Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ironman South Africa Race Report

Is a blog still a blog when it is only updated every 3-4 months? Probably not, but I'll write this out anyway, because it was a pretty interesting trip and even if nobody else reads it, I'll want to. 

Where to even begin. Well, the training for this race was challenging, to say the least. I had decided this winter to tough it out and not go south at all, with the exception of a week in Florida in mid-January for a race - a HITS half in Naples that went very well and I quite enjoyed - and this particular winter, if you hadn't already heard, was brutal, to say the least. I've lived here for a long time and usually we get brief reprieves from snow and cold, random days where it is a little warmer and the sun comes out and some of the snow melts. But nope, not this time. It just kept on coming, and stayed bitterly cold. My car developed a speed wobble that I discovered was simply because weeks' worth of snow had packed itself into the inside rim of the wheel. Normally that would melt here and there, but nope, not this year. Coldest February on record. It also snowed every single Saturday night. I thought that particular month would never end.

But, training had to be done. Somehow in spite of the insanity I only had to move one swim workout (thanks to my gym for only closing that one time due to all of the snow) and due to an awesome foot injury that kept me from running for a couple of weeks I never had to move any run workouts either. In a way though it was sort of nice to actually have something productive to do in spite of all of the snow. And a reason to leave the house. Half the time it was like, "Do I really want to go outside when it's snowing and the wind chill is below zero?  Eh, not really."  That particular scenario was pretty common.  I spent way too much time in the basement on the trainer watching almost every single episode of The Office.

It always seems more difficult to tell if you are actually getting fitter in the winter. You spend so much time indoors and training alone, and when you venture out to run half the time you're worried about slipping on ice and snow and not even thinking that much about pace and heart rate, and you're layered up in warm clothes. But in spite of that, it did appear that I was more ready for this race than I'd been for any in probably nearly three years. The training had gone flawlessly until my foot decided to stop cooperating in the middle of February, so some things had to be modified for about the final 5 weeks but I did what I could there. 

So enough about that, a week before the race I flew over to South Africa. I left home at 7:30am on Sunday morning and arrived at the hotel in Port Elizabeth at I think 11pm there, or 5pm back home. That is a lot of traveling. Somehow it never actually feels quite as long as it really is, surprisingly. But to say we were exhausted would be an understatement.

This was my first time traveling to a race in a different country and in fact only my second time leaving the country at all, the last time being Ireland in 1999, when I would've laughed in your face if you'd suggested I do a triathlon. I honestly had almost no idea what to expect, but fortunately South Africa is pretty westernized and everyone spoke English. They drive on the left, their food is way cheaper, there's a lot of cricket and rugby on TV and they seem to have something against maple syrup, but still. There were plenty of American shows and movies on TV and there were Kardashians on the magazine covers. So, see? They haven't only ruined our country, but others as well. 

I slept fairly well the night before the race. All week we'd just been so tired and thrown off by being off 6 time zones in the bad direction, so any opportunities for sleep were usually good ones.  I was even kind of hungry for my breakfast, which never happens on race morning.  Walked down at about 5:30 in the dark and got everything ready to go. This race actually had more than one age group wave. The pro men went off first, then the pro women, then the first wave of age group men at 6:45 and then the rest of the men plus all of the women at 7.  This was I think my 18th Ironman start line, and in all of these races the only aspect that still sometimes gives me true pre-race anxiety is thinking about the swim start. I've been in some brutal ones. But the split start, even though there were still several hundred of us standing on the beach, still just took a lot of that away.

I can honestly say I don't think I've ever been this relaxed before an Ironman race. I had absolutely no pressure on myself. My foot issue training hiccup sort of took out any high expectations I may have had. The foot was tolerable, but I'd missed some really key training and had just kept things pretty easy in the final weeks I was running. I felt like I was in good shape otherwise though for everything else and had no concerns about having trouble getting through the race, barring of course unforeseen issues like mechanical problems, but it's a waste of energy to worry about those things.

It was a beach start, plenty of space, and I lined up right toward the front and as far to the left, which was where the buoys were, as I could get. The ocean had been in the upper 60s I believe which is chilly to start but really pretty perfect for swimming. When the cannon finally fired I walked purposefully toward the water rather than dashing in like a mad woman.  It's a long, long day, there's really no reason to dart into the water, and there was plenty of room so no worries about fighting for space.

So, off we went. I don't remember getting hit very much when we were starting, there was a lot of space. A few waves but nothing terrible. The swim is one loop, swim out, 90-degree left turn and swim very far, then 90-degree turn, 90-degree turn, swim back and in.  Let's just say that there weren't really enough buoys. And they were the same color. So sometimes you'd look up to find the next one and you might see one in the distance, but you weren't entirely sure if that was the next buoy you were supposed to be swimming for or if that would take you across to the opposite side of the swim course.  It wasn't that bad on the way out, and I still had some swimmers around me. But once I turned to swim back in, I don't think I've ever felt so alone on an Ironman swim course before in my life. four or five times I stopped completely to just look around and try and figure out where I was, and sometimes I couldn't even see another swimmer. I could always see kayakers and support paddlers somewhere, but it was pretty unclear whether or not I was actually on the swim course anymore. I had thought that it would be a pain with the wave starting in front of us and I'd run into a wall of slow swimmers, but it really wasn't an issue. I passes some here and there, but everyone was so spread out.

It got really rough out there with the waves, and it was impossible to find a nice crest of a wave to look out and see the next buoy, because there were dozens of others between you and what you were looking for, obscuring the view. So, I just kept swimming in the general direction I thought I was supposed to go and figured that eventually I would be able to see better where I was supposed to go.

And of course I did eventually get on course and figure it out, especially once I was close enough to see the pier that marked the end of the course. I had absolutely no clue what my swim time was as I saw no clock and didn't wear a watch, and I was pretty shocked to see 1:07 when I fully expected that after probably swimming three miles it would be closer to 1:15 or 1:20, but whatever.  For reasons never explained, for some reason we had to keep our swim caps on our heads until we got to the showers after a beach run, and we were not allowed to take off our wetsuits past our waist until we were actually inside the change tent. Why? I have no idea, just one of the nuances of international competition, I suppose.  Transition was quick and painless and then it was time to bike.

Again, I was thoroughly relaxed. I also really had no major doubts about my bike fitness going into this race. That, plus the fact that I was leaner for this race than I'd been in a while, and there were lots of hills, left me feeling pretty good about how it would go. We had driven the course a few days prior so had some idea what to expect. There were plenty of hills and plenty of beautiful scenery. And monkeys. Definitely my first time doing a bike ride where I saw monkeys just kind of hanging out by the side of the road.

The ride starts out fairly urban on some wide city streets with plenty of civilization, like McDonalds and KFC. I saw more KFC restaurants in South Africa than I've seen anywhere in the US.  I started out riding maybe a little harder than I should've, but I hate the beginning of these rides because there are so many more people around me, especially with a wave of men in front of us who'd had a 15-minute head start.  I also started drinking a lot. It wasn't especially hot there, probably topped out maybe in the mid 70s, but clearly I had been training through ridiculous cold winter so some extra fluid wouldn't be a bad thing.

Eventually things got a lot more rural and the hills began. There were some long ones, and the downhills to compensate didn't help much because many of them had very sharp turns at the bottom that required going very, very slowly or launching off a cliff.  I chose the first option. We also sort of alternated between riding on the right or riding on the left. I had been concerned about left-handed bottle swaps at aid stations, but they had those positioned really well, during very slow sections, so it wasn't a problem. And some of them were on the right anyway. The pavement was also quite often very, very rough. Which made it just a little bit more uncomfortable, but you don't have much choice there aside from just getting through it.

Another added challenge for the day was the wind. We had expected it anyway, but it certainly didn't help speed. But I knew going into this that it was going to be a challenging course, and it was going to be slower than normal, and all I could do was keep pedaling and deal with it. By the time the first loop ended I rode through town with no other people so I felt pretty good about how I was doing. I caught some more guys coming out of town but by about mile 70 I was fairly alone, which can be good and bad. Nice not to worry about other people, but it gets somewhat lonely out there. As much as I enjoy biking, it always gets to a point where it just becomes uncomfortable to be on the bike. My neck was hurting, my wrists were hurting from gripping the handlebars too tightly over all of that rough pavement, the balls of my feet were hurting from so much pedaling, I was just over it. And knowing that on a flatter course like Texas I would've been finished a whole lot sooner also didn't help. But, finally I finished the ride. My nutrition all went down smoothly, I drank 13 bottles of fluid, and I remained upright with no flats. 

So, now time to run. Oh, always the wild card for me these days. I was a runner once, and maybe someday again if I can string together enough consistent months of it without injury or something else I will be again, but I'm definitely not there yet. So I knew this was just going to be about getting through it rather than racing it. Not that I wasn't basically going as fast as I could at the time, but it wasn't going to be fast. My legs also felt pretty wrecked from that brutal 112 miles, but once I get to the marathon I don't even care anymore really, I know I can walk if I have to in order to finish.

But, I didn't really have to walk much. One very different thing on this course as opposed to US courses was that the water was served not in cups but in sealed plastic bags you had to bite the corners off of. When they described this to us in the pre-race meeting it sounded like it was both stupid and annoying. But once I actually tried it out on the course it turned out it was actually way better than losing half a cup of water down your shirt like we do it back home. Bite a little bit off, and suck it all down, don't lose a drop. Also, if I did this one again I'd take one or two with me for later on longer stretches between aid stations. Because the first half of each of the three loops had plenty of aid stations, and the second half had closer to 2 miles between them. Or, way, way too long. It was like torture at that point.

Not a whole lot to say about the run. I just kept on moving forward, got passed by a whole lot of people, and kept trying to figure out a way to make my hands stop feeling all puffy and swollen. The on course drink was Gu, and I don't think there was enough salt in there so I was low. I kept eating bananas although I skipped the boiled potatoes they were also offering.

One other weird thing I experienced in this race that I've never experienced anywhere else, I was hungry on the run. Like, really, really hungry. Normally I'm forcing down nutrition and don't want anything, but at any given moment during that marathon if anyone had offered me a pizza, I would've gladly accepted.  I don't think I've ever had an Ironman race where I stomached all of my race nutrition so well, either. Just absolutely no moments of race gut or cramping or feelings that I couldn't stand the thought of another gel. For whatever reason, that all went really smoothly.

I already explained the aid station situation, but the run course was really pretty flat which was nice. A few inclines here and there, that seemed more and more like mountains on each subsequent loop, but that was it. Crowd support was great, and the aid stations, when they weren't too far apart, were mostly pretty good. Although some seemed to be missing certain things, and one only had Red Bull for some reason. 

For the first time in a couple of Ironman races, I was on the bike course longer than the run course, so at least there was that!  I actually picked up the pace for about the last two miles, because it was flat or downhill, because I was thirsty and those last aid stations were really far apart, and because I was hungry and wanted to be done soon. Also I was annoyed that as I looked at the kilometer markers and tried to convert them to miles and compare with my Garmin, it became clear that the run course was long.  By a half-mile when I looked afterward. Like we need that. The bike seems to have been about a mile-and-a-half short, but you won't hear me complaining about that.

Just before it got dark, I crossed the finish line of I think my 17th Ironman. I had no idea of my time because I wasn't sure what time the finish clock represented but I didn't really care, I was just glad that I'd finished and that it wasn't terrible and that for the first time in a long time I ran most of the run, even if not that fast.  I had my finish line catcher who took me to get my dry clothes and finisher shirt and then she asked me where I wanted to go. Normally at the end of these things I feel so horrendous that I don't know what will make me feel better, whether lying down or food or water or what. But this time my answer was clear: FOOD.  Luckily that was easy, and in short order I'd had pizza, a chicken sandwich and a fudgcicle.  It was perfect.

So, that was that, another Ironman in the books, first international race. I would certainly recommend this one to anyone and maybe someday I'll even do it again myself. But first we need to erase my memory of the insanely long plane rides. Wow, Africa is far. And huge. On our way over we stopped once in Africa briefly, and where we stopped in Africa was actually closer to the US than our final destination on the same continent.

So that was quite the kick off to the season. Nothing big on the horizon for now, just sticking with a bunch of local races over the summer, I think. But this was a pretty good start.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

End of 2014

Well, I'm still not great at updating the blog.  Oh, well.  2014 has come to a close and we are finally at 2015, and it looks nothing like Back to the Future II told us it would.  Oh, well.  I'd have to say that in general I enjoyed 2014.  It started a little rough when I couldn't train at all for the first couple of months, and then had to go try and do a 70.3 in Texas with hardly any training.  Somehow someone knew that under those circumstances it would be the perfect time for me to flat in a race for the first time in 11 years so I couldn't even attempt to run, which would've been a disaster. 

Then I got to spend a month or so training in Tulsa with my friend Jessica Jones and our other friend Logan Franks.  These guys are pros, so it was mostly wheel sucking but it really was a nice place to ride, and a gorgeous pool to swim in.  Although admittedly it was nice to not be the one in serious training and just go along with whatever.  And when we went to the pool, if Jessica had to swim 4000 meters I could be perfectly happy hopping in another lane and only swimming 2000. 

That was kind of my main approach to this season.  I'd done so many Ironman races over the prior ten seasons and the last bunch had not gone well in the slightest.  It really had nothing to do with my athletic ability and everything to do with the fact that I'd completely lost my motivation to train for those races.  I kept kind of falling behind and trying to catch up but mostly knowing that it was far too late.  So if you check out any of my race results from the last couple of seasons, none of them were really that surprising to me.  I had the result I'd trained for.  The last time I remotely trained well for an Ironman race was Ironman Texas in 2012, and hey, 6th in my age group!  So, you do the work, the race goes well.  You don't?  Well, I never finished in the dark before quite recently. 

Rather than continue this pattern, I decided to take 2014 off.  There were a few times where I considered signing up for an Ironman, getting in on something late, but I resisted those urges and in the end, I was so, so glad.  It's not that I don't enjoy those races or training for them, but you simply can't make yourself do that year after year after year when you're not enjoying it.  2014 was spent without a training plan.  I didn't log a single workout.  I really didn't even PLAN a single workout.  Over the summer I swam a lot with my open water swim friends, I hardly biked at all and I ran just enough to keep from getting winded in a 5K.  And I really enjoyed most of the workouts I did. 

I did do a few races, mostly short and incredibly low key ones.  I didn't put any pressure on myself, didn't look at the slow results and compare myself to back when I could run marathons faster than my 5K race pace (that was seriously true) but rather just enjoyed going out and doing some fun little races and not worrying about results or training.  The intent was not to have this be the norm, but more to give myself the mental and physical break so that I could be ready to get back into serious training for next year.  Because I'd been talked into racing Ironman South Africa in March, and I am not going to South Africa without being prepared to race.

After my last little race of the season in September, my new plan was to go to Hawaii to hang out with my friends and watch the race, swim and run and surf as much as I felt like, come home and take one more week off and then get into serious training.  I built myself a training plan that I'd follow for 22 weeks beginning at the end of October, and I was going to stick to it and be "serious athlete" again.

So far, it's going remarkably well.  I think that break was just what I needed.  I'm coming up on the end of week #10 and I haven't missed a workout.  I'm feeling faster and stronger than I've felt in a very long time and I'm actually kind of excited about this race.  Am I super speedy?  Ah, no, definitely not.  But I'm making a lot of progress, and that is the most important thing.  And I've still got 12 weeks of training to make a lot more progress. 

So basically 2014 was like, resting and getting ready for 2015.  So far my plan is working well.  And somehow I think that training hard in the middle of winter is strangely easier than it is in the summer.  I mean, aside from the last week of holidays, nothing is really going on.  I'm not missing out on anything when I'm getting up early to hit the pool or pedaling my bike aimlessly in the basement.  It's cold and the sun sets at 4 in the afternoon, so I might as well do a lot of training. 

I'm looking forward to what will hopefully be a better year.  Last year certainly wasn't bad, and I'd argue it was better than 2013, possibly better than 2012, definitely better than 2011, and infinitely better than 2010, which was the worst year of my life.  But mostly I'd like to have a year that I can look back on and without question say was a great one.  There's only one way to find out...

Monday, November 17, 2014

"It's Not Easy But It's Worth It!"

The title of this post is what some random old guy walking his dogs said to me as I ran by him on the trail.  I don't think I'd ever seen him before, so it was truly random encouragement but his words certainly rang true. 

I've just finished my first three weeks of training and am at the beginning of the greatly anticipated rest week.  I have to say, for the first two weeks or so, it almost felt... easy.  I suppose part of that is that it was relatively easy, since it's base and all Z1 stuff, which is my favorite, and the volume wasn't particularly high.  So I suppose it was bound to feel easy, but it was nice to feel good for the majority of the workouts.  I do admit that sometime in the middle of week three, when my alarm started waking me up early in the morning out of a sound sleep, that some of the novelty had worn off.  But overall, it felt really good to get back out there with a plan and a schedule and an upcoming race to look forward to. 

Weather has also been cooperating mostly.  I've lucked out in that I've done all of my bike rides outside so far.  It should be noted that I'm willing to ride in colder temperatures than most people.  As long as what I bring to drink with me won't freeze solid and the roads are dry, I'm probably going to hit the road.  I've had some chilly rides but really, as long as I'm dressed well, I'm mostly fine. 

It's amazing how quickly this makes me feel more like myself.  It's not that I hadn't been doing anything before, but I was doing things without any plan or purpose, and waiting and doing things later in the day.  I'm the kind of person who really needs to just get up first thing in the morning and get up and get the training done and then move on with the rest of my day.  It just makes me feel better in general.  And for the first time in a long time I'm really excited about the upcoming season.  I feel like I got the rest I needed and the mental break from constantly having an Ironman to do, and now I'm ready to get back at it and do what needs to be done with fresh legs and without feeling mentally worn down.  Granted, we still have 19 weeks to go and a lot can happen in that time, but so far, so good!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

One Week (almost) Down, 21 to Go

My little training vacation came to an end this past Monday when I decided to actually start training, with an actual plan, for my next Ironman.  Today is Ironman Florida which means it has now been a year since I last did one of those crazy races, and it'll be another five months before I do my next one.  And right now I'm totally fine with that. 

So on Monday I did something I haven't done in about seven months and I set my alarm and headed for the pool.  I've swum plenty, including some pool time down in Oklahoma and lots of lake swims over the summer, but I hadn't set foot at my home pool since before I left to drive down south in the spring for my racing/training adventure.  The people at the gym checking me in are totally different, there was nobody in the pool I recognized, and I forgot what it was like to smell like chlorine.  It was a good start, though.  Then there was some lifting, which I hadn't done in, I don't know, two years maybe? 

The beginning of this week reminded me why so many people must start an exercise program and almost immediately stop.  I was really, really sore.  Wednesday especially, for whatever reason, was the worst.  If I hadn't experienced that before and known it would go away fairly quickly, I might've been tempted to give up, too.  But even just Thursday I felt a lot better, and Friday nothing really at all.  So that was a good start. 

The weather for the most part cooperated so I was able to ride outside.  It hasn't been warm, but it's been dry.  Well, until today.  Today I knew the rain was coming for my long ride but I thought I might be able to squeeze it in between the first hint of daylight and the storm moving in without getting soaked.  That might've been true if my scheduled ride was about 45 minutes shorter, but, sadly, it wasn't.  And the mist that started things off turned into full on rain with about twenty minutes to go.  Oh, well.  I suppose it could've been worse, but as it was I got in probably three hours of dry biking. 

The last two years I became sort of a trainer wimp.  Maybe I shouldn't say wimp, because honestly, I've always found riding outdoors in less-than-ideal conditions to be the lesser of two evils when compared to pedaling aimlessly in the basement.  But I really did used to ride in just about anything as long as the roads weren't icy and it was above about 25 degrees.  Today was in the low 40s, very overcast, but I was reminded that really, if you are dressed for the weather, it's not bad at all.  Also funny was that I was all layered up and wearing gloves and shoe covers and fleece lined things and back in September I did a race in just my usual tri kit and it was the exact same temperature. 

The first week will officially be over after I finish up my long run tomorrow morning, in what is supposed to be 40-45mph wind so that will be... interesting.  But the good news is, so far things are going well and I'm enjoying it, even with less than optimal weather.  It's nice to have a big goal to get me through the winter.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Day 1: 22 Weeks to Race Day

Remember me?  I did just check and was impressed with myself when I saw that I had actually posted in June, so four months of silence isn't as bad as I'd thought.  My intent is to actually blog more often heading into the 2015 season, but since we all know how that can sometimes go I won't make any promises beyond the fact that I'll try. 

Today marked my first day back in "official" training for the 2015 season.  My goal race to start off will be Ironman South Africa, which is quite a trek for someone who has actually never left the country before for a race.  In fact, I've only left the country one other time, period, and that was fifteen years ago.  So this should be quite an adventure.  I wrote up my training plan last week and if I survive the grueling workouts I've set for myself, I should be in a very good spot for race day.

This past season I took an intentional break from Ironman, and I think I really needed it.  I did my first race in 2004 and since then the only year other than 2014 in which I didn't do at least 1 Ironman race was 2011, and that was only because I found out I had a stress fracture two weeks before I was due to race in Coeur D'Alene.  Mentally and physically, I can't tell you how nice it was not to be staring at twenty-five+ hour training weeks constantly, 4-7 hours of training on most days, and just endless miles.  Yes, it is nice to push our bodies and test our limits and see what we can do, but I do believe there is only so much of that you can do consistently before it stops feeling worthwhile to you.  It eventually requires at least a temporary break, if not a permanent one.  I feel much less daunted by the training I'm staring at for the next 22 weeks given that I'm coming off a pretty care-free year in terms of training.  I biked when I felt like it, or mostly just when friends wanted to ride.  I tried to run at least somewhat consistently, and was in a position where even a 45-minute run was a worthwhile venture, which was a nice change of pace.  And I swam quite a bit given that it was summer and I love open water swimming.  It was a nice and needed break. 

But today I was back at it.  I actually set my alarm and drove to my pool, where they haven't seen me since either late March or early April.  Just remember that at that point I went to Texas and Tulsa and got plenty of swimming in down there before coming back and hitting the lakes or ocean, so I haven't been quite as much of a slacker as that timeframe implies.  I don't think I recognized anybody there but was at least glad that it wasn't crowded.  I then hit the weight room for the first time in a long, long time.  I don't even remember the last time I lifted.  We had reached a point where since I am not generally a strength limited athlete, we bypassed strength training in favor of other things, but given my lengthy absence from serious training, it seems like it can only be a good idea. 

I even wen to Bikram yoga today.  I don't think I've done that in five years but I decided I wanted to toss something else in there and work on some core and other strength stuff.  That was more intense than I remembered.  And tougher.  And I forget that in spite of the fact that I have zero issues when swimming, biking and running, my knees are not so good.  But I think it will be a good addition, at least for the first 8-10 weeks before the rest of the training really kicks into high gear, at which point I fear hanging out trying to do yoga in a 105-degree room might have vastly more of a chance of resulting in me passing out in front of a room full of strangers. 

But anyway, day 1 is done.  It went pretty well.  Now I just have to string together a few months of this and I'll be all set!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Signed up for Ironman South Africa 2015

I believe I mentioned in my last post that I am taking 2014 off from Ironman training.  I've been very happy with that decision.  My "big" race for the year will be Timberman, and the thought of training for "just" a half is so, so much less daunting than a full.  3 hour bike rides?  45 minute swims?  No problem.  And also the feeling that every little run will help, and I don't have to somehow make it through 26 miles. 

Last weekend I actually did a little race.  Half the reason I did it at all was because it happened to fall on my birthday, and I'd never done a race on my birthday.  Since usually I do pretty much nothing outside of normal training on my birthday, it seemed like a fun alternative.  It was a very small Olympic distance race in a part of New Hampshire I'd never been in before.  Or at least I don't think I had.  The weather was gorgeous and it was a nice, very small and low key event.  There was also a sprint, and a duathlon, and I think an aquabike option for both distances.  The longer race was also the smaller one, so with only 40-something of us, it was actually a mass start swim which was kind of fun.  The lake was the perfect temperature, and nice and clean and a course that was easy to follow.  I managed to be 5th out of the water.  As usual, I was way too slow for the fast people (I think the top 4 all came out at least 3 minutes before I did) and too fast for the average people.  I think I'm forever doomed to swim in no-man's land. 

The bike was actually 30 miles which is a little long, and since I didn't do my homework I didn't realize how long it was going to be until I showed up and looked at the map.  Not that that's a big deal, but I probably should've brought along another energy gel.  I raced without any data whatsoever.  No watch, no Garmin, no bike computer.  It was kind of nice.  The ride was fun and went by fairly quickly.  I probably could've pushed harder, but since I am officially a terrible runner, I figured I was better off not completely destroying any chance to at least kind of, sort of run. 

Off the bike and onto the run course, I think it was good not to know how slow I was going.  I've had once again some pretty interrupted training over the spring with the back issue and minor surgery over the winter, so mostly I just wanted to "run" and get through it.  Wow, I was slow.  And that course was very lonely.  But of course I got through it, and the good news is that if you lack the capacity to run anything resembling "fast" then you don't get blisters and you're not sore at all afterward.  So I've bounced back nicely.  That race also proved that if you find a small enough race you can always manage to place.  I came in third.  Out of all of ten women.  And I won a tri top, size small.  I'm not trying to put myself down, but I'm definitely not a small.  Oh, well, it was a fun morning.  And that's how I spent my birthday. 

July looks to be empty of races but will consist of some training and the annual trip up to Lake Placid to train, coach, and generally have a fun time hanging out with a lot of my friends.  And today I officially signed up to race in South Africa in 2015.  The race is at the end of March, which will make the winter.... interesting.  But I think this will be good for me.  I've never raced internationally.  Actually, I've only ever left the country once, on a family trip to Ireland way back in 1999.  I've got some friends who brought up the idea of making a big trip out of it, and you know what?  Why not?  How often do you get to go to South Africa?  I'm guessing just the once, so I can't wait to make the most of that.  Also, race entry fees there are about $200 cheaper than your average Ironman.  So it also has that going for it. 

Other than that, weather has been good, lots of lake swimming and enjoying sun.  Looking forward to a good summer of not Ironman training, before I have to spend the whole winter very much Ironnan training.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tulsa Training Recap

This is more than a little belated since I've been home for almost a month now, but since I've barely updated at all in the past year I'd say it isn't such a bad offense. 

I spent about a month between April and May training in Tulsa with my friend and pro triathlete Jessica Jones.  One of the things I love about what I do is the opportunity to meet so many great people and how so many times it has led to such good friendships, often beginning from mere days-long training camps.  I met Jessica at a RaceQuest Travel camp last Memorial Day up in Lake Tahoe and we got to hang out a little in Kona, and when she offered to have me come down to Tulsa to train with her, and winter was never ending and I had nothing better to do aside from training by myself, how could I say no? 

I'll say the training there was pretty good.  I can't really complain much.  Drivers were courteous to bikers, I got to swim in a long course pool that is likely the most beautiful facility I've used, and biking and running along the river trails was also excellent.  It didn't hurt to also be a 2-minute walk from a Chipotle.  Well, maybe that's a bad thing.  I can't decide. 

The only really unfortunate thing was that for the first 3 weeks I was there I was unable to run because my back was seized up.  I skipped some swimming too in the initial week or so, but was fortunate that for whatever reason, biking didn't bother it.  Except getting on and off, but as long as I was riding, things were fine.  Then finally one day, out of nowhere, it just didn't hurt anymore.  I suppose I shouldn't say "out of nowhere" because I did get chiropractic treatment, but just as weirdly and mysteriously as the pain had shown up, it was gone. 

After the first week we were joined by another pro triathlete friend, Logan Franks.  Jessica knows Logan from Team RWB, and I actually knew Logan from when he was with us at QT2.  So funny how everyone knows everyone, just through slightly different channels.  Logan also brought his dog, Ubu, who is a really awesome dog who almost makes me want to get one of my own.  He also loved licking sweat off your legs after a workout.  Logan wasn't training for the race either, so we were both mostly just tagging along for workouts. 

I have to say, for once it was nice not being the one who had to train.  I trained plenty, but there were certainly times when we went to the pool and Jessica had to swim 4000 meters when I would just wait a bit before getting in and/or get out early.  I can't keep up with her in the water anyway, so I promise this didn't make me a bad training partner.  I mean, it didn't make me a great one either, but at least I usually drove us to the pool where we got to listen to what Jessica referred to as the "Russian Roulette" that is my iPod.  You never quite knew what was going to pop up. 

I finally got out to do some running as well, and that was nice.  Well, mostly.  Obviously starting up to run again after some time off is always difficult, but it was nice that it at least didn't hurt.  I was still stuck running alone though, because while I can hang on the wheels on a bike with some pro triathletes, I certainly can't run with them. 

It's a lot of fun sharing some time with people who do the same things you do.  Always on the same page with workouts (well, that was easy since we just followed whatever Jessica was doing!) and nobody made fun of anyone for going to bed too early.  There was surprisingly little down time though, what with all of the training and Jessica's kids.  But we did get to spend a nice afternoon kayaking at a local lake, so it wasn't all training all the time. 

Eventually our training came to an end and it was time to head back to Texas for the race.  Jessica flew down and her mom picked her up since she lives down in Houston, and Logan and I drove down to meet up at the house we were staying at with Jessica's coach, Kevin Purcell.  The house worked out great, not too far away from the venue.  I was once again thrilled that I had not signed up, although I was definitely jealous that they were experiencing record cold temperatures and race day was about 20 degrees colder than last year.  The swim was even 100% wetsuit legal.  Oh, well, it was still better to be on the sidelines that day. 

I got to see a lot of other friends who had come down to race and watch, so that was a lot of fun.  Jessica had a very solid day in what was only her third Ironman, coming in seventh place, so everyone was happy.  And after the race, we got to celebrate with her birthday cake which her mom had made since her birthday was the day before.  Overall it was a really fun trip. 

Sadly, the next day, it was time to drive home.  Driving home is never as fun as driving down.  I opted to forgo the 4am start on day 1 and any attempts to push to get home in only 2 days and instead got up and ran before packing up and hitting the road a little before 10am.  My initial plan was to go just east of Birmingham and stop basically in the same place as I'd stopped by first day on the drive down, but once I got to that point, it wasn't that late and I wasn't sick of driving yet so I decided to push a little further.  Sadly, once you get past that point, there isn't much there.  So when I finally felt like I wanted to stop, there was basically no civilization for a while and I wound up crossing time zones and stopping just past Chattanooga.  But, the good news there was that I was that much closer to home and had that much less road to cover. 

It also meant that I got to stop off the following night in New Jersey to visit my cousin Matt and his wife Carolyn and their daughter, Maddie who just turned 1.  I see them a lot when they come up north to visit my aunt and uncle, but I've never seen where they live and since they were right off the highway on my way and it was too far for me to go all the way home, it made for the perfect final rest stop, and only a little over 4 hours to go the following day. 

So, finally, after being gone for almost 2 months, I made it home.  Of course once again I feel like I never want to drive all over the country again, but I suppose as long as opportunities keep coming up and I've got nothing better to do, I'll take them.  That said, I wouldn't mind if I had more reasons to stay put! 

Since then it's just been adjusting to being home again.  I made an early attempt at open water swimming with my crazy friends who seem to think that as long as the ice has melted, the water is ok to swim in.  That first attempt was... a little too cold for me, as it involved being able to see our breath and slightly numb lips.  I know wetsuits are helpful, but they're not that helpful.  Fortunately a week and a half later the water was perfect, so that has been fun.  I biked with some friends I haven't biked with in years, caught up with some people, attended some family parties, and the weather has at least sometimes been decent.  It's definitely better than it was when I left. 

I think that's about as caught up as I'm going to get.