t believe that this weekend that had seemed so far away when we all signed up for the race almost a year ago was finally here. Many months of hard workouts had passed by quickly. I got to the airport very early in order to avoid traffic, and ended up getting onto an earlier flight so that I’d arrive in TX 2 hours earlier than planned. The flights were uneventful. I spent the entire time alternating between excited and nervous. It was finally here, I was going to be a half ironman. Did I train enough? Do I have enough food? Am I ready for this?

I arrived in Austin and met up with Mat whose flight had only gotten in a few minutes before. We got the rental car and headed to Mo’s hotel to get my bike and hang out. We caught up and talked about the recent goings on and about the upcoming race, before parting for dinner. Mat and I stopped at the Austin capitol to play some aerobie, and hit up a tex mex restaurant for dinner before heading to the hotel. 

 Saturday morning, Mo and Amy and I met up to do a pre race workout. We got our wetsuits on and I was all of a sudden terrified of the water. But, as we got our feet in and waded up to our waists, the water was warmer than expected, and our short swim was quite pleasant. I was renewed with a little more confidence about the swim portion of the race. We exited the water and hopped on our bikes for a quick easy ride, going down part of the course route and back before heading out for a very short run. Doing this little warm-up assuaged some of my nerves. We checked in at the expo and bought some “Austin 70.3” gear- I got a pint glass, a water bottle, and a shirt that had every participant’s name in the M-dot ironman shape. Then we headed back to shower and pack our transition bags before meeting for lunch at noon.

After a few navigational issues (thank you GPS and crazy Austin roads) we had a quick lunch at subway before heading back to the race site to drop off our bikes and T1 and T2 bags. The bike check-in was mandatory, and the bags optional, but it was really nice to have all of that dealt with the day before the race. While Amy and Mo took care of Amy’s bike emergency (she broke a screw in her stem) I set my stuff up and went to the course talk so I could report back on anything they missed. Of note was that for this particular race, snorkels were allowed. Really? I am sure I could swim a lot more efficiently if I didn’t have to think about breathing! Maybe next time…

After the course talk, we headed out to drive the bike route. They had talked about some rough patches on the road, so we scoped those out as well as the various hills. It seemed like there were a lot more uphills than downhills, especially when the first major downhill we saw ended with a sharp uphill right turn. Unfair! The course was nice though- through the farm land of the Austin area. We would be seeing many animals on our course- cows, chickens, dogs, goats. We arrived back at the expo center exhausted. The 56 mile drive had tired us out- what was going to happen when we biked it!

We then headed to the Olive Garden for a pasta dinner. While carbo-loading pre-race for best results is a well known myth, I still feel comfortable having pasta the night before a race. I know how my body will digest it, and I don’t have to worry about having an upset stomach at the start line. I was also reminded that the night before my very first triathlon we ate at an Olive Garden! (That also may have been the last time I ate at an Olive Garden!). We were all famished, so we devoured the salad and breadsticks and our meals. The group of us chatted about this race, past races, and other random things and in general had a lovely time.

We all stopped at Target on the way back to our hotels. We bought some bagels and almond butter (and knives) to share to make our pre-race fuel. Mo was working on stirring the almond butter and ended up dumping out most of the oil and butter, and we proceeded to prepare our sandwiches using Mo’s trunk as our counter space. By the time we had our food prepared, we were all covered in almond butter and I had to take two trips to the Target bathroom to wash my hands and grab paper towels to clean up the mess. This is what happens when you get exhausted triathletes together to prepare their pre-race fuel. And we hadn’t even started the race yet. Haha.

After the exciting parking lot adventure, we headed back to our respective hotels to prepare for the morning. I put out my race outfit and got my goggles, swim cap, timing chip and ankle band ready before hitting the hay as early as possible. My alarm was set for 4, which I knew would come quickly...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

1 week to go!

So, clearly half ironman training and full time work do not lend themselves to blogging regularly. I am kind of impressed at people who post multiple times a day ... maybe if i spent less time stalking other people (mostly strangers) blogs, I'd have more time to post. but alas, here's a 1 week out post for the Austin 70.3...

So, in the last month since I posted, I have been busy with plenty of work and workouts and even an injury. My left ankle/shin started to really hurt after the half marathon, and I laid low for a week or so before seeing a chiropractor who helped whip my ankle in shape by adjusting things in my upper right back. Weird. It seems a little voodoo (especially some of the wacky things he does) but it's working for now, and I am running pain free for the moment, so I'll take it.

Today I made a puddly mess at the gym doing a swim/bike/run 3x through workout. Some ladies started to clean up around the bike while I was on it, and I apologized profusely, saying it was my mess and I would be sure to clean it up when I was done. I told them I had just come from the pool, and explained what I was doing and why. They looked impressed and cleaned up the puddles. I felt silly doing this workout, actually, because I was going around the gym leaving a trace behind, so it actually felt good to explain it to some people!

My bike is en route to Austin. Unlike Mo who is bold enough to take apart and put together her bike herself, I don't trust my mechanical skills, and I am much more comfortable having someone else do the dirty work. So, hopefully it'll get there and put together in time for my arrival on Friday night.

Throughout the last few weeks, things have been up and down regarding the race, my nerves, my confidence, and my comfort. I did a sprint tri a few weeks ago as a sort of practice/remember how these triathlon things work race. I was all set to have a great swim and a reasonable bike (there was a mile long hill in the bike course that was freaking me out) and just lay low on the run, because this was before visiting the voodoo dr. I met up with some people from a local tri group (that I plan to become more active in after this race is over) and it was nice to have people to look for and cheer for on the course. For me, I knew this was practice, but for 2 of the girls- it was their very first tri- and they did the entirety of the race together. awwww. :) The race started out very rocky for me...I was all set to go when the gun went off, but I immediately started to panic in the water. Which made me panic even more, as thoughts such as "I've done this before, come on now" and "I have to do a half ironman in a month!!!" filled my mind, making it impossible for me to relax. Luckily, this was one of the SheRox races, with swim angels. The swim angel noticed me flailing, and asked if I was ok. I replied that I didn't think so, and verbalized my previous panicked thoughts. No worries, he said, you're just getting the kinks out now before the big race. I hoped he was right, though I was skeptical as I took hold of the noodle he offered to me. I watched the entire wave get far far away from me before I finally was able to buck up and get moving. I'm ready, I told him, and thanked him for relaxing me. I took off, swimming effortlessly. The panic of a few moments before disappeared, and I ended up catching up to the majority of my wave, and even some of the slower folks from previous waves. I got out of the water right in the middle (just in the upper half of my age group), and even now wonder how well I could have done if I had just not freaked out at the start! The rest of the race was fairly uneventful- I had a good bike and a strong run and finished with a sprint PR (Though the run was only 2.9 miles, so I don't know if that really counts). Looking back at this race, I am proud of my ability to get back into the game (with the help of the noodle to relax me) and finish strong. I sincerely hope that 'all the kinks are out' because I have worked too hard for the half ironman to not make it through the swim...there won't be noodles to hold onto in Austin!

The rest of the training went fairly well except for one workout. I guess I was pretty lucky in that for the most part, I have been able to complete my workouts and feel strong and confident- especially after some of the quite long bike/run bricks. The week before last, though, seemed to be some sort of peak- 12 hours total with several double workout days. I noted in my log that a few of the swims and runs felt extremely sluggish, and as I was completing my 2.5 hour bike ride that saturday, I just couldn't take it anymore. I almost cried several times. I had been trying out my camelback and a pair of race shorts, both of which were making various parts of my body extremely uncomfortable, and every time I saw another hill, I just got more and more frustrated (and the hills are a plenty out here!). I almost stopped early, but somehow convinced myself to keep going, and finished out the time. It was slow and painful, but I made it. But I felt so burned out and the idea of continuing on the next day for another workout made me miserable. I called Mat who told me, just forget about it- tomorrow's workout will feel great. Turns out, he was right, as the next day went much better, but I just didn't want to feel like I couldn't handle it again.

This week was a lot better. I talked to Mo who expressed similar burned out thoughts, which made me feel better. I got the logistics of the race sorted out (or at least as much as I can do from here) and got my bike on its way. I finished up the last 'big' week of workouts this morning, and I am excited for the lovely taper week to come. However, I am still going back and forth in my head about whether or not I am ready for this race. Some days, despite the training, the task still seems impossible. During last week's bike ride, I couldn't fathom another minute on the bike, let alone another hour followed by a long run. However, most days I am fully confident- I feel well trained, I barely missed a workout in the last 2 months, I had a couple of pretty strong races, and these distances seem totally reasonable. At this point, I am as trained as I am going to be, so I just have to think positive, put my trust in my coach, and remember all of the hard work I have put in.