Friday, April 18, 2014

NOLA 70.3: race report

In the week leading up to this race, a lot of people asked me what I wanted out of it, what my goals were, what I hoped to do.  And to all of them, I said essentially the same thing, I want to see what happens and that was all (except for when I said it in front of my masters coach and he made the face he makes when he wants to hold me underwater until I stop kicking and started spouting off crap about breathing count and effort and stroke and sighting).  Sometimes I would add something like, no broken bones would be great!  But that was about it.  The week before a race, I try to steer clear of triathletes and twitter and anything else that is going to give me anxiety about the day.  Most of my time was spent sitting on my ass reading, working, napping with a little bit of lunging outside every time the temperature went over 70ยบ to try and prepare my skin for scorching southern sunshine.
I've read a lot of excellent books in the last two months, and the thoughts and quotes and ideas that have been run through my noodle-machine are certainly too numerous to lay out here.  I posted a Walt Whitman quote somewhere on social media Sunday morning, it was the closest I could come to describing how I felt going into my day.  Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.  And another one that I lifted off of a blog post a week or so ago that was really wedged in my brain (and now I can't remember where I got it from so let me know if it was you), I am willing.  The last few months have been interesting, imperfect, and I went into this race with zero expectations on my performance, no goals, no times, just an open mind.  My favorite way to race: to find out.  
Last year I was in the first female swim wave of the day, which meant geographically I was near the front of the race for quite some time, and that was fun.  This year, the women's 30-39 wave got bumped back a few slots, which meant that I got to spend almost my entire day chasing people down, and that was even better.  We had some extra time in the morning and I found a few moments to walk away from the crowd and empty my mind.  I am willing.  I hopped into the swim corral near the front and was pleased to find DC triathlon friend Katie chatting away with the other 30-39s.  I stuck a toe in the water on the way down the pier and despite being told three times don't jump in until you hear the whistle, I heard the whistle, looked around and said, is that us? as everyone else bombed into the water.  My favorite way to start a race, to be startled into go.  Go fast.  Now. 

Swim, 1.2 miles: 30:42
I stopped wearing a watch on the swim a while back.  Sometimes there's a clock when I get out of the water, sometimes it is the time I swam and sometimes it's how many minutes have ticked by since the first dude hopped in, sometimes there is no clock, sometimes I run past it without noticing it, but for the most part I have no idea what goes on until I make my way back to my cell phone at the end of the day.  Just like last year, I couldn't find any feet.  My tiny wave (6 or 8 athletes) blew apart heading for the first buoy, and pretty soon we were plowing through the back on the men's wave before us, so I went wide and swam alone.  Swimming, in particular open water swimming, is one of my favorite things, and I had a new slick wetsuit on and my time in the water just went by so fast.  I spent it counting my breaths, focusing on long strong strokes, trying to get the first race pee of the day going, looking hopefully around for feet attached to a pink cap to drag me for a while and not finding any at all.  When I rounded the last buoy to head for the stairs I remembered that I was supposed to swim the second half faster than the first (oops), so I put a little pep into it those last few hundred yards and that was that.  I felt like I passed a ton of red and blue caps in the water (thanks, Hailey, the freak is SICK), I had not even a vague clue of what I swam but I was happy as I popped out of the water and did a little skip dance over the timing mat and went along on my way.  

T1: 4:06
No, I don't know what the hell I was doing in transition for so long.  The leg of my wetsuit got caught on my timing chip and I had to work it off, and I shoved a salty ball in my mouth the second I sat down to deal with the wetsuit, and I had to pee and put my shoes on and I guess it's probably time to start chopping down the T time because it turns out that it makes a difference.  I turned my Garmin on and clacked out to the mount line, still chewing and dripping and at least I put my helmet on the right way and didn't drop anything.

Bike, 56 miles: 2:45:42
I rode a bit before realizing that I had started the Garmin back in transition (how?) AND that I never turned auto-lap back on before the race.  I clicked through all the screens to get it back on but it was set to 10 miles (I like 5) and I didn't want to fuss with it while riding and chewing and "on your left"-ing.  I noticed that my heart rate was actually pretty high (victory!) so I settled in and started hammering in hopes that I could keep it up there.  I had power numbers to try and hit and I wasn't afraid to try and hit those numbers but it all changed pretty recently and I've never raced a 70.3 with power so I quite literally had no idea how it was going to go down.  30s power was showing me the number I wanted here and there but I was hauling for it, heart rate was up, I finished choking down my salty ball (heh) and suddenly there was a sign on the side of the road that said "mile 5."  I manually lapped the Garmin and when the lap time flashed up at me, I said out loud to myself (yes, I talk to myself a lot during races especially on the bike), WELL, I'm either going to do this or I'm going to blow myself apart trying.

The bike hurt.  That's what I remember.  It started to hurt early, and various body parts hurt in an alarming way, and I didn't back down from it, but it hurt far worse than the run did and that is what stands out for me from this race.  But I know the fear of suffering, and I'm finally starting to understand in a real way, the fear is worse than the suffering itself.  My effort stayed steady and I spent most of my time working to hammer my heart rate and power numbers up up up, as time went by they faded a bit and it took every ounce of concentration to keep them as high as I kept them, but this ride, the whole ride, it hurt.  I knew that I shouldn't be afraid of that, I've done enough rides in training where I've ripped my legs off and then managed to run okay, so I wasn't thinking about the run, but even days later I'm still a bit startled by how hard it felt.
There was some wind, it was different wind than last year when we had mostly head or tail, this year it was crosswind for long stretches but I barely noticed it.  We turned off the main road for the tiny out-and-back and when I realized that I was hauling serious ass at 80w I knew I was in for it when we flipped around, but even that wasn't bad, just steady, or maybe perspective.  A huge bug flew down my top at some point, I was going to leave him there but then he started freaking out and stung me four times before I could smash him (and my boobs) to death and dump him out (it was a wasp which has now left me looking like I have six nipples).  Someone must have kicked my rear derailleur in transition because it was doing that really annoying thing where it shifts by itself for no reason, or you tell it to shift and it doesn't so you shift again and it shifts four times and then you have to shift back and then it goes CLACK CLACK CLACK for two minutes before shifting and then you start the whole process over.  I know how to fix it but didn't want to take the thirty seconds to pull over and do so, and when I think back to other races and how any single one of these things would have caused some level of mid-race meltdown or backing off, I start to finally get an inkling of the tiny steps forward I am making (burning a match around some annoying pace-lining men).
We zipped out onto the highway and when I passed the mile 50 sign everything was aching, my back my left arm my adductors my hamstrings my neck, I longed to sit up and stretch and ease off the pedals.  And these were the miles where I started thinking about all my people, the ones who have put their time and effort and love into my training and my bike and my body.  At least a dozen times in the last twenty minutes when I wanted to back down, I said (out loud to myself, obviously, goddamn extroverts), No. They built it. So you could race it. So let's not waste it.
Just like the swim, it was over so fast.  I spent all my time watching the clock for nutrition and hydration and trying to drag my power up and suddenly we were into the last five miles by the big wall, up the overpass down under and around, I took a look at total time and that kept me hauling, I actually remembered to get my feet out of my shoes and then I was off, jogging barefoot into transition and oh god how am I supposed to run on this body.

Nutrition: 860kcal (5 salty balls + pack of chews) & 88oz OSMO, 312kcal/hour & 32oz/hour.

T2: 2:05
I will openly admit that I cannot pee on the bike, almost never, although not for lack of trying.  So that happens in transition while I put my shoes on and stuff all my crap in my pockets and I'm going to have to figure out something else because it takes forever.  The first few steps running down the rows felt like crap but they always do so I bounced over the mat and headed on my way.

Run, 13.1 miles: 1:53:56
The first mile is for settling.  I didn't want to look at pace, I didn't want to be scared of the watch, so I left it on the screen it is always on, showing overall time and heart rate, and I settled.  I felt around for the pace that I could hold, my first split was 8:45 and I honestly had no idea what to make of it.  So instead of trying to make anything of it, I just left it alone and kept on running.  The second mile includes a bit of a hill and I passed quite a few of the men who blew by me in a pace line on the bike (ha) as I plowed up and over.  
When I hit the aid station after mile two I realized my skin was boiling hot so I started working to cool myself, water down the top, down the shorts, over the arms, if there was ice that all went into my top or my shorts, at one point I held my shorts open and asked the poor guy holding four cups of ice water to just dump it all in there.  The run is still a blur.  I ran at least a half-dozen miles in a row that were 8:46 exactly.  I ate my chews at :30, :60, :90.  I let my heart rate stay low for the first 1:10 (until I tossed my bottle of OSMO) and then started to dig down into the pace a bit.  I have no regrets on the day, but one of the big lessons learned was that I should have started the work on the run much sooner.  I negative split the half marathon by a fair amount, and the only useful thing that tells me is that I left some time out there in the first half.  Still.  No regrets.
Somewhere between mile 8 and 9 is where I finally started to tap on the door of pain.  My shoes were heavy and soaked with all kinds of melted ice/spilled OSMO/thrown water/pee/leftover lake and I could feel blisters starting to crop up on the bottom of my feet, little leg muscles were starting to protest the going-ons, all small stuff.  I spent every moment of the run thinking about the moment I was in, how long to an aid station, what did I need, was it time for calories yet, could I hold more ice in my shorts, how bad am I chafing my special places this year by doing that when I swore I wouldn't.  I don't think I had a single emotion out there on the course, it was just work work work, gears clicking over, directing the machine.  Pretty similar to how I felt racing Moab, and I'm hoping that I can hang onto this logical brain as the races get longer because it appears to be working out all right.  
I slowed for four steps at the aid station somewhere around mile 11 to throw a cup of coke in the general direction of my mouth (sorry, Kebby, this kit might need to be burned), I bopped on over the timing mat but even when I saw the mile 12 sign it didn't really compute that I was close to the end (too much ironman has ruined me).  Even when we made the right turn towards the finish, my tired little mind thought, oh, I wonder what that big puffy white thing is over the road up there and it wasn't until I was about 200 yards out that I realized it was the finish line, I had made it, my body had held up, I didn't blow apart on the run, I didn't blow up at all, and when I went under the clock which was showing total time on the day, I saw that it said 5:56 and thought, hooray, I definitely broke 6 hours today!
Nutrition: ~350kcal (chews) + 24oz OSMO + yellow drink/water mixes + ice chips + whatever amount of Coke at mile 11 actually got into my mouth.  

Total time: 5:16:34 (6th AG)
Andy Potts was handing out medals so I wandered over to him and said, hi I'm Katie! and he said, hi I'm Andy and I said I know, are you going to give me a medal? and he did.  I realized that I was overheating, a volunteer took me over to the kiddie pool ice baths and there are not many better feelings in the world than dunking your sweaty crotch in there after all that racing and no, I did not realize I was wearing two hats for about an hour and I have no idea why I do this with my hand all the time.
There was another woman in there who I had been chasing a bit on the run, and while we were chatting she told me that her final time was 5:11 and I started to feel mildly curious about what in the hell had gone down.  I made my way over to the gear check bag and dug out my phone, ignoring all the eight billion notifications on the screen and called Sonja.  And when she picked up the phone I said Sonja I have no idea what happened and she started telling me about putting together the pieces of racing and I said, no, I actually have no idea about any of the times that I raced today and she read it off and I'm so glad that she was the one to tell me but quite honestly I was shocked (although not into silence, takes a lot to shut me up).  
I finished babbling into the phone and got some food and tracked down my athletes and at some point found Katie again who had a killer day and she mentioned 70.3 World Championships and roll-down and my brain hummed a bit.  I've never thought about qualifying or getting a slot, I actually had a conversation with Ashley the day before the race about how I thought that maybe next year I might be ready to chase something like that.  And we sat around for hours and watched awards and the slots weren't claimed by 1-2 and the short(ish) version is that a slot rolled to me and I ran (how?) up and claimed it and I'll be on the line in Mont Tremblant in September and I still can't exactly wrap myself around how all of this happened.
In the days since the race, I've been at peace.  My body is wrecked, since I've been back in Colorado I've spent most of my hours sleeping with a tiny slice of time allocated towards eating and working.  On the plane ride down to New Orleans, I made a list of what I needed to accomplish on race day to fly home feeling successful.  There were no numbers on that list, no WC slots, no PR talk, nothing about the results of the day.  Nailing the process was on there, putting forth a steady and true effort, no wasted moments.  And maybe the most important, staying cool and composed even when faced with things going wrong because if there is one thing I have learned in all my years of racing is it that things are guaranteed to go wrong on race day, and if you've been around for a while you know that I have seen plenty of that.  
I'm having a hard time putting my finger on what, exactly, has changed in me over the last six months.  Maybe it's true that once you run a marathon off the bike with your arm broken in three places, your internal suffer-o-mometor gets re-calibrated.  Maybe it's because I read Daring Greatly, maybe it's because I stopped eating sugar, or started lifting heavier things, or get to hang out with Sonja more, maybe it's because I am straight up in love with my job or maybe it's as easy as the eleventh bike fit is the charm.  I didn't stand on the line feeling particularly prepared or unprepared, I didn't feel anxious, I didn't have any expectations, I simply felt like me, and I'm happy with me.  I like me.  There was a nod to gratitude, joy, peace when I stood off in the grass alone that morning with half my wetsuit on and emptied my mind, I worked through the day and when I went to sleep Sunday night (well, early Monday morning), I felt those things again.  I know that I have changed, even if I can't pinpoint why or how, but there's no ego in that statement.  My journey unrolls, there will be good days and bad, breakthroughs and setbacks, but those moments are less important than how I react to the bumps that are thrown in my way.  For now, I will sit quietly, I will stand still and recover, I will jot down the lessons that this race taught me, I will appreciate the body that came through for me on Sunday and I will prepare to continue moving forward.  Onwards.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

to chase, to leap, to burn

When I signed up for my first ironman three years ago, I wrote a blog post about how it takes a village for me to do most things.  I was one of those PITA tweeters who couldn't decide whether or not I was ready, I drove myself and everyone else around me crazy with indecision until I finally whipped out the credit card, filled out the form, and spent the next three days walking around, unblinking, saying WHAT DID I JUST DO.  And it took that whole village to get me through the first ironman.  Friends, coach, internet, parents, husband, puppies, I was often alone, but I was never stranded, I was never more than a phone call away from the support I needed to survive the hell I put my body through that summer, and I was grateful for every last bit of it when I got myself over the finish line in Idaho that June.
Fast forward a year to last July.  As we were driving back from IMLP, I got an email from Hailey which prompted me to pick up the phone and call my friend Kebby.  You see, a sneak peek of a new company had been leaked into social media, and it had Keb's fingerprints all over it.  We chatted as I sat in the passenger seat, damaged feet resting on the dashboard, non-functioning kidneys and raging sinus infection and slightly bruised spirit ahoy, and after telling me all of the amazing things that she had planned, I leapt at the opportunity to join her.  Kebby, you see, is one of those people that is going to change the world, quite possibly by accident and maybe her earrings don't match, but change the hell out of it indeed.  She could have picked any vehicle to do so, but she chose women in triathlon because she believes so strongly, I've heard her say it dozens of times, a rising tide lifts all boats.  Women are storming the triathlon castle, and it is certain that the world around them isn't growing fast enough.  Enter CoeurSports.
Starting a new business from scratch is never going to be an easy task.  And what rises to the top in that first year is the things that matter.  I've never met anyone that cares more fiercely, that is more protective of her athletes, than Kebby.  She sent me a demo kit a couple of weeks before IM Cozumel, and some things were amazing (CHAMOIS) and some things were slightly off (in an email: did you realize you sent MY ass an extra small pair of shorts?) but I was thrilled to enter the water wearing it that morning, and even more proud to cross the finish line in it so many hours later, battered as I was.  It's probably long overdue to say so, but it must be obvious that I am pleased to spend 2014 - and hopefully many more years after that - representing this brand.  And while I'm slightly intimidated by the company that I'm keeping as a member of the elite racing team, it's possible that I can take enough pictures of my ass make my own small contribution towards lifting the CoeurSports boat, towards lifting the boats of all women, especially those that are entering triathlon for the first time.  I could talk about the gear - and it is amazing gear - but what matters more are the people behind the logo that support me.  And not only me, but Coeur is supporting my athletes this year, many of whom are entering the sport for the first time themselves.  The first piece of my village.
The second piece of my village came about through CoeurSports.  After some issues at IMLP, Sonja helped me completely revamp my training and racing nutrition to include OSMO Nutrition.  She had been using it all year to great success, and after a week or two with it in my bottles and my belly, I could see why.  Late last fall, OSMO released women's-specific products, and after about six months of regular use of all three (preload, active, and recovery), I can't imagine ever using anything else.  No low spots on the bike in IMC (other than getting creamed by an idiot with zero handling skills), no emergency porta potty stops, less ups and downs on the bike, and better recovery between sessions.  What we know about training nutrition for athletes is a constantly-changing knowledge base, but Stacy Sims is very definitely leading the pack on this, especially for women, and I feel lucky to be a part of the OSMO family this year.

Then there are the people.  In Boulder, there are a few that regularly deal with my body when it throws a rod.  It has taken time and plenty of failure to find them over the past eighteen months, but now that I have, they are never allowed to move or change professions or even their phone numbers (although they all collectively may want to do so).  Heather North at Red Hammer Rehab is a huge part of the reason that I was able to even get on the plane to Cozumel last November.  Her needles, elbows, and overwhelming sense of calm in the face of a panicked athlete helped me stay level every single time I thought a chance at racing was out the window.  Geoff Hower at Fuelary has the sharpest thumb of any human I've ever met in my life.  He also does not mind that I chatter nonstop through the entire length of our sessions and can be bribed with doughnuts when I frantically realize that I broke something I really need in two days and his schedule is booked out for a week, for these reasons and many more, Geoff might be an actual saint.  Josh Shadle, also at Fuelary, constantly impresses me with how much focus he places on the recovery aspect of training, certainly an area quite neglected by many athletes, and over the past year has created in me a serious addiction to massage, painful toys and the crazy air space boots.
Without Charlie Merrill at Merrill Performance, it's likely that the poet would have filed for divorce and shipped me off to the funny farm by now; I definitely would not be able to stand on any sort of line.  Despite the fact that I am certain he wants to pack me, my bike, my seventeen pairs of shoes, my knife emojis, my tweets, my tiny pants, and my emails that I am sure got less and less witty as the weeks passed, all into his truck and back the lot of us off the nearest sharp turn in a canyon, he remained patient as he untangled a puzzle that I was convinced no one would be able to crack.  He gets credit for quite literally dealing with the worst parts of who I am, the panicky babbling stressed-out overly-extroverted pain in the ass triathlete straight-up terrified of a future that might not involve the joy found on two wheels.  Over three months he completely disassembled both my body AND my bike and, with great care, put it all back together into a machine (a beautiful machine) that I can't wait to test out this weekend.  He also gets a special place in my snarky little black heart for encouraging my obsession with throwing around heavy things and conquering circus tricks.
Then there are my coaches.  Jonathan Modine is singularly responsible for the fact that my swim even vaguely resembles anything normal.  He is one of the best swim coaches I have ever worked with, both as a swimmer and alongside as a coach, and not once have I spent time in the water under him and not learned something about the body, the swim, the balance of a workout, the stroke.  His time and effort to take my stroke apart (lots of disassembling of the body in Boulder) last summer has not only changed me into a swimmer that I never thought I would be, but also made me realize how much growth in the water is still to come.  
And Sonja. There are not even close to enough words in the language to describe how Sonja has changed me, over the past two years but even more so over the past four months.  What Sonja wants more than anything on this earth is to leave people better than she found them, and with modesty, I hope that I am one of the better examples of this accomplishment (please don't leave me anytime soon though).  Her grace, her brilliance, her firm hand on the navigation of my journey in sport and the peace that she brings into my life is not something that I could really describe or ever put a price on, but I know enough to say that I would be lost without her, and I am grateful on a daily basis for whatever force of the universe decided that our paths should cross.  
This weekend I will line up to race the first triathlon of the year, so I thought it appropriate to pause and recognize the people and companies that will stand with me when I do.  This is only the first, shaking off the cobwebs, testing out the body, and I have no idea what's going to happen, what the clock will say, when the pain will start, how my day will unfold, how much heart I will have, if it's enough.  But I do know that there is nothing in the world that I love more than an opportunity to walk directly into the fire, and I would be remiss if I didn't take the time to share all of the people - my people - that have made it easier to do the things I love the most, that have lightened my own load with their hands and shoulders and love, that have helped me grow, that have taken away my pain.  All of them will be with me as I cover the miles, and I am grateful to each that I have the privilege to go out and ask the questions of myself, to chase, to leap, to burn.