Monday, April 27, 2015

New Orleans 70.3: race report

I love this race.
It's early, it's windy, it's flat and hot and I always have a good time.  This year I flew down late Friday night instead of Saturday morning as I've done in the past.  It didn't net me any more sleep after flight delays but it did make the pre-race logistics a bit easier to navigate Saturday morning.  I met up with several of my athletes for brunch, and then we made our way through packet pick-up and down to the race site.  For the first time, I used ProBike Express instead of flying with my bike and after this weekend I am officially a convert.  Wes parked at the race site and made life so easy, plus we had a place to meet and hang out all weekend and I didn't have to pick a fight with a single airline representative over how many times they were going to charge me and for what.
Tapering for this race had a normal amount of I really don't think I can hold this power/pace for an entire race workouts, but similar to last year, I felt extremely curious about what would happen on race day.  It's been five months since I last raced triathlon, and those five months have been very different.  Full of fun and training, new people, amazing experiences, and while I had some ideas about what I could take from the race, the only thing I really wanted was to stay out of my own way and see what was in there.
I took a long nap Saturday afternoon, did a short shake-out run, filled my stomach with carbohydrates and sugar, had one last quick chat with Michelle and tucked up into bed.  I didn't sleep well or long and was awake and in the shower long before my alarm clock went off.  Some of the race morning logistics were different this year and created quite the mess of trying to drive in and park, to the point where I abandoned the rental car with my BFF and walked the last mile or so into transition.  I got to meet longtime Twitter buddy Chloe at the rack, and it was nice to have a friendly face to chat with as we got set up.  My warm-up jog took me to an entire row of empty and brand-new un-shitted-upon porta-potties and then it was simply time to wait, to top off my sugar stores and plug into the race morning tunes and speeches that have accompanied me around the world for the past six years, one last round of hugs and ass-slaps and a kiss stamped on my cheek and that was that, I was bouncing down the pier yet again.
Swim: a slightly short 1.2 miles: 25:53, 6/123 AG
I think I was in the second group of women off the dock.  I didn't wait, the whistle blew and I was the first one to cannonball into the water and start swimming.  One of my goals for this race was to not get lost on the swim - the angled path and the nearly-180-degree turns around buoy make that tougher than it sounds or maybe I'm just always going to be terrible at paying attention to where I am going.  The first year I think I swam so far off course that a kayaker had to whack me with his paddle and get me going in the right direction.  I had a tough time again this year, after the first turn buoy I swam a few minutes and then noticed that no one was around me because they were all about 75 yards to my left. But I had a good swim.  I never wear a watch in the water and with the TT start I didn't even bother looking for a clock getting out, but I plowed through five different color cap'd waves in front of me, I never found feet but I could tell that I was moving well, and right before I hit the stairs to bounce up and out, I said to myself, whatever that was, was just about perfect.  I still think that I'm holding back a bit in the water because I'm afraid of blowing which is actually just the story of my life as a racing athlete, but my effort-o-mometer tells me that this is the hardest I've swam in a 70.3 yet.  It felt good, strong, and I didn't feel even a little bit winded as I ran down the carpet towards transition.  
T1: 3:29
Another one of my process-goals for this race was to spend less than four minutes in T1 because what in the actual fuck was I doing last year?  I sat down briefly to pull on my shoes and helmet and take care of sitting-down-in-T1 business and then I was out.

Bike: 56 miles, 2:36:28, 6/123 AG
I went over the mount line, got my leg over, pushed the pedal halfway around and my chain fell off and got wedged between the crankset and the frame.  I cursed under my breath, got off, yanked it out and got everything in the right place and then as soon as I pushed the pedal down it fell off again, wedged.  I cursed much more loudly, spent a few extra seconds reseating it and shifting gears around and then finally got up and going.  Garmin says I lost about 90 seconds here, it felt more like 90 hours but I settled down into aero and by the time I was a quarter mile down the road I had forgotten all about it.  I may not have even remember it happened at all if I hadn't been startled to look down at my hands around mile 20 of the bike and wonder why my left one was ripped up and covered in blood.  
Before the race, I had actually remembered to redo my main Garmin screen and take heart rate off as a variable instead of needing to do it while dripping lake water and chewing through the first five miles so I was pretty proud of myself for that.  I didn't realize until well into the second hour of riding that the box I thought that was showing average lap power was actually showing average power for the entire ride, so I think my output for most of this leg was more unsteady than I would have wanted.  None of this actually matters, I was glancing at 10s power here and there but for the most part I just rode.  
The day before the race, I did a short ride, out with the tailwind and back into the headwind, just to see what my legs were doing.  When I got off the bike I guess I had a weird look on my face because my friend standing there started saying things like it's okay if your legs feel like shit don't worry about it they'll be here tomorrow. I put my bike away, we walked for a second towards the car, and I said, quietly, they don't feel like shit, they feel fucking awesome.  And that was this whole day on the bike.  I don't want to say that it didn't feel hard, because it was definitely work, but with the exception of the few blissful miles of phenomenal tailwind, I held the power numbers I wanted to hold and wasn't ripping myself apart to do so.  Last year at this race still stands out in my head as the worst I've ever hurt on the bike in my life, and I was ready to do that again last Sunday, and I didn't need to.  Instead I stayed focused, I dropped back and surged around the long lines of drafting cyclists that are always present here, I worked hard to ride legal and when a girl with my age group on her calf went by me at some point near the end of the first hour, my initial reaction was wow, I could never ride like that and then I shook myself and said, fuck that, I'm going to ride like that RIGHT NOW and had her in my sights - sometimes as far up the road as an eighth of a mile, a couple times I caught her and we passed back and forth - all the way back to transition.  Last year, more than once in a 70.3, I was too focused on the numbers and the last-year results I had looked up and so much crap that kept me from being present in the day I was having.  It kept me off the podium at Austin, and if I'm being perfectly honest with myself it shouldn't have, and I went into this day wanting, above all else, to chase the race.  I wanted where the other women were, what we were all doing, and if I had a shot at reaching any of them I wanted to go for it.  
The last 10-15 miles of the ride were straight into the wind and that made me happy because I hoped that it would stretch out the women a bit.  I stayed low and focused on keeping my power up and realized I hadn't eaten nearly enough so I got some more calories down.  I passed quite a few men that were fading in the wind and I felt strong, I've never felt as good and powerful on the bike as I felt last Sunday and I can't stop blathering about it in the aftermath of the race, but I was just so surprised to feel like that on the bike the whole time.  I don't watch overall time so I had no idea what my bike split was but as I rolled back around into transition and started working my feet out of my shoes I felt the same way I did getting out of the water, whatever that was, was fucking brilliant, is what that was.
Nutrition: 760 calories (yeah, whoops) and 88oz of OSMO for 304 calories/hour and 35 oz/hour.  

T2: 1:39
The only thing notable about transition was when I racked my bike it was completely alone on the rack, and I did a split-second dance party in my head about that.  I got all my shit together and headed out, and one of my friends was standing there holding up his hands and he said, sixth, you're in sixth place right now and I gave him the nod as I went by.

Run: 13.1 miles, 1:59:38, 11/123 AG
The wind that we spent the last chunk of the ride heading straight into hadn't magically dissipated in the ninety seconds I spent in T2, so the first 6+ miles of the run were straight into it.  I cruised through the first mile but it felt completely awful.  By the time I hit lap I was breathing harder than I thought I should have been, and for whatever reason, that kicked off an avalanche of failure inside my head, one that I haven't seen in a while.  A little bit of fuck this, a whole lot of fuck running fuck triathlon fuck I did not ride too hard so why am I falling apart and it only went on about a minute or so before I realized that all of those thoughts were crashing over me because I was bonking to high heaven.  I fished out a pack of chews but I hadn't pre-opened them before the race because I was afraid it would rain and melt them (season openers, so hard to play triathlon again!) so I spent at least two minutes jogging and trying to gnaw into the packet with my teeth and finally I just exclaimed motherfucker! and stopped dead in the middle of the run course.  I stood there for at least 30 seconds fighting with the package until I finally ripped a hole in the corner big enough that I could squeeze a chew out.  I got moving, pushing chews into my mouth and chasing them with OSMO, I could feel that my stomach was grumbling as I ate so I put down most of the package even though I was worried that much sugar would upset my tummy.  I took a few TUMS with them just in case, but I only made it another mile or so before I got the sugar warning shot down low in my intestines.  I know that water + chips is the magic fix for that, but there weren't any chips or even anything salty at the aid station so I pitched my OSMO and hoped I would make it to the next one.  Which I did, just barely, before collapsing in a porta potty like I've done far too many times in my life in this sport.
I let my stomach be angry, the stop cost me just over two minutes and when I came out I walked back to the aid station and covered myself in water, then kept moving.  I latched onto a ponytail at some point, we traded off doing work for a bit and when we turned around with the wind finally at our backs I asked her how old are you and when she said 33, I said, good, let's work together I'm Katie but I don't want to talk and her name was Katie too and we spent about five more miles side-by-side, suffering in silence.  I didn't realize on the out that the headwind was disguising how miserably hot it had gotten but as soon as we turned around I realized that we were going to fry the entire way back.  And it became survival, I don't think I looked at a single mile split or was really even still aware that I was wearing a watch for the rest of the race.  I walked every aid station, drenched myself with water, I put down as much orange drink as I could stand, ice in my top and shorts, I would start running again at the back side of the aid station and have a good 4-5 minutes before the heat would kick back in and the red alarms danger you are about to faint from your brain being boiled while you are using it danger would slow me down to more of a jog the rest of the way to the next water stop, and repeat.  
Several of my athletes told me that they saw me, cheered or waved or said hi and I didn't see any of them.  One that was spectating jumped in to run with me and said, do you want me to talk to you? and I barked, NO and then followed her striped ass for a little while.  I had about a mile left when my friend jumped in to run next to me and I tried to get away from him because I thought that he was going to yell at me for not running well (obviously this wasn't going to happen but I was in the hole) but instead he was perfect, he didn't say anything he just stayed by my side like so many millions of runs we have done together, quiet, nothing but the sounds of our feet and our breath and our friendship in those moments.  I was probably about a half-mile out from the finish when he leaned over and said quietly, that girl up ahead is in your age group, if you want to get her you need to make a move now, and I said, this is it this is everything I have, and he said okay and later he told me that I sped up a tiny bit and then he peeled off and I didn't see or hear anything and then finally, I was over the line.
70.3 miles: 5:07:07, 11/123 AG

As soon as I crossed a volunteer grabbed my arm and I went down, apparently the announcer was still saying my name Katrina Ingram from Longmont COlolooohhh! when I went.  I said what I always say when I've been frying in the heat which is, I'm fine I promise I'm fine I just need a minute and someone hauled me up and got me to the fence and then about seven volunteers dumped ice water over my head and my vision cleared and I was fine.  I made my way out of the finishing corral and found my friend at the fence and he held me, covered in lake and sweat and orange drink and salt and traces of vomit from when I blew chunks at mile 11 without even slowing, while I cried.  
Talking in the days before the race, when people asked me what I wanted, I said jokingly, I want to not get lost on the swim, spend less than 4 minutes in T1 and not put ice down my shorts on the run, so against those parameters, I went 1 for 3 on achievement.  But to be serious, for just a second, this race was all about the bike.  I've stood at the front of 70.3 a dozen times now, and I've always been afraid of the run.  Over the last year or so, I've gained a little bit of confidence there, and then I've had a few breakthroughs while riding and suddenly I'm chasing numbers that scare me.  A lot.  And I did not want to come out of this race and look back at the file with Michelle and have the truth be that I coasted, I soft-pedaled, I under-rode against what we thought I could do...again.  I didn't want to hear the disappointed sigh come out of my own mouth if I had been too afraid of trusting in myself and my people and my training to go out there and throw the fuck down.
Instead, I got what I wanted, and I'm still a little shocked by that.  I rode smart, I rode hard, I rode well, and it has left me completely happy with the entire shape of my race.  I lost some time on the run from small mistakes with nutrition, from the incredibly hard conditions of the day, but I'm not unhappy with how I ran, either.  I held my shit together, I didn't give up and walk when I realized I wasn't going to have the day I had planned for, and maybe for the first time I truly embraced the idea that everyone is suffering out here.  I was falling apart, and I knew it, but if I was falling apart then probably there were women ahead of me also falling apart, and if I faded less than they did, I would get to the line first, and that kept me going.  The last time I was getting ready for Coeur d'Alene back in 2012, I raced a 70.3 that ended with an incredibly hot and challenging run and I fell apart to the tune of 2:45.  This last Sunday was equally hot and challenging and while I'm always going to be chasing a faster day, I held my shit together in those moments.  I figured out the problems and I let the past go.  And that might not sound like much in the grand scheme of the universe, but it's been a while since I've stood as close to the edge of giving it all up and walking it in as I did in those first few miles of the run, bonking so badly.  That scares me, a little, that even after all this time, that failure, giving up, those things are still an option in my brain after all this time.  But on the other hand, failure danced that close to me, I was tempted, and I turned my back on it and ran my ass in.  

A huge amount of love and grace needs to be spread in the direction of all the people that support me beating the shit out of my body over and over and over.  Thanks to: Erin Carson who is teaching me that my body can move in more than one direction and has had a huge hand in keeping my chassis strong, Charlie Merrill who never hesitates to drop one million needles in any of my everywhere places and has been key to how healthy I've stayed the past year despite the fact that I say ow fuck ow six million times an hour and drive him nuts with emojis, Geoff Hower who has the sharpest elbow I've ever met, OSMO Nutrition for keeping my belly happy so I can ride my ass off, NormaTec compresses  my legs so they can stay moving and grooving, and Wes at ProBikeExpress for taking such good care of all of us this weekend.  All my Team Amazing Day athletes and coaches and friends, I'm not sure how I ever laughed so much or wanted to see success spread so far and wide before creating this family of my own.  The biggest fucking high-five goes to Michelle for giving me space and opportunity to grow and change as an athlete, to understand that different doesn't mean better or worse it just means, not the same, and for teaching me to ride the living shit out of my bike.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

on training camp

I almost didn't go to Arizona (and let the selfies begin...).
In the week before I was supposed to depart, everything that I had planned in terms of travel & lodging went completely to hell.  I lined up a bunch of plan Bs and then half of that fell through, I was frustrated, to the point where I ended up standing in the backyard picking at my half marathon blisters while explaining to Michelle that I'm pretty sure that I'm supposed to listen when the universe wings a wheelbarrow of bricks at me.  
She told me, in no uncertain terms, to tell the universe to go fuck itself, to drink a glass of wine and get on the (delayed by 3.5 hours if it was leaving at all) plane.  And I did.  The universe made a couple more half-hearted attempts to keep me in Colorado but sometime after 1am, I gratefully collapsed onto a futon in Scottsdale and said good night to one of my best friends, Jen, who wins an award for saving my but I swear I was so organized I had everything lined up ass on this trip.

Krista ran an awesome camp, let's start with that as a sweeping, grandiose but incredibly true fact.  Friday morning she arranged for me to get a ride out to the lake, which meant I missed about 20 miles of riding but meant that I got four (instead of two) hours of sleep and didn't have to put my bike together in the dark at 2am which, in my opinion, completely saved my training day.  Tracy kindly dropped me off at the top of the descent into Bartlett Lake, so I got a bit of a warm-up before joining everyone else for the open water swim.
We swam pretty easily, the lake was quiet and we did a few laps of the buoy line and then hopped out, changed back into our bike kits, loaded up on fuel and rolled out.  My legs felt pretty crappy coming down and I had been given broad "as you feel" guidance on the day so I decided I'd climb at roughly IM power for a while and see how that felt.  It gave me something to focus on as I poured OSMO down the hatch by the gallon and worked through the stash of Twizzlers I had pocketed before we left the lake.  
My legs came around in there somewhere and I started smiling, happy to be in the boiling hot sunshine, I pushed the power as I climbed, got in a groove and all of a sudden the top was there.  We took selfies for a bit while waiting for everyone to circle up and then swooped on back to Krista's in a rolling pace line of chatty happy (mostly) girls.  I got off the bike feeling like that was a good solid ride but I hadn't burned any matches for the weekend.  Jen and I decamped immediately for a burger place that came highly recommended and I'm certain that we were tucked into bed well before 8pm.
The Saturday morning ride was with a bigger group, and I sat back a bit while we looped through neighborhoods to warm up.  The first set of climbs I was chatting with a couple of girls and almost didn't notice as we rolled up and down, spikey little efforts that felt good.  There was a long descent and then we pulled over to circle up and stuff our faces.  I love how everyone in this picture is eating.
We had just rolled out when Krista blew by me like a locomotive and yelled get on my wheel NOW over her shoulder.  My mouth was full and I was holding a water bottle but somehow I had just enough of an clue about what the hell was about to go down to make the split-second decision to hit the lap button, shove everything away and latch on.  My eyes were watering too badly to be able to see my Garmin so I had no idea what kind of power I was putting out and that's probably a good thing, I know for quite a few minutes we were hauling well over 30mph and then there was a little climb and I sat up and that millisecond was just enough for a tiny gap to open up.  As soon as I saw it I went into red alert one thousand watts mode red alert your ass is about to get dropped but I couldn't close it and then we hit a downhill and the Emily-towing-Krista train was gone.  I took a few seconds to recover, I looked over my shoulder and saw no one so I settled back down into the bars and got grooving again.  I actually flew past the water stop and it wasn't until I heard Krista yelling that I looped over and in and unclipped with a very serious what in the actual fuck was that. (This is me teaching Heidi, okay this is how you take a selfie, look at my finger and smile!)
We did a short out-and-back where I got to chat with Emily and shovel about 7000 calories down before heading up the nine mile climb that was the last everyone stomps it surprise! piece of the ride.  I had no idea what my legs/brain/crotch/power meter would be doing after a couple days of riding but we started up and I was holding back to see numbers that I'm not really used to seeing when I feel like I am holding back, if that makes any sense at all.  I had been let off the leash for the day and I spent about a few minutes giving the Garmin the side-eye and arguing with myself, do I? don't I? do I? don't I?  I know that the 20 minute effort/test on the bike is not the be-all and end-all of ride data, I know that Michelle can look at my files and know exactly what I need to be doing without making me smash myself and call it a test.  But goddammit, the last three months of work and riding have made me really curious about what that number would be if I ground down and went for it, I knew the climb wasn't much longer than that and I was itching to find out.  So after another few minutes of dicking around, I hit the lap button and went, because why the hell not, life is short let's chase the big watts and drink beer when we're done.

I rode at what felt like a reasonably hard effort for a couple of minutes without watching the numbers, and then I spent the last 16 minutes desperately trying to hang onto lap power, and I mostly did and that was all I wanted.  I pulled into the gas station to refill and texted both Michelle and my best friend I either just did something really awesome or really stupid.  I was pretty firmly convinced that after that effort I was going to end up getting repeatedly dropped from the sweet draft all the way home.  But instead I was a little surprised that once I got some coke down me I felt fine, good enough to hop on a wheel off the front and hang, chatting, stoplight to stoplight until the ride was done.  
My run off the bike was a bit of a shitshow, I left my bottle sitting on the front steps and made it about 2.5 miles before I got run over by the Bonk Express.  Jen saved my ass for the millionth time by feeding me TUMS and OSMO and somehow I checked the box on the "descend every mile of this run" instructions and dragged myself back into Krista's backyard where we all dangled our legs in her pool and tried to figure out which weather app was showing the highest temperature.  Eventually we made it home for lunch and then over to the pool, where I followed my very strict instructions to chill out and not smash anyone (after the first interval, Krista says, okay if you are going to go THAT easy then you can swim at the back).  We filled our bellies with carbs and climbed back in bed.
Sunday morning our alarms went off at WTF-o-clock so we could drive to Tucson.  I didn't get much sleep Saturday night, a normal side effect of wrecking the shit out of myself, and was happy to curl up in the back seat and grab another nap on the way down.  We parked and changed and rolled out and I knew it was going to be one of those days, where all you have to do is empty your mind and get to the end of it.  I've had plenty of those on the bike in my life, the days where you are completely exhausted and you can choose to whine and bitch and complain or you can make the choice to draw inwards and devote all of your energy to survival, and that's what the climb up Mt Lemmon was for me.  It wasn't a bad climb, it was just long and I was tired (we're all tired!), but I wasn't completely miserable except for a couple of miles about an hour in where I daydreamed about the mountain erupting like a volcano so I could turn around and descend.  By this point in the weekend, I was completely sick of sugar, I stood at the SAG truck at mile 15 telling Shane (best sherpa/SAG ever!) I hate sugar actually I just hate eating I hate food I hate chewing but I hate sugar the most, all the while I was shoveling Bobo's bars and potato chips into my mouth and washing it down with miniature cans of Coke because I knew I needed it.  It didn't matter how much I didn't want to eat, when you're in a hole like that you HAVE to eat and it was the only thing that was going to get me to the top.  I spent at least a mile thinking about the workout comments I was going to upload at the end of the day and it was going to be something like, I'm in hell, my vagina is in hell, my adductors are on fire my knees are on fire my neck is on fire everything is on fire because I AM IN HELL It was a long day of convincing myself, over and over, to take one more pedal stroke, and I've been there in training plenty which actually does make it easier to work through, over time.  But then a bit of relief showed up, a long down and then a short one and then I was at the top.  Tired, hot, salty, sweaty and with my chamois wedged somewhere in my intestines but there.  A cookie sounded terrible so instead I ate the best worst piece of pizza of my life, we took a few pictures and then headed out (Jen looks so much happier because, as I explained to some of my athletes, she did a far better job of riding like a responsible adult the day before).  
I absolutely love to descend, but I haven't done it in a while because there are no hills in my basement and the wind was ripping on some of the corners so I took my time.  It warmed up pretty quickly, I tried to nod sympathetically to the riders that were still climbing, I yelled heyyyyyyy Jen Harrison when I saw her pulled over somewhere around mile five, I passed some people and let some people pass me and finally we hit the flat and I could pop down into aero and cruise the rest of the way back.  Shane very kindly racked out bikes while we got naked in the parking lot and then we ate junk food and listened to someone's accidentally-left-running Garmin (mine) set new Strava records the whole way home.  

I try to be pretty careful about what I eat, especially since I've learned certain food groups make me have to poop on the run bother me, but at training camp all that goes out the window and it becomes an act of calorie-replacement-desperation.  We ate dinner, and then I think we ate dinner again, and then I ate a pint of ice cream (foreboding music) which I would normally never do the night before a long run but all I wanted was to get enough calories in me so I could sleep without waking up at 2am to stand in the kitchen in my underwear eating another fucking Bobo's bar.
Monday morning was the long run, and there were three of us that needed (need is such an interesting word here) to run twenty miles, which is something I have never done outside of the six times I've done it in races (although maybe only one or two of those counts as an actual run).  We started out an hour before the rest of the group, and I had to drop off the loop into a well-placed gas station less than two miles in to empty my very upset stomach.  I hoped that would be it and I'd be okay from there, but I wasn't.  I think I made at least four more stops over the next three hours (lesson learned: the entire pint of Talenti is never your friend).  My legs felt okay for about the first fourteen miles and then, like a thunderclap, the wheels didn't just fall off, they plain old exploded.  My glute med completely shut down - nope sorry fuck you I'm out thanks I'm going on strike someone else is just going to need to stabilize your pelvis because I'm fucking done here peace - which made my IT band freak out and all sorts of wonderful things start pinging down in my calves.  I stopped and stretched my hips and dug around in my glutes a few times to try and get things going again, I put the brakes on then finally gave up on pace and sorta just jogged it on it.  I had some pretty low moments, I got passed by a few girls who were only running fourteen miles and snarled some grumpy things at them inside my head, I prayed for Shane to roll by in the SAG wagon and scrape me off the ground, I gagged down chews and TUMS and pulled down inside myself.  I spent the last four miles swearing that no matter what the mileage said on my watch when I got back to the car, I was done, I wasn't going to run around the parking lot like a fool to make it get to 20, but then I got back and had .08 left so down the sidewalk I went and then my watch beeped and it was over.  The run, the weekend, everything, and it was good.
I'm so glad I went.  Or, more precisely, I'm so lucky that my life is such that I have the ability to pack up and go.  Anytime I can hop on a plane and spend a weekend riding with a group of riders that are so much stronger than I am, I come away inspired and motivated (and completely fucking trashed but that fades after a few days while the rest does not).  It's not at all that I have a false sense of strength, training mostly alone here in Boulder, it's more like I think I have this slightly false sense of weakness, especially on the bike.  When I went to Hawaii back in February, I was startled to find out that I could hang.  That the little hey come on you guys wait up! dork in me wasn't getting left behind by the cool kids.  And I spent the first two days at camp mostly sitting in, but still found it surprising that I wasn't getting constantly dropped...and when I finally did get dropped midway through the Saturday ride, my brain didn't explode, I didn't rain down F-bombs of failure, I simply collected my shit and got back to hauling ass.  Sunday I didn't ride particularly well but I did ride steady with whatever I had left in my bicycle tank.  And I still think it was worth it for the effort I put out on Saturday, how good and confident that made me feel, so I didn't mind being the caboose hardly at all.  This is what I get for riding like an asshole, I joked to one of my training buddies when we chatted about it later that day...and all of this, the whole weekend, it reminds me that there's still a lot more out there, if I want to work for it.  More depth to come for me in this sport, it's one thing to ride strong for a day but as the miles pile into my legs, year over year, I have to believe that I'll eventually be able to stack up day after day after day of strength (and maybe learn to show a bit of restraint when I'm feeling fresh, someday).  That's fun to think about, that makes me feel excited that we're coming into spring and I get to emerge from my basement in a couple of weeks and see what kind of creature has been built there.  All the training in the dark, in the snow, in the blasting freezing wind, this morning I ran off the bike in gloves & tights & a winter hat but those days are almost over.  It's just about time to dig out the race belt and the tri kit (spandex ugh) and see what happens when someone writes on me at 5am with a sharpie and then we wait in porta potty lines and bike check-in and why is putting the wetsuit on more exhausting than the entire race and then we wait some more, it's all just one big waiting game from now until the gun goes off.  

Friday, April 3, 2015

Canyonlands Half Marathon: race report

Last year I raced here and I felt lucky to have a breakthrough kind of race.  Nearly every step felt light and quick, add a couple of hard miles at the end and hey presto: PR.  It wasn’t quite that simple at the time, but in hindsight, it feels like I moved calmly, maybe with a little bit of restraint, throughout the day.  And I loved the race, running down through the canyon makes me never want to run a race on city streets again.  I was happy in the sunshine and it's definitely up there as one of my favorite half marathons.  So when my athletes rallied together and picked a spring destination, I was glad that it brought me back to Moab with them.  
Going in, I didn't taper like this was a high-priority race.  And a few days out, I was bitching and moaning about how much fatigue I could still feel, I wasn’t shedding it like I am accustomed the week before, but the thought that comforted me was this:  Michelle knows what I want.  She knows what my goals are and I trust her implicitly to take me there and if that means that I don’t deeply rest and properly peak to run a stand-alone half marathon in March, then I am on board.  However, it still felt like a "season opener" and I wanted to run well.  I haven't run an open half since this time last year, I had some vague ideas about what a good day might look like but I was more interested in chasing the pain than anything the clock might say.  It’s become more and more clear to me over the past six months or maybe five years that I need to get the fuck over the crazy fear I have of suffering.  Instead, I need to find a way to embrace it, to open myself up to it, maybe even to enjoy it.  I have a good friend that I train with quite often who can hurt himself in a race unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and that was the specific feeling I wanted to find.  I was chatting with him the night before the race, letting him try to calm my flailing brain and he shared a quote that stayed with me (as this crap tends to do) all throughout the next day: We are beautiful things, wild things, searching for the brilliance within us.
My shake-out run the afternoon before the race felt like complete garbage but that’s pretty standard.  I did some strides and that felt more like I was opening up, but once I finished up it was back to sluggish and heavy and tired.  My warm-up jog the next morning was about the same, my heart rate was slow to rise even with some drills and bounding and jumping jacks and bopping around in the corral, but again, that is normal and I hoped that as soon as I started running my legs would turn up.
I crossed the line, started my watch, and ran about twenty seconds before I had my answer, nope, today is not going to be a gift, if you want it you are going to have to fight for it.  I had a screen on my Garmin showing only lap pace and lap time, but instead I let my legs carry me through the first mile by feel.  To be honest, it felt harder and faster than I thought that 8:16 on friendly terrain should have felt, and I started to prepare myself for how bad the race could actually go, for the explosion.  I shoveled in some calories right then, worked on my bottle of OSMO that I was carrying for the first hour and tried to find the edge of oh shit this is too fast I shouldn't be going this fast but I am so here we go.
I kept the effort at that slightly unreasonable level for the first 4-5 miles, and once I got through the 10K I was pretty sure that I was going to squeak by with a PR.  But what I would usually do with that information is back off and coast in on the small win and it's a little bit of a breakthrough that instead I started doing the math to figure out what I needed to do to break 1:50.  I didn't flip over and check out total time until mile eight and I know it was going to be close but I went for it.  There’s a pretty steep hill somewhere in mile nine and running up it hurt so badly and I was going so slowly that just for a minute my brain went shit 1:50 is out of the question and so is a PR and if this is how bad things are feeling you might not even break two hours today what the fuck is happening why is everything all bad.  Which is exactly what brains do when racing gets hard but man, for about ten seconds I let it eat into me.  And then I did the only thing that I know to do when I start falling apart which is to shovel down all the calories I am carrying and force my mind not into I feel great this feels great! because that is complete bullshit but instead straight into oblivion while I wait for the sugar to save me.  And it came through, it didn’t help me run any faster but it dug me out of the tiny hole I fell in for a few minutes and got me focused.

There was no wind this year, which was a bit of a blessing but without the wind the course was hot.  Last year I remember running and being cold well into the halfway point, this year I was warm before I got through the first mile.  So when the course spat us out on the highway, it was a minefield of salty sweaty suffering runners.  I knew the splits I needed to crack the 1:50 mark and I was running on the edge, desperately trying to force lap pace down and it wasn’t happening, it was drifting up and I reverted to counting my steps, tightening up my form, keeping my eyes ahead, swinging my arms, trying to open up my stride, get feet turning over quickly, I thought about Michelle talking about sprinting in the pool hands hands hands and I was thinking feet feet feet and my hips were ripping in pain and I know I was heel-striking and over-striding and doing all the things that I’ve spent so much time trying to train out of my body but all I could think about was getting to the line.

We made the last turn and then I saw the sign for mile thirteen and I had about thirty seconds to make it over the finish and I knew that I wasn’t going to but I sprinted for it anyway, as hard and as ugly as I could and then I was through and it was over.  No magic, no sparkles, no calm and swift, instead just a little under two hours of using an ax on the floor of my pain cave.
And with that, the end result is all I could ever want out of a race: to sit on the ground, empty, exhausted to my core, but at peace with the fact that I gave everything I had.  I didn’t have twenty less seconds in me to crack 1:50 that day, I don’t think I even could have found two, but I know with complete certainty that I have never suffered like that in a half marathon in my life.  I went out to work, I worked, I hurt, from mile two onwards my brain was shrieking fuck I really don't think we should be doing this and I didn't hold it, it wasn't a beautifully executed negative split with a special blast in mile thirteen but I also didn't blow.  I kept it floored even when I was desperate to ease off, hoping for an untied shoe or maybe a meteor to hit the earth directly in my path so I could stop punishing my body with pain for just one second.  And when it was over, I was content.  It was everything I had.  The sweet peace that follows the pain, it doesn't seem to matter if it's a sprint or ironman or any distance between, there aren't many better feelings in the world then the one that comes when you hit stop on your watch and bend over, hands on knees, hoping you won't blow chunks all over the nice person trying to hang a medal around your neck, gasping sorry I'm sorry I just need a minute and realizing that all the voices in your head are silent.  The joy of the hissing silence that follows the fight.  I've spent so many years racing, so many years being disappointed in myself on the far side of the line because I know the feeling when it's late in the miles and I almost imperceptibly let off the gas, not enough that I actually slow down but enough that the pain relents, I'm not even sure if it can be seen in a Garmin file but it sure as shit haunts me when the day is done.
Racing is fun, going fast is fun, but that isn't why I stand on the line.  I do it because I want to be that beautiful and wild thing, I want to find the brilliance within me.  And yeah, yeah, I know, that sounds like a bunch of hokey vomit-inducing bullshit, but everybody has different reasons why they race and right now, this year, these are mine.  It's laying flat on my back in the sunshine listening to everyone babble about their races and smiling privately to myself because I got the day I wanted and that is because I reached out and took it.  It's the sound of the moto starting up because I am the one heading out of transition, it's grinding down into the wheel of someone who is a fuck-ton stronger than me and not getting dropped, it's hitting the lap button and standing, coughing and spitting, on the bike path alone in 20ยบ staring at my watch in disbelief.  All this shit in my head about not being a good runner, every time I tell someone I swim and bike and then watch the parade go by, it's time to let that go and for real.  More than that, it's time to atom bomb those thoughts out of existence.  Thinking about the races that stand out to me last year, they aren't the PRs or the wins or the special days in a pink helmet.  They are the ones where I got tired of my own shit.  Where I didn't think, I just ran, I didn't let up, I didn't make a lot of noise, I didn't barter with myself, I didn't try and convince my brain that I felt amazing like a special fast sparkly butterfly in spandex, I just.fucking.went.  I sank into the suffering, I smothered myself in pain and I quietly moved through the day on my own terms.  So now it's April.  The snow is melting, the pants are getting tinier, the races are getting closer.  And I feel ready.