Thursday, September 18, 2014

70.3 World Championships: race report

So I spent the week before this race in bed.  Once or perhaps twice I dragged myself to the gym, swam about two hundred yards and then said well that was a terrible idea and crawled back under the covers.  I rode my bike to make sure I could handle the deep wheels I had borrowed and I jogged with my running group but for the most part I tried to hunker down and let my body heal.  

Traveling was a reasonable amount of a pain in the ass, flights got screwed up and I ended up sitting in the back of my parents car alone with my bike box while the poet took a tour of the east coast instead of joining me on the flights he was actually booked to travel on (thanks, United).  We arrived in Mont Tremblant, I checked in by the skin of my teeth, built my bike, and then climbed into the soft squishy quiet hotel room bed and slept for over 13 hours.  
When I woke up Saturday morning I felt awful, the worst I had felt all week.  I hopped in the lake for about four minutes to check for lake zombies, did a ten minute spin to make sure my bike wasn't going to fall apart, checked all my shit into transition, paused briefly to climb the M-dot in the village and then took a four-hour nap.  Woke up long enough to register that I wasn't better, ate my pre-race dinner, and then fell back asleep for another 13 hours.  So that was that for race preparation.  
Race morning was pretty spectacular, mainly because we splurged and stayed in a hotel that was about five yards from transition.  I woke up, went over and dealt with tires and shoes and water bottles, then came back to the hotel to take a shower and eat breakfast.  We found my parents and moseyed on down to the swim start.  I made sure that everyone had a list of all the cold meds I had taken in the last 24 hours (oy), squashed into my wetsuit and lined up in the corral.  I let the poet know that as long as I was moving, I was fine, and that if I didn't finish, I'd be fine as well, but I wanted to start because it's the freakin' world championships and of course I'm going to start.  And the thing I kept repeating, the thing that made it all okay, was that this race was always meant to be a victory lap, and thanks to my body I would be able to embrace that instead of race my face off.  
Swim: 1.2 miles, 31:08
Part of the reason why I was excited about this race is because I knew that there would be a TON of women there who could out-swim me, and I was hoping to latch onto some of them.  The gun went off and we splashed into the water, and it took exactly one dolphin dive for me to realize that nope, my body was not going to show up today and I needed to cut the throttle back, hard, if I had any interest in getting myself over the line.  I started in the second or third row and the first few hundred yards were an amazing battle of aggression from the women that went off the front.  I finally moved over to the right and found some slightly clear water so I would stop getting punched in the face and settled down into a sweet soft cruise.  The swim is my favorite part of triathlon (duh) and I wanted to enjoy it as much as I could.  I had a couple of coughing fits and once sat up and breast-stroked for a moment so I could catch my breath, but it was generally unremarkable.
Our wave went off at 8:32am and when I got out of the water and ran up on the beach, the clock at the swim exit said 1:01:19.  It took me a long time to calculate what that meant, but I was pretty pleased once I figured I had gone just under 30 minutes (realizing later that the mats weren't at the swim exit but at the tent entrance, oh well).  I got my wetsuit stripped off and then ran the (very very far) distance to the transition tent.
T1: 6:42
I took my time in transition because why not.  I picked up my bag, dumped everything out, and sat down on a chair to sort through crap while I dripped all over the place.  I put my sunglasses on first, but they kept fogging up so I took them off, then would forget and put them back on, so, being an idiot takes a bit of extra time.  I made sure my arm warmers were on the correct arms, cursed myself once I realized that I had thought to pack arm warmers but not socks, got all my nutrition into my mouth and pockets and then ran for the exit.  I stopped at the tent exit to put my bike shoes on (probably should have waited until I got to the bike; I suppose this day is a tiny collection of well I probably should have's), found my bike and rolled out.

Bike: 56 miles, 2:58:24
I wasn't hungry, that was the first thing I noticed.  I usually eat as soon as I get on the bike, but I had no idea what kind of science experiment was happening with cold medicine and my racing tummy.  I ended up eating quite a bit less on the bike than I usually do, but I never bonked or felt off and because my effort level was fairly low, I let hunger dictate what I put in my mouth which I generally do not recommend.  My plan was to go out the first hour a bit on the peppy side and see what my body would turn up.  I listened to some EXTREMELY good advice and took heart rate off all my screens for the day, because either it was going to be alarmingly high and I was going to sit back when I didn't really need to or it was going to be alarmingly low and piss me off (laughably low the final verdict) or send me digging into a giant hole.  

The course was gorgeous.  And legitimate.  I think we had a slight headwind on the way out, for ~30km, and then we caught some tailwind from that on the way back.  Good climbing and descending, not technical, but there wasn't a lot of pure flat on the course.  I was watching power, the first hour I chased it a bit but I kept catching my not-100% body around a corner with a slightly dizzy or simply a well that feels a bit weird.  So after the first hour I backed it down a bit, stopped being annoyed at or really even looking at my Garmin and chilled my britches.  
Quite a bit has already been said about the drafting that I am sure happens in most huge races like this, and I knew to expect it but was still flabbergasted to see it live.  The big draft packs added to where my wave went off added to how legitimately awesome the women are in my age group meant that I had a bit of a lonely day.  I stayed on top of nutrition and hydration and tried to keep my frozen toes moving around in my shoes and that was pretty much how those three hours went down.  The last ten miles of the bike course are challenging, I used the climbs to try and drag my power up a bit and the descents to fly, I desperately had to pee but for some reason just can't figure out how to let it go while in motion, ups and downs and arounds and suddenly we were back in transition.  It was odd but I found myself looking forward to the run (and not just because I could finally put on socks and defrost my feet).  

Nutrition: 5 salty balls & 2.5 bottles of OSMO, 775 kcal & 60 oz for 258 kcal/hour and 20 oz/hour, yeah, I KNOW.

T2: 2:14
The second time through transition was quicker.  I made sure to put the L sock in the L shoe and the R sock in the R shoe so it wouldn't drive me batshit crazy like it did in Boulder, I sorted through all my nutrition and headed on out.

Run: 13.1 miles, 1:58:55
The run out of transition met up with the out-and-back and I was immediately surrounded by the front of one of the men's age groups, battling it out on their second lap.  It was akin to being caught in a herd of angry antelope (I keep describing it like the scene in Jurassic Park where the little kids get caught in the stampede) and it was brilliantly fun to watch as I jogged down the carpet.  Garmins were beeping and spectators were yelling splits and places and it only took a few seconds before they were gone.  But it set a positive tone for me, I was in a good head space heading out and when my first mile split at 8:58, I knew I was going to be okay.

I wasn't watching any data other than mile splits as they showed up, I was inside my head and continually searching for an effort that felt like I could hang onto it as I rolled over the first lap of the course.  My watch told me that I was doing a decent job of staying steady, high 8s and low 9s, I was happy with that.  I still wasn't hungry but I didn't feel bonky either.  I got through mile four and pulled out a few chews, I worked on the bottle of OSMO that I had carried out of transition, and just like the bike, sat back and rode out the day.  I saw the poet as I was finishing up the first lap, there's a short but punchy climb up and then a steep down and I tossed my bottle at him and said I'm doing just fine, I'm happy & I'm going to finish and then headed back out for lap two.
The second lap was quieter than the first, still plenty of athletes hauling ass through it but it wasn't quite the brisk and beautiful body parade that the first lap was.  A few body parts were acting up (apparently sleeping for 9265 hours and doing almost no training for a week is not the best way to taper for 70.3) so I focused on my form, shoulders back, arm swing, feet landing well, and pretty soon I was heading into the monstrously steep hill that signaled the end of the lap.  Quick little bunny feet up, big gravity whoosh down and with zero fanfare or celebration inside my brain, I was over the line (my mom was volunteering at the finish and putting my medal on me makes her really happy despite how bad I may smell).
Nutrition: One pack of honey stinger chews, my handheld of OSMO, a couple of Perform/water cups and ~3-4 cups of coke.
70.3 miles: 5:37:23

There just isn't a lot to say about a race when a day goes well and with zero drama (but obviously I'm going to babble for a while anyway).  I feel like I received from my body the maximum effort that it had to give.  I had no low points, and that was probably due in part to the fact that I wasn't grooving with the throttle open, but I'm still moving through my own journey of racing such that is recognized as a pretty big win.  I raced in a way I've really learned to love this year - mind blank and open, only concerned about the present, not what just happened or what the next few hours may bring.  Right now.  This moment.  And on the other end of it (still coughing a week and a half later), there are no disclaimers I want to make, no asterisks next to my finishing time, no excuses.  This day was clearly a success.  A victory lap.
Lessons learned, however, is another story.  I've been taught yet again what happens when I spread myself too thin, when I fail at work/life balance, and I'm only glad the universe didn't decide to let one of my athletes ride straight over me this time around.  Two weeks before the race, I needed to make my time, my body, and my recovery a precious commodity and I didn't.  I own that.  Instead, there were a few too many coffee dates, a few too many lunch and lifting and swim dates, a few too many nights up late and up to no good followed by my normal 5:30am alarm clock, too many happy hours and ice cream trips and not enough focus on eating for health, solid sleep and recovering the way I know how to do.  Is that the end of the world?  No.  I'm not disappointed in the way this race unfolded, I have learned by now what is necessary for me to bring 100% of my fitness to the line.  I didn't do that in all the choices I made in the weeks before this particular line, I know that, and I'm not upset about it now.
But the other takeaway is simply, this.  I raced joyfully (and blowing bright green snot rockets at idiots who passed me on the right).  I smiled all day, I high-fived lots of little kids yelling random shit in French, it was amazing to watch some of the races going on around me from the viewpoint of the course itself, and whatever was going on in my body, it got me over another finish line.  I'll never forget how I felt when I finish my second 70.3, the Waterman's Half Ironman - a race which, incidentally, took me an hour longer to finish than this one, almost to the second - way back in 2011.  I was buried under a truckload of disappointment, anger, self-pity.  And all those things were actually, shame.  The day hadn't gone my way, I stopped fighting, I gave up.  It was a long time before I got over that, and even longer before I figured out how to race without carrying those things around.  To set down the enormous truckload of emotional bullshit and simply celebrate the art of movement as my friend Ron likes to say.  To be able to stand aside and set my body free to perform on Sunday, to find a way to celebrate what it had, which dumped me over another finish line, without trying to explain away why I didn't PR or have the race of my life, that is big for me.  I need to take just a moment and acknowledge that whatever else has happened in these three years, and however I decide to move forward from here, I have changed.  For that, there is nothing but gratitude.  Gratitude and peace.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Without Limits 2.4M OWS: race report

I did this race last year, a couple of weeks after ironman, and enjoyed a lovely tour of the reservoir on the feet of one of my swimming buddies.  I think I saw someone mention the race on Facebook a day or two before it and, well, I love swimming, that's really all that needs to be said, of course I was going to sign up.  My goal for this race, however, was not to mosey around and sing songs while the sun rose.  Rather, I wanted to race until I was shattered.  Secondarily to triathlon, this year I've been poking about a bit in the world of open water swim racing.  I learned quite early on that I had no idea what it meant to actually race in the water, so what I wanted from this one was to go hard, every moment.
It was lovely, as it always is, to roll out of bed and into the car and arrive at the race all in a twenty-minute window.  I pulled out my most ridiculous swim cap because God forbid I ever do anything that could be accused of taking myself too seriously, plugged in my ear plugs and yanked the freak up into my crotch.  A couple of minutes of a warm-up in the whirlpool and then I worked my way into the water and up to the front.
There was a bit of a delay waiting for the ambulance to show up so the race could start, and I chatted with someone I know from Rally and peeked around at all the fairly-well-known pro triathletes that were splashing and arm-swinging right next to me.  It's Boulder, it's crazy, but this is how it goes, you race whoever shows up.  And despite knowing that I was surrounded by people that were going to put quite a bit of time into me when the day was said and done, when the gun went, I went with all of them like I belonged there too, straight off the front.
I didn't think, because thinking while racing is generally my downfall.  I know that I swam, hard.  All the thousands of yards that I put down the week before the race (got a little excited about being back at masters) made me groan for a second, and then I shoved those thoughts right on out.  I stayed with the pack all the way to the first turn buoy, scrabbling at the back, hanging desperately onto the feet of someone strong and straight.  Then we made the hard left turn and I breathed for just a second and they were gone.
I dug in as best I could (fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck) and tried to latch back on, but it was too late.  Another turn, I spent the back stretch watching the flailing arm of whoever dropped me pull slowly away, first five yards, then twenty then about a hundred.  And I swam alone, all the way across the back, digging for whatever I could find.  A few times I caught myself thinking, can I swim this hard and still swim another loop? and then I would mentally shake myself and reset my thoughts to, is this the hardest I can swim RIGHT NOW?  I didn't care if I blew up, or positive split the race by twenty minutes, I wanted to go searching for the bottom of my swimming well and I was going to find it if it killed me (which fortunately it did not).
Starting the second loop was tough, quite a few swimmers broke off and finished (there was also a 1.2 mile option) and once I got past the finish arch there was no one out in front of me.  We were swimming directly into the rising sun and I couldn't find the buoy, I felt like I was sighting off of nothing and was a bit afraid that I was heading into nowhere at 900 swimming watts.  I never caught anyone on that second loop, but the fear of someone catching and passing me kept me hauling, that was the only thought I really had for those 29 minutes and it kept the pedal all the way down to the floor.

When I made the last left turn to finish up, I thought I caught sight of someone right behind me and it gave me one last shot of adrenaline.  Hard to the shore, I was breathing every stroke, I was thrashing and falling apart and water was going up my nose and all I could do was keep on stroking, hard and strong and wide.  I finally felt my hands touch the ground, I stood up and staggered through the arch, my eyes found the poet and I managed to get the top half of my wetsuit off and then stood there, panting and spitting and completely shelled (and with an excellent beard of sludge from the reservoir).
When I got my eye on the race results later that afternoon, I found that I swam an hour - just about flat - and was completely slaughtered by three pro triathletes but managed to stay out in front of the rest of the women's field.  Like everyone says, that's Boulder.  And that doesn't really matter, what matters more is that I absolutely emptied my tank in the water.  Empty.  I was so wiped that I could barely stay awake while we waited for our table at brunch, I couldn't even hold myself upright.
The next morning I went out for a bit of a ride, and I felt flat and exhausted and ended up rolling home at 39 watts.  Later in the day, I was outside and my sinuses started to itch a bit.  I chalked it up to allergies and popped some claritin, but Monday morning I woke up and my head felt comically clogged, sinuses swollen to bursting and throat sore from all the drip.  I put myself straight back to bed with only a little bit of, uh-oh, 70.3 world championships are in six days...