Friday, April 18, 2014

I am willing: New Orleans 70.3 Race Report

I've been thinking for nearly a week about what to write about this race.  I could write 2947493 pages about just what it took to get to the start-line...

The delayed flight (HOW WILL I MAKE MY CONNECTING FLIGHT?!?), lost hotel reservation, boxed in car on race morning, forgetting my wetsuit and sunglasses at the hotel, and nearly not making it back to the start before the road closed!


But I made it to the start line of New Orleans 70.3... I put my wetsuit on, donned my bright pink swim cap, and hopped into the sea of bright pink caps waiting for our turn in the water.  

Three happy/ready athletes.  I also swam with my sunglasses in my cleavage... No big deal.
The night before the race my coach (and dare I say friend) Katie and I were talking about some of the books she's been reading recently.  She was showing me quotes that she has come across that speak to her in a way that is hard to describe to someone else, but you feel compelled to share anyways.  One of them, (that apparently neither of us can remember the origin of) that immediately stuck a cord with me, was simple: I am willing.

The bight pink caps made our way out onto the dock where we were to jump (feet first only!) into the South Shore Marina to get our journey started.

I am willing.

I lined up with 7 other women and the whistle or buzzer or cannon (I really couldn't tell you what it was) went off and into the water we went.  Not only was it possibly my most awkward water entry of my life, my right goggle immediately filled with water.  No problem, swim a couple strokes and dump your your goggles, adjust and move on.  

I swam steady and strong.  I focused on good form and not being afraid of doing the work.  With the exception of running FACE FIRST (how does that happen?) into a guy's back, there is very little I remember about the swim. I rounded the final turn buoy and headed for the stairs out of the water.  Wetsuit off, run to my bike, all the 2-wheeled crap I needed on.  Now I get to ride my bike.

I am willing.

Two pedal strokes into the ride I knew something wasn't right.  My left calf didn't exactly hurt... but it was making itself known.  Well ok, I've got lots of time to let it relax.  Just work your plan.  My race plan called for me to conservatively ride the first hour at this heart rate, after the first hour if I was feeling up to it, I had another 10 beats up to play with.  I ate a Picky Bar every hour and went through at least a bottle of Osmo Active as well.  All according to plan.

I am willing.

One hour in, my calf was still making itself known but not getting any worse, so I decided to play it safe and stick to the heart rate target I had been riding.  Maybe it needs more time.

Two hours in, no change in status.  I was riding strong at my target heart rate, I was working my nutrition plan, but my calf was warning me that things weren't right.  My mantra of the day was taking on new meaning.  

I am willing.

I was willing to work my plan but also make good choices in the face of whatever would come my way.  My calf was making warning sounds from the moment I got on the bike, and I was willing to ride safely to try to save the rest of my day.  Willing to control my thoughts and stay in the moment.  Ride steady, stay hydrated, eat my nutrition.  Take each moment as they come.

Three hours in and I was ready to get off the bike.  My shoulders and neck were done being in aero.  I wanted to RUN.  Four minutes later I pulled into transition, racked my bike, swapped my shoes, made a porta-potty stop (OMG longest T2 time ever!) and on to the run I went.

I am willing.

To my surprise, my calf was feeling pretty good.  Pace. Check.  Hydrate.  Check.  The only hills on the race course are over passes, there were a couple in the first few miles.  Calf was feeling good.  There was a spectator on the 3rd over pass claiming it was a "no walking zone."  I chuckled as I ran past him.  It was hot, people wanted to walk, but everyone was running - no one wants to be THAT guy.

I crested the overpass.  Step. Oh my calf didn't really like that hill.  Step. Ouch. Step. OUCH. Step.  I can't run.  Step.  I can barely walk.

I hobbled through an aid station.  Water, water, Perform.  Ice.  It was incredibly painful just to walk.  Just before Mile 5 I walked hobbled up to a couple policemen and burst into tears.

"Who do I talk to if I'm not going to be able to finish the race?"

I am willing.

In the quarter mile I hobbled before uttering these words aloud I thought about a lot of things, I had gone into NOLA 70.3 with hopes of it being a confidence booster before Ironman Coeur d'Alene, but ultimately, NOLA was not the goal race of my year.  IM Coeur d'Alene was - and what if I hobbled those final 8+ miles, in pain, causing more pain, and probably causing more injury that could possibly put Ironman at risk?  How foolish would that feel?  And what would it prove?  I've covered the 70.3 distance.  Twice.

There were more tears.  I was sad to hang around the finish-line festivities and feel like the only one without a medal around my neck.  Sad I didn't get to see how the day could have ended.  I'd be more sad if I were still hobbling around broken.

I am willing.

But the silver lining of the weekend isn't a tiny thin line that you have to squint, and be in the right light, to see.  The silver lining is big, bold, and made with enthusiastic brush strokes.  I PR'd both the swim and the bike by several minutes.  I ran 4.5 SOLID miles off the bike, and felt great, before things freaked out.  Even without the finisher's medal, my hours of work in New Orleans have left me confident about Ironman.  I got cheer my fellow athlete, Daryl, on as she finished her first 70.3, and squeal in delight as Katie was awarded a Worlds 70.3 slot.  I also got to meet another Katie, she took 3rd in our age group and also took a slot to Worlds 70.3.

Daryl, myself, and Katie... Smiles regardless of neck bling.
After hours in the wind and sun the only logical thing to do was try our very hardest to put ourselves into a sugar coma at Cafe du Monde with beignets and hot chocolate.  I'm told, a New Orleans-must experience.

Now, 5 days later, I'm happy to report that I'm pain-free after a full day of rest, 3 days in the pool, and today spent easy on the bike.  I've allowed myself to be a tiny bit sad.  Its not devastatingly sad, just a tiny bit.  

Tiny bit sad, but with zero regrets.  Ironman is just about 10 weeks out and I can hardly wait to see what happens between now and then.

I am willing.
And NOLA 70.3?  I'll be back next year for a rematch. :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Beast Mode, Training Thoughts, and my Nuggets of Wisdom

She's in Beast Mode!

In these final weeks of preparation before tapering for NOLA 70.3 (I'm now in taper mode!!), I've heard this phrase a time or two.  I don't say this to toot my own horn, truth is, when this is said usually I smile sheepishly, look down or away, and try to do my best to graciously thank that person for the compliment (I mean, it is a compliment, right?).

Here's the truth: I'm not feeling very Beast Mode-ish.  I mean, unless Beast Mode is describing a grizzly bear in late fall that really only has 2 things on its mind - FOOD and SLEEP - then yes, I suppose I am feeling EXACTLY Beast Mode-ish.

So as I rode the 19 miles up Mt. Hamilton a week ago, for the 4th time this training cycle, I got to thinking how I am feeling.... What does the reality of this beast mode mean to me?

My thinking place - Mt Hamilton Rd.
I've worn "real pants" (read: not yoga pants) twice in the past 3+ weeks -- this is mostly because they make me painfully aware of places that I do not yet have saddle callouses (you're welcome).  

My idea of being "up late" involves a time that starts with 10:XX and I've seen that hour only a couple times in the last few weeks.  

Taking a single shower in a day is a rare and unusual treat - and I keep my "nice" shampoo in my gym bag because I wash my hair way more at the gym than at home.  

The front desk employees at the gym know me by name and that yes, I will always need a locker key.

I recently described this stage of training as being similar to being drunk.  I know I've gone too far if I get the the wheepy-crying-at-everything stage, but if I time it just right I get to stay in the I LOVE YOU MAN stage where I am acutely and overwhelmingly aware of how awesome people in my life are that support and love me and I want to tell them often and regularly how much I love them.  A few people have been on the receiving end of this ridiculousness via text, I'm sure they find it both incredibly amusing and hopefully appreciate it all the same.

The spandex/tech/sweaty/smelly laundry.  Oh. My. Word. The laundry.

I've spent nearly as much on Picky Bars and Osmo Nutrition in the past month than I have on groceries.  And absolutely more than I've spent eating out. #teamnosociallife

How's that beast mode picture looking to you?

But the hours spent swimming, cycling, and running have not been wasted.  I feel strong, fit, confident.  The fatigue is becoming a welcomed friend at the end of the day, because it means I'm doing strong, consistent work day to day - and now as I get closer to shedding that fatigue to toe the line at NOLA 70.3 the excitement is creeping in.

Its taken me more than a week to write this... mostly because I'm never sure what to say when I sit down to write.  With a very few exceptions, this training cycle has gone remarkably well.  I've only once had a total emotion meltdown (of course in the pool), but otherwise its been all about trucking along.  Have I missed workouts? Yes.  Have a few moments that didn't feel like JOYOHMYGODILOVEALLTHINGSTRIATHLON?   ABSOLUTELY YES.  Mostly though, I've been enjoying the training, the work, the progress.  I'll offer nuggets of wisdom I've learned from this training cycle - but they aren't groundbreaking.

FIND JOY, even if it is only a small sliver of it.  There are few workouts that I walked away from feeling 100% negative about.  Even if what I loved most about the workout was that it was DONE, I still found joy in the process.

CONNECT WITH PEOPLE WHO LOVE AND SUPPORT YOU, even if this means distancing yourself from people who you love but aren't standing in your corner like you'd hope.  This shit isn't easy and I'm still struggling with it, but I'm happier any day in training solitude than days spent with people who make me feel less than enough.  People who love you WILL support you, even if they think your crazy, bat-shit crazy, getting too skinny, eating too much, eating too little, not visiting enough... the list could go on and on.  And for those in my corner -- I am forever grateful.

STOP FOCUSING ON YOUR PACE, WEIGHT, SPEED, ETC... these things are not a measure of your worth, strength, or character.  And for many of them, they vary incredibly from day to day which can cause an incredible amount of frustration to even the most level headed athlete.  I mention "the process" a lot because THE PROCESS is what matters most to me.  You don't become a champion with one great run, ride, or swim... it takes practice and dedication.  Work the process, work the plan, see results. 

So here we go... 4 days to race day.  I'm excited to pack up my wetsuit, bike, and running shoes and get on a plane to the Big Easy.  Drinks in the French Quarter after anyone?