Friday, February 1, 2013

Sticking Around For the Winter

Anybody who knows me knows that the past two winters I've packed up my car and escaped to warmer climates for a few months.  Sure, I got to experience record lows, icy pool decks and snow in Tucson, but the other 2 months and 28 days I was there it was quite lovely.  And I learned that Alabama is actually a really nice place to train as long as you can outsprint the loose dogs when biking. 

I actually kind of enjoyed driving and seeing so much of the country.  Anytime anyone asked me about it, they'd usually shake their heads and tell me they didn't know how I did it.  Sure, it gets old after a while, but when there is no traffic, which there often isn't as you drive through so many remote parts of the country, it's actually pretty peaceful.  And how often do you get to do something like that?  But I think in May as I woke up one morning in Louisiana and didn't stop to sleep again until Pennsylvania over 1000 miles later I felt like maybe I'd had enough driving all over the country and packing up my life for 3-4 months at a time. 

So this year I've decided to suck it up and settle in and accept that yes, I am a northern girl.  And hey, it's been a while since I really got used to my bike trainer and watched a whole lot of movies and TV shows.  In some ways it's nicer than hoping that route I made up while looking at Google maps would turn out all right and I wouldn't get lost.  And then there was that time I flatted in a pretty remote area of Tucson my final week there and then pulled my phone out of my jersey pocket and realized I didn't have anyone to call and it seemed like a total waste that I'd been carrying it with me all those months.  "Hi, Mom.  I got a flat.  No, I know you can't come get me, but I just wanted to let you know.  No, don't worry because every few minutes some random pickup truck drives by and I'm sure the one that stops won't be because they want to murder me."  Plus, just think of how much less mileage I'll put on my car. 

Nothing else much to report here.  I have Galveston 70.3 and IMTX again on tap to start the season.  I never would've thought I'd actually like racing in Texas but I enjoyed both way more than I thought I would.  So, why not go back?  Especially when I can fly there and it won't require driving across Louisiana.  If you've never driven across I-10 and I-12 through Louisiana, I wouldn't recommend it.  Somehow the traffic never seems to let up, you will almost inevitable at some point come across the kind of rain that makes you have to pull over for a few minutes until you can see again, and for some reason people down there seem to like to drive 5-10mph under the speed limit as opposed to 5-10mph over like we do up here. 

All right, that's about it for now.  I'm hoping to get back to blogging more regularly so that all three of you who read this can be further entertained :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Poem From Jack

This may be a new record for longest I've gone between posts, but I'll try a little harder. 

Last week we lost a relative after he spent some time battling cancer.  Jack McCarthy was my mother's cousin, although to me he seemed more like an uncle you just don't get to see that often, occasionally joining us for Thanksgiving or Christmas or some other random popping by.  What made him unique was that he was a poet.  He traveled the country reading at poetry slams, which I never knew existed before him, and was quite well known within the poetry community.  He's got a few books of his poetry out, but it really was something to watch him perform.  Boston people can truly appreciate his poem for Bill Buckner. 

When I learned of his passing, I remembered an email he sent me after my father died.  It included a poem that anyone might find quite comforting when facing the loss of a loved one.  I thought I might share the email and the poem he sent me.  The writing of mine he refers to is what I wrote about my father while he was still in the hospital and before he died, and the mention of my brother is in reference to his eulogy.

Jack McCarthy: May 23, 1939 - January 17, 2013

Dear Molly,

Thank you. Actually, Mark printed off a copy and I read it last night. It was beautifully written; all the love was between the lines, you never spilled over into sentimentality.

Funny: I know 20x as much about John today as I did 2 weeks ago. He never tooted his own horn, and I think he usually had to let the dog out a few minutes after I arrived. I mainly remember him as someone I didn’t want to collide with on the basketball court or the football field; it was like running into a wall. Strange to be saying even that; it must be 30 years since we played our last game.

I’m very glad I came. I never would have appreciated the unending line at the funeral parlor, the mob at the funeral. I would never have had an inkling of what a remarkable guy John was.

You have a real talent for writing. There’s not a lot of money in it, but there is a lot of satisfaction. And Johnny could be a writer/performer—but that won’t surprise anyone.

We have followed your Iron exploits from a distance. We’re all very proud of you—although it’s crystal clear that you didn’t get those talents from the McLaughlin side.

You have some hard days and nights ahead of you. Following is a poem that might bring you some consolation in the low moments. (Helen was Carol’s mother; I wrote this for her when she lost her significant other.)

I know that you can never doubt how much you have been loved.


The Spaces Between
            for Helen

It hurts
            when love dies.
When love is deep,
            it hurts deeply—
more deeply maybe than you thought
            anything would ever hurt

But with time,
the spaces between the moments when it hurts
get longer,
the moments themselves become
            less devastating,
till eventually you come to associate them
            with a sad sweetness
that has as much in common
with love
as it does with grief.

I will not say
            Don’t grieve for me
do I look like Saint Francis?

But I wish you long
spaces in between,
and may you carry into them
all of that sweetness,
and only enough sadness to attest

the risk that’s being taken
by everyone who loves you.
Every time we love, we’re saying
            Let it ride,
and what’s on the table
            is the rent money.

And every time we stride again
out into the crisp desert night
our fists shoved deep into empty pockets
we know ourselves for losers.

But, Jesus,
what brave losers we are.
I wish you this too,
for the spaces in between,
this bravery.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ironman Arizona Race Report

Five years ago I promised myself I would never, ever ride on the Bee Line Highway ever again.  Especially not in a race.  I really should've kept that promise. 

My return to IMAZ didn't go so well.  I arrived without incident with my mom  and had a pretty restful few days pre-race.  I did a few short workouts, rode the run course with Pat Wheeler in prep for his perfectly executed race and tried to get plenty of sleep and spend plenty of time with my feet up.  Saturday morning was the carb load breakfast at The Good Egg which also happens to be one of the few restaurants in the country I've been to where I can only eat two of their pancakes.  Way better than Denny's or IHOP.  I ate with Pat and Courtney and then Kim Schwabenbauer who ended her rookie pro season on a major high note. 

After that I packed up my things pretty quickly to get the bike drop off over with.  I've never waited in line for this, but this time there was a huge one that wound all through the park.  For some reason they decided to take pictures of every single bike before it got brought into transition.  I'm amazed that they keep finding new ways to overcomplicate these processes.  But eventually the stuff was dropped off and I was basically done for the day.  Nothing left but to drink and eat and keep my feet up.  And TBS did me a favor by showing some good, funny movies for me to be half asleep while sort of watching. 

I think I slept fairly well.  I'm not even sure anymore.  Breakfast went down fine and then I went back to bed for a bit before getting up just before 5.  My mom was actually already awake and ready to head down to the race.  She was a little paranoid and left before I did.  The hotel, which was only about a mile from the start, was running a shuttle and I had no issue getting down there at about 5:30.  Checked everything out, used the bathroom and before I knew it, it was time to get in the water. 

I remember Tempe Town Lake being disgusting.  So I was not excited about getting in.  I was also not expecting it to be quite so cold.  I was a little shocked, actually, with how cold it felt when I first got in.  I've certainly experienced worse, but the last time I did this it was in April and the water was a lot warmer.  The good thing I suppose is that in the darkness it was less obvious how gross the water was, and if it's colder, presumably less gross stuff stays alive in there.  I swam my way up toward the front and found myself a good spot probably two thirds of the way over from the inside buoy line and with only one guy in front of me.  I didn't really fight to be in front, there just happened to be space and nobody else seemed to be moving up so I decided to stay there.  And then the cannon fired for my 15th Ironman start.

I started swimming hard, and my immediate thought was, "How am I not getting the crap kicked out of me right now?"  Somehow I had managed to find the magically perfect spot for my swimming ability.  The people behind me were not swimming over me, I was not catching anyone in front of me, and I was not getting squeezed out on all sides.  Seriously, for probably at least the first 200 yards, it was just me, swimming in the lake instead of fighting for my life.  Given that swimming has been going very well for me late in the season, I immediately felt a nice confidence boost from this.  Sure, things got tight here and there, but I never had to do that thing I'd found myself doing in some races where I'd just sort of slow up and let people go around me rather than fighting for my position.  So I was quite happy that at no point during the first leg of this race did I think I might drown. 

The sun started coming up and it got tougher to see, but with a few hundred sets of arms flailing around in front of me I was generally confident that I was heading in the right direction, and the occasional buoy sighting confirmed this.  The water still felt chilly but not uncomfortably so.  I tried to hold a strong and steady effort, reminding myself several times that once I got out of that water I was done with swimming for the 2012 tri season.  Not bad.  I felt like I was doing quite well, and given the small amount of people around me I thought maybe for once I would have a really good swim.  My fastest Ironman swim to date was in that lake in 2007 at 1:05 and I was thinking I'd get myself a PR.  So imagine my surprise when I got out of the water to see 1:09?  What?  Rather than dwelling on it, I moved on.  And actually, I think percentage wise, compared to the rest of the field, I was right where I usually am, the overall time was just a bit slow.  Still, it would be nice to finally have a good swim!

Anyway, out of the water for the last time, and on the long run through transition to change gear.  For a fleeting moment I thought maybe they just hadn't changed the clock from the pro time and I swam 59, but the fact that there were so many people in T1 immediately killed that delusion.  The volunteers are still amazing and they even put my million gels in my jersey pockets before I headed out for my bike. 

I had my instructions on my heart rate zone to follow on the bike and I did my best to stick to it.  This was especially difficult early on in the ride.  There seemed to be a bit of a head wind and it took me a while to settle in, to the point I was even in the small ring.  I got fairly frustrated early as I got passed by a few packs of people, quite deliberately drafting off of each other.  I'd take each of these as opportunities to sit up a bit and drink a bunch to get ahead on fluid consumption.  Seriously, some of these packs were huge.  About fifteen miles in I had let another one go and sat up to drink and I could hear a motorcycle to my left, kind of hovering there.  He pulled up, said my number and told me I got a red card for drafting and had to go to the next penalty tent.  The pack had passed one other guy who was in front of me who I was too close to.  I didn't think I was that close but I've played enough sports in my lifetime to know that you don't get anywhere by arguing with the refs, so I just nodded and sat up to fall back a bit more.

So now I was paranoid for the next 97 miles of riding.  Especially between that and the next penalty tent.  Even worse was that I got passed by several more LARGE groups which I'd then have to sit up and let get very far ahead of me before proceeding on.  I'll admit I was a bit taken out of things at that point.  That was the first penalty I've ever received in any triathlon.  Add to that we were going uphill and into a bit of a headwind and suddenly I was worried I was going to be riding six hours or something ridiculously unlike me. 

Things sped up after I hit the first turnaround eighteen or so miles in when I got to go back downhill and with the wind and finally found my very crowded penalty tent.  At least the marshals had been paying attention.  I had my timer and they marked me down and I felt more of my race slipping away.  But I did at least take a moment to drink and take a gel. 

So, finally it was time to leave the penalty tent for hopefully the last time in my triathlon career.  It took me ten years to get a penalty, for someone who really does try and ride legal, so let's hope that is the end of that.  And then it was downhill with the wind to pick up some speed.  That was much better.  And it seemed like that couple of minutes had given things a chance to spread out and I was mostly just passing people so there weren't really any more fears I might be drafting.  I suppose the three times out and back at least breaks things up a bit, but this is such a boring ride.  And crowded. 

It seemed on the second loop that the wind had shifted directions.  It wasn't blowing that hard in either direction, but this time it seemed to be more with us on the way out and against on the way back.  It wasn't long into the second loop that I was already lapping some people.  I saw a surprising amount of crashes and flats, which is not fun.  Oh, and did I mention the stench of the landfill you get to ride by constantly?  Yeah, tons of fun.  The miles ticked by and thankfully I was getting faster and still keeping the steady effort where it needed to be.  Although I still wasn't going as fast as I was hoping to.  There's really not a lot to say about the ride.  I was mostly passing people, especially by the third lap, although many were quite possibly only on their second.  I drank, I ate, I pedaled, and eventually it was finally time to get off after 5:29.  I rode about 5:20 there in 2007 under horrifically windy conditions, so this wasn't such a good ride for me.

Immediately upon getting off the bike my hip flexors were practically screaming at me.  They hadn't hurt on the ride so I don't know where that came from, but it made for a very gingerly run through T2 to grab my stuff and hit the tent, where I had a nice team of volunteers waiting for me.  One even fed me my banana.  By the time I got up, the weird hip flexor thing was gone, and there was nothing left to do but run.  Well, after a brief stop for a slathering of sunscreen. 

I had my instructions on where to keep the heart rate and tried to maintain a nice, steady pace.  For me at this point, steady is still pretty darn slow.  I ran 3:47 here I think the last time, and at the time it was a crash and burn.  Now it seems blazing fast.  My heart rate monitor seemed to be giving me some funny readings, as in, incorrect, so I mostly went by feel at that point.  I felt decent enough, just tried to keep moving forward.  Sometime before mile 3 I stopped in a porta potty just to pee.  Honestly, I already didn't have a good feeling about things, so I didn't think I'd have anything to gain by saving 30 seconds but having to spend the rest of the run in urine-soaked shoes. 

After that brief pit stop, off I went.  It was warm and sunny but it didn't feel hot, which was nice.  I still made sure to douse myself with water and ice when available.  The first loop wasn't too bad, but somewhere around halfway through the race my legs started to feel trashed as though I had already run 24-25 miles rather than only 14-15.  It just felt.... bad.  And it didn't take long before I was walking a whole lot more than I was running, and eventually running just about ceased completely.  Everyone passed me.  The sun went down.  Even walking hurt, though I was pretty sure I'd finish.  Epic failure.

It took a long time to finish that run, although I did barely eke out a run split faster than my bike split.  The only redeeming thing happened at the end of the race.  I had been walking with a guy starting at about mile 24 for me, although he still had another lap to go.  He was still in college, doing his first Ironman with his father and his sister.  It was nice to have someone to talk to for the last couple of miles.  But the better part was with maybe half a mile to go we came upon more of the crowds, including a guy with a microphone cheering people on who looked at us and said, "What are you guys, like fifteen?"  So that at least made me feel a bit better.

At the final split he went off to do another loop and I mustered up a sort of run-ish motion toward the finish line where I crossed in 12:10.  Last time I was there I won my age group by an hour.  That did not happen this time.  My mom miraculously was actually still there.  I got my finisher stuff and then grabbed a piece of pizza and some chips to go sit at a picnic table.  I wasn't that hungry but I do know I need to eat in order to function post-race.  Eventually Mom found me and I got my food down and then took a while to go and get my bike and stuff.  It all took way too long, but even worse was the roughly mile-and-a-half walk back to the hotel.  Ouch. 

So that was that anti-climactic end of my season.  I wasn't really upset, I was kind of indifferent at that point.  I mean, you do have to have some sense of accomplishment just finishing these things, even if you are sort of past that point.  By the time we got back to the room I was too tired to care about going out and eating.  I think it took me an hour to muster the energy to stand in the shower to get cleaned up.  And eventually I just went to sleep.  And I actually slept for the first time I think ever in the history of my doing Ironman races. 

And the next morning involved the hotel breakfast buffet where I still wasn't that hungry, and then we basically just packed up and hit the road.  After a quick trip to In-N-Out Burger, that is.  And finally flying home where I plan to stay for a good, long time.  Tired of plane rides!

So that's it.  The end of my season that involved one good Ironman and one crappy one.  I still just can't seem to break through this wall I've found myself behind.  I'll be the first to admit that much of it is quite possibly still in my head.  But for now, it was time to get some rest and then enjoy a Thanksgiving minus the pre-dinner workouts.  I also haven't yet eaten enough to make myself feel sick which is also quite different from the norm post-race.  In fact, it was Wednesday night before I realized I hadn't even eaten a real dinner since the race.  And it's Saturday and that's actually still the only night I've eaten dinner.  Ordered a pizza, by the way. 

So I've tried to remain positive because it's always hard to figure out how you should react.  Yes, I'm unhappy and it's embarrassing.  And you'd be amazed at how much less people want to talk to you after a crappy Ironman compared to a good one.  But there's not much I can do about it for now aside from take a little break and then get ready for next season.  See you later, 2012.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Return to Ironman Arizona

I still remember the first thing I said to my friend Leslie after I finished my race in Tempe five years ago when she met me behind the finish line.  "Don't ever do this race."  I had spent the prior few years racing only in Lake Placid and Hawaii, where it's actually pleasant to race... sort of.  The water is clean and the roads are inviting and the courses offer some beautiful scenery.  None of these things are true with Ironman Arizona.  Tempe Town Lake is the least inviting body of water I've ever swum in (you know it's a bad idea when nobody swims in the lake EVER, except on race day), three loops of the bike course riding along mostly dead landscape that includes the occasional tumbleweed and the luxury of riding past a landfill six times.  And finally a run that twists and turns on lots of random pathways around the lake so that they could somehow find the miles to make up the three-loop marathon.

And yet, I've come back.  It took me over five years, but here I am.  Even worse is that it was mostly my idea.  I'll let you know tomorrow night how I feel about my decision.  Last time I was here I was at my best in terms of triathlon performance.  It didn't result in my fastest time, thanks to some killer wind on the bike course, but it will be an extremely difficult performance to match.  Not to mention the fact that the level of competition over the last five years has increased dramatically.  Five years ago I somehow managed to come in 8th woman overall.  Including the pros.  There were hardly any pros.  I won my age group by an hour.  Yeah, I somehow don't think that's going to be happening tomorrow but I'll do what I can. 

It's been a long and strange season.  I don't even remember when I officially started back up last year after my stress fracture.  October, maybe?  Surely over a year ago.  I was in a pretty bad place physically after being injured and totally out of it for so many months.  But, a whole lot of races later, here I am, about to do my second Ironman of the year, my eighth race of the season (I think that might be a new record for me) I drove from New Hampshire to Florida to Alabama to Texas to Alabama back to Texas and back to New Hampshire.  Flew to Phoenix and Orange County and Hawaii and now Phoenix again. 

And less than a week before Thanksgiving, it's time for Ironman #14.  Why do I keep signing up for these things?  What about getting up at 3:30 tomorrow morning and shoveling applesauce down my throat is appealing to me?  I don't know, but I paid a lot of money to do it so I might as well go. 

Things have been fine.  The trip here was easy and uneventful.  I still remember how to drive around here.  My mom came with me this time, and she came out here last time, too.  Although this will be the first Ironman I've done since Dad died where she was here but he wasn't.  We haven't really done much since I'm trying to rest but she's gone to some art galleries she wanted to go to and I've managed to keep my feet up a lot. 

This morning we went to breakfast with Pat and Courtney and Kim, and fortunately I steered us away from Denny's and to another place I remembered going to when I was out here that serves up outrageously huge but also delicious pancakes.  We all left stuffed.  Then I pretty quickly got all of my stuff together to drop the bike off just after 10:00.  I've done plenty of these races and I think this is the first time I've ever encountered a line at bike drop off.  And not just any line, but a really long one.  Apparently for some reason they decided it was important to take a photo of every single bike before they got brought into transition.  What the purpose of this exercise is, I have no idea, but it seemed to only serve to make a simple process ten times more difficult than it needed to be.  But eventually the bike got dropped off, and I have an end spot on the rack, the bags got where they needed to go and now it's time to just sit back and relax.

I have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow and it's a bit odd to know I've got so many people paying attention to it, but I guess we're about to find out.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why am I Still Training in November?

So whose bright idea was it for me to sign up for an Ironman at the end of November while training in New Hampshire?  Oh, right, that was me.  Even worse is that five years ago I swore I'd never do Ironman Arizona again.  And yet there I was in June scrambling to find a way in.  What an idiot. 

I've never trained this late in the season before.  Well, that's not entirely true.  Twice I raced in Clearwater, which would've been this coming weekend.  That said, both times it came after having raced in Kona, so I wasn't so much training for it as I was just doing a few workouts here and there to make sure I could survive the world's easiest half ironman.  I mean, one year I shipped my bike directly from Hawaii to Florida.  And that was my 56-mile PR.  Imagine if I'd trained! 

Normally now is the time I'm totally sick of training and just want it to be over.  It's not even so much that right now for me as it's feeling like I don't even have a race next weekend.  It's very strange.  Halloween is over and the Christmas stuff is coming out.  I'm living in some weird universe where one week we have a devastating hurricane, which of course is a tropical-related incident, and the next week, today, actually, we have to be worried about snow. 

So, it just feels like I'm swimming, biking and running, not so much training for an Ironman next weekend.  I had a taste of some really chilly weather this weekend when I went outside for my bike ride.  I had forgotten what it was like to wear twenty pounds of clothes for a ride.  It was slow!  Running is being decent to me right now, and in a strange twist, swimming is finally getting faster.  For someone who has had the exact same Ironman swim splits since she started doing them 8 years ago, this is a very encouraging thing.  Let's hope it shows through in a week and a half. 

I guess one good thing about training so late in the season is that I get to be a totally lazy slug on Thanksgiving.  Not that that's the kind of holiday that requires much attention from me.  But while many of my friends are enjoying their breaks currently, they'll have started up again by then, and I'll just be getting started on my rest.  So that's a good thing. 

For now I've got a few more days of training to deal with, then it's time to get on a plane yet again and fly out to Arizona for the race.  My mom is coming with me this time.  She hasn't seen me finish an Ironman since 2010 since she didn't come to Texas.  It will also be a much smaller group of people I know there, which will be interesting.  I really have no idea how the race is going to go, I'm just hoping to race well based on where my fitness is right now. 

I'm definitely looking forward to a little break though.  And of course then getting right back into training for 2013.  But mostly taking a break I finally deserve and to truly be able to revel in it as opposed to coming off an abruptly ended season due to being injured or a death in the family. 

Because this is turning out to be one of the top three most boring blog posts ever, I'll stop now.  Although that is actually a tough list to be at the top of.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Back Home

Well, my trip back home served as my punishment for having such a good time in Hawaii and served to solidify the fact that traveling to and from Hawaii can really only be a yearly event.  Otherwise a person might lose their minds and/or risk spending the better part of the rest of their lives either on airplanes or in airports. 

I had a very long day of mostly just waiting around for my ride to the airport at about 6:30pm.  Apparently my flight had already been delayed, but I was going to be just sitting around and waiting whether I was in town in Kona or at the airport, so I might as well check in my bags and stuff.  The line was horrendous as there were several flights out that night but I had more than enough time to get through.  Once on the other side of security I could jump on my computer and follow the "progress" of my plane.  The plane we were taking had taken off close to two hours late from Los Angeles, which of course meant that we would likely be taking off at least two hours late from Kona.  I was due to have a two hour layover in Los Angeles on the way back, which at the time seemed like more than enough of a cushion.  I hadn't even gone anywhere yet and already I knew I was in big trouble.

Now, sometimes I find the Kona airport adorable in the fact that it is so small and cute and all outdoors.  At 9:30 at night at the beginning of 6000 miles of travel "cute" is not a word I would choose to describe it.  It's more like, "How about some air conditioning?"  Or, much more accurately, "Why are there literally no information screens telling us anything about what time we're leaving or what gate I'm supposed to be waiting at?  Where am I supposed to go and when do I finally get to leave?!?!?"  I had just hit a finite point where it was time to go home, and things were not looking good.

Finally at some point it became somewhat apparent which gate we were leaving from, and we had to pass through another screening for agricultural stuff to leave the island.  On the other side of this were three gates for the three planes leaving at roughly the same time, all of which were full of passengers stuffed into way too small of a space to accommodate all of them.  This plus the continued lack of communication or information made me about ready to see if I could probably get my pilot's license and charter a flight home before it was finally time to leave.  I'll admit at this point I was overreacting, but did I mention I was exhausted?

It was us Los Angeles passengers, another flight to San Francisco which I also could've been on as an alternative route back, and a flight to Phoenix which again, could've been my starting point.  Phoenix took off on time.  San Francisco was in the same spot we were... except at one point it became apparent that things got worse for them.  They announced that their plane was having some sort of radio frequency issue, hence the delay.  Our plane was fine, it just wasn't there yet.  Eventually they announced that they were boarding their flight, but the particular issue they had meant that they were prohibited from flying to the mainland, so they would be stopping over in Honolulu.  Honestly, I have no idea how that was supposed to better their situation.  I have no idea what happened to those people but I'd be absolutely shocked if any of them left for the mainland that night. 

Eventually, after I was about ready to start swimming to California since I'd thrown my goggles in my carry-on, we finally got to board our flight.  I spent the entire time unable to relax due to knowing almost without question that I was not going to make my flight to Newark.  I might have slept some, but the little girl in the seat next to me slept more I know because she kept on falling asleep on my arm in spite of the fact that her father was in the seat on the opposite side of her.  I suspect a few times he pushed her to my side. 

My flight landed at 7:04am.  My next flight was at 7:05am.  Of course that was the only flight I was scheduled for in the entire duration of the trip that actually took off on time.  So I got to spend some time in line at customer service wondering if I'd even be able to get home that day.  The nice lady at the counter told me that they had already automatically rebooked me on another overnight flight home.  Yeah, I know Hawaii is far away, but it is not two nights worth of travel far away.  She found me another option through Cleveland a few hours later, getting me home four hours later than initially planned.  All in all, not so terrible, so I took my $10 food voucher - a nearly useless consolation prize as at the Los Angeles airport I don't think you can get even a simple sandwich for less than $12 - and got to feel slightly more relaxed that at least I would soon be headed in the right direction.

The next flight took off twenty minutes late.  Ok, not so bad.  The woman sitting next to me never fell asleep on my arm, but the morbidly obese man sitting behind me spent the entire four hours of the flight snoring like a motorboat.  Why is it that the people who snore so loudly are the ones who fall asleep the quickest and stay asleep the longest?  I could tell in between my trying to watch Spider-Man for the third time in my travels (they kept playing it, and it was like seeing it for the 20th time because I swear I JUST saw that movie when it starred Tobey Maguire...) I could hear him waking himself up, but he'd just go right back to sleep.  I'm just glad I wasn't the poor woman stuck sitting next to him. 

Upon my arrival in Cleveland at about 7:00 that night I was annoyingly not surprised to see that my last flight had already been delayed.  Scheduled for 7:50, it already said 9:29, and given how things were going, of course I knew it would probably be later than that.  I walked around the airport aimlessly for a bit, just to move after so much time sitting still.  It turns out I probably should've sat down earlier because everything in the Cleveland airport shuts down at about 8pm like it's midnight since there were about 17 of us left to leave the airport either heading to Manchester or Grand Rapids. 

My flight was coming from Baltimore and finally it was headed for us, and there was some hope that I might see home soon.  I couldn't even tell anymore what day it was or where I was or what was going on.  What I did know was that when my plane finally arrived and I watched the few pieces of luggage get loaded on it, there definitely wasn't a bike case involved.  Awesome.  But again, very much not unexpected.  At that point I only cared that I made it back.  It was one of those small planes that only has two seats on one side and one on the other, and finally some good luck came when I had nobody sitting next to me.  Sure, there was a crying baby in the seat in front of me, but at least I could elevate my feet.

Finally, at 11pm after 20+ hours of travel, I made it home.  Our tiny plane load was the only group at the airport, and I walked to the baggage claim area and saw that of course nobody was at customer service.  But before I could even try and figure out what to do next, I saw my bike just sitting all by itself in the over-sized bag area.  I was too shocked to think anything, just picked it up and then stood there for another minute or two wondering what to do now about my suitcase.  Then again before I had a chance to try and think, I saw an airport worker walking our direction wheeling a cart with one bag on it.  Yeah, it was my suitcase.  "It got here before you did," she said.  "I saw you were on this flight."  I should've hugged her but I was so tired I could barely even thank her.  I just couldn't believe it.  So at least things ended well there.  Apparently there was another flight to Newark at 8:30 from Los Angeles, and I did not make it through customer service in time to get on that one, but my bags did.  Sometimes the airlines can do a little something right.

So now I'm home and trying to adjust to life back on the east coast.  I think wimpy things like I can't go outside because it's 55 degrees and I might freeze.  And while I've actually been falling asleep fine, I'm still sleeping for way, way too long in the morning.  Or I'll get up to swim and come home and go back to sleep.  Fortunately it's a rest week so I've got more time for that. 

For now, just tapering until the race, really.  Very strange.  I can say I'm very much over all of this bike taking apart and putting back together and upon my return from Phoenix I plan to stay in one place for a good, long time!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Kona Report

Yeah, I've been a bad blogger.  The worst part is there has actually been a lot going on lately that might have actually made for some interesting reading, so I'll do my best to condense the past six weeks into something manageable to read. 

There has been quite a bit of travel and a lot of airports and bike disassembling/reassembling.  It began with my first return to Phoenix/Tempe since I left after Ironman Arizona in 2007.  I did some training there and realized that I did not at all miss the Beeline Highway.  For anyone who has not been there it is one of the most boring stretches of road possible, and to make matters worse, you have to ride the same "loop" three times.  It was blazing hot - triple digits - but for some reason I actually enjoy riding my bike when it's really hot out.  Maybe it's just the fact that being cold on the bike is so unpleasant, so I might as well soak up the lack of shivering and blue lips and frozen water bottles while I can. 

I also got to swim in Saguaro Lake, which should be called, "Why don't we swim here for the Ironman?" Lake.  It's clean and nice and in an actual pretty area.  This is a stark contrast to Tempe Town "Lake" where you can't see your own hand when your arm is extended.  I know I've got some long arms, but seriously.  There was also a run of a loop of the marathon course which was flat and easy and while boring, I think flat and easy is just what I need at this point. 

After that it was onto another plane and bound for Orange County to meet up with my friend/teammate/fellow QT2 coach Michelle to do a little half ironman on the west coast.  I forgot to mention that just before I left for this trip I got a phone call from my credit card company that there had been some suspicious activity on my card.  I had used it earlier that day at the bike shop and Walgreens, yet somehow to go with those two purchases totally about $18 was another one, from a Babies R Us in Pennsylvania for about $2600.  Yeah, I'd call that suspicious.  So, great, credit card needs to be canceled and I won't get another one for a week or so, as in after I get home from my trip.  No problem, I've got a back-up.

Except two days into the trip I get an e-mail from the other credit card company saying there was a suspicious charge of about $250 to some web site.  Yeah, I didn't make that, either.  Before I even left Phoenix I suddenly found myself limited to only the cash in my wallet.  Great.  So, thank you Jen, another teammate who came out to race, who fronted me the money for food while I was in California! 

Anyway, there was a race and I was feeling pretty drained from some fairly hard training in Tempe.  That plus heat and a ridiculous race course left me with not the greatest race performance of my career.  This was a smaller race, not an "official" 70.3, and a lot less participants.  That did not stop them from charging a ton for entry.  It was a very early start and the swim in the ocean was nice, but then we climbed 2500' up a winding canyon road before turning around and coming back down.  My bike decided to skip in the two easiest gears, so I was left to ride without them.  Not ideal.  Onto the run which included zero shade, tons of soft sand beach running, waiting for a train to cross before continuing, and multiple out-and-backs on the Pacific Coast Highway pretty much roasted me.  I did somehow manage to get I think third in my age group.  Having been first off the bike makes that not the greatest result, but I did survive.

Then it was time to head home for a couple of weeks of training and getting used to riding the trainer again thanks to lots of rain.  Not super fun.  I did swim open water a few more times though thanks to some friends who are relentless in their avoidance of the pool. 

But before I knew it, it was time to get on a plane again.  Several months ago my friend Mary decided that we needed to go to Kona.  I hadn't been since my DNF in 2009 (I knew going in it wouldn't be a finish as I started with a stress fracture that had been diagnosed two weeks prior) and since I don't have to check with anyone to see if it's okay if I do anything, I decided to go.  I now have to not spend money at all in 2013, but I'll tell you right now it was worth it. 

I traveled for nineteen hours but somehow it didn't feel anywhere near that long.  The downside is that you arrive in Kona in the dark and aside from the humidity and exiting the aircraft right onto the tarmac, it is difficult to even be able to tell you're in Hawaii.  Mary had arrived just before I did and had time to get the rental car and pick me up and drive us down to the QT2 house, a condo right on the ocean about four miles from the finish line right on Alii Drive.  Miraculously, we made it there in the dark.  The fact that the ocean was so loud was the only evidence it was there since of course everything was pitch black. 

By the time I went to bed, I had been awake for over twenty-four hours.  I didn't really care.  That did not stop me from waking up at something like 3:30 in the morning.  Since that was 9am east coast time, it only made sense and I was expecting it.  Instead of futilely trying to go back to sleep I did a few things on the computer and then went out for a run under the stars.  Not a bad way to start the trip.  Mary and I went and swam at the pier once it got light out and then had ourselves a nice breakfast at the infamous Lava Java.  Honestly, you'd think there was nowhere else in town to eat breakfast, but it's always delicious.  Eventually we made it back to the house so I could put my bike together and go for a little ride.  It's amazing how fast three hours goes by with a change of venue.  Then again, anything goes quicker when you're actually moving instead of in the basement.  My last ride had started at 3:45am before I got on the plane.  Yeah, this was better.

That night we headed over to the TYR house for a little luau which I was somehow awake enough to enjoy.  The next morning we swam at the Kona Aquatics Center.  This is a beautiful outdoor pool - or pools, more accurately - and it costs exactly nothing to go over and hop in a lane and get your workout done.  Even better was later in the week when I'd ride my bike over and I could just leave it right on deck in sight of my lane.  This should exist everywhere.  After that was the Kona Underpants Run.  This storied tradition goes almost as deep as the World Championship itself.  It was a lot of silly fun and gave me another opportunity to do something I definitely wouldn't have done if I'd been racing.  Don't get me wrong, I love racing too, but in this particular instance I truly believe this is just the kind of trip I needed.

There was probably another bike ride in there and then some time spent at the expo before I went up to Waikoloa to meet some of my athletes for dinner.  I had one athlete here racing, who qualified at his first Ironman in Mont Tremblant just eight weeks prior, and he was here with his wife, who I also coach.  It's so nice to actually be able to be there in person for an athlete.  It's not always possible, but it's great to take advantage when it is.  He was relaxed and calm and as ready as he could be. 

The following morning I think I was awake before 3.  I skipped the team breakfast in favor of getting my long ride done.  More important than anything for the day though was some surfing.  I've surfed for about ten years and have a board back home (I even went once in mid September although I had to quit after only an hour because I thought I might freeze to death) and Mary had tried it before and wanted to go again, and we had run into our friend and teammate Chuck and his wife Michelle who also wanted to join us. 

This particular afternoon, I think probably for all of us, was the highlight of the trip.  We had plenty of fun, but this was just an absolute blast.  The waves were pretty consistent, the water was warm, everyone got up - including Mary who impressed the instructors with her ability to surf sideways on her knees rather than ever actually standing, and Chuck and I got to go out and ride a few of the bigger waves toward the end of the lesson, including the final one in which we took off right next to each other and broke off in opposite directions and rode the wave almost all the way to shore.  This is definitely not something you can do the afternoon before the race if you have to race in the morning.  Anyway, funnest afternoon ever.

That night Mary and I went to check out the "Thank God I'm Not Racing" party, which I thought she was just calling that to be funny but apparently it is literally called that and comes complete with hats and medals that indicate that you swam, biked and ran 0.0 miles.  It was kind of a zoo with no real good food (we spent the week seeking out free food) and I think we spent roughly fifteen minutes there.  We were really tired anyway. 

Race morning I was up almost as early as if I had been racing.  I felt no desire to be racing that day.  Not in the sense that I never wanted to race, just knowing that this was not my year for it.  Mary, Charlie and our other roommates Greg and Jody (Greg was racing, Jody is his girlfriend) headed down to drop Greg off and I got my run in right from the house down to meet up with Mary later.  Charlie was the official QT2 photographer for the day so he had some work to do.  Mary and I found a nice spot on the rocks to watch the swim and eventually made our way up near the infamous "hot corner" to watch the bikers go out.  There we learned a valuable lesson: if you're crossing the street in front of the bikers on the bike course, pay attention!  After countless close calls, this woman who wasn't even really looking (at this point the bikers are coming around a corner after going downhill, easily topping 20-25mph) darted out in front of this poor racer who had no chance of avoiding her, and there was a loud and painful collision.  The racer, miraculously, had minimal road rash on his shoulder as the only visible injury, though was obviously shaken up.  His bigger issue was his flat front tire and the unnecessary guilt of having injured this woman who really started his day on a bad foot.  I have no idea what injuries she sustained, but she was kept quite still and eventually taken away by ambulance.  The racer was able to change his tire and continue with his day, and he finished.  What an unnecessary incident. 

Anyway, after that there was plenty of waiting around for people to come back from the bike, so we passed the time with some breakfast since I personally was about to pass out.  Then we found some tents with the live internet feed playing and hung out there for quite a while.  Honestly, spectating is tiring!  It was a very hot day and the word was that it was windy out on the bike.  Big surprise.  Eventually we found a good spot to watch around mile one and saw the leaders and eventually the QT2 crew trickling through.  From the looks of everyone, it was an especially brutal day out there.  Very few people held it together from start to finish, and that includes some major veterans of the race.  Eventually we situated ourselves a tenth of a mile or so from the finish line and Mirinda Carfrae - who was running to her third place finish - stopped right in front of us and could barely make it in from that point.  This is not someone who doesn't know how to handle herself out there.  It was just that kind of day. 

This was my second time coming to spectate the race.  The last time was in 2008 and I remember seeing the finish line and wishing I was going to get to cross it that day.  I haven't finished this race since 2007.  That was longer ago than I'd care to admit.  While 2008 made me sad, this year I wasn't feeling that way.  This is not because I never want to race here again.  I've realized some things recently in thinking about how the last bunch of seasons have ended.  2007 ended with me being burnt out and mentally exhausted.  I finished Kona tenth in my age group and was bitterly disappointed.  In 2008 I had been injured and it was my first time not qualifying since 2004.  Basically I thought I was done with the sport, at which point Jesse actually reached out to me from QT2 and revived me.  Unfortunately 2009 also ended in disappointment as a mere two weeks from Kona, I found out I had a stress fracture and couldn't complete the race.  My comeback was incomplete and I dropped out after the swim and bike.  2010 saw an early season mental collapse followed by the unexpected death of my father, so my subsequent tri season wasn't really on the forefront of my mind.  2011 I think I tried too hard to be into things, but after losing Dad my heart just wasn't in it, and I suffered another stress fracture that left me mostly without a racing season and off the start lines of any Ironman races for the first time in eight years. 

I took that injury as a sign to take a real step back.  I had been plugging away for almost ten years without a break and my body was telling me I needed one.  But looking back at the way all of those seasons ended, it was no wonder I'd been entering each new one feeling a little more disheartened.  The last season that finished on a positive note was 2006 where in spite of feeling as though I was going to die for a good six hours post-race, I had an incredible race in Kona.  Looking now at all of the negative endings, it's a wonder I was ready to start training for a new season at all. 

Things feel different this time.  This year started with my first respectable Ironman finish in three years.  It wasn't on par with the best of my performances in the past, but it was the first time in a long time I'd been able to cross an Ironman finish line with my head held high.  It included a marathon time that at other points in my career might have been viewed as a huge disappointment, but I was finally able to see it for what it was: progress in the right direction.  It didn't get me to Kona, but in spite of the progress I'll admit I probably just wasn't ready yet. 

Recently though I've started to be and look a whole lot fitter.  I'm finally looking in the mirror and seeing the athlete that was hiding for way too long.  I'm heading into Ironman Arizona in just four short weeks with a whole lot more confidence.  The last time I was there I won my age group by an hour.  I am definitely not expecting that kind of result, and it's funny to look back and know that I was, at the time, disappointed in my finish time because I felt like garbage during that marathon.  I can still almost feel what my legs did that day as I tried to make them go faster, but I had blown them apart fighting the extreme wind on the bike.  If I cross the line in a time anywhere close to the one I had there in 2007, I'd be ecstatic.  At this point I don't know what to expect, but I'm going to give it everything I have.  If that means I get to qualify for Kona again, then great.  If not, I'll be racing Ironman Texas again in May, and one way or another, I will be at the start line in Kona for 2013.  I'm not usually much for professing goals, but this particular decision has already been made. 

It's not that difficult to understand why the athletes who race in Kona get there.  Sure, there are some anomalies with crazy talent and flawless genetics, and if recent evidence is any indication some of them also use some less-than-legal means to enhance their performances.  For the most part, it is the people who choose to do everything they can to reach their potential.  I can tell you that in the years I qualified I did some crazy things to get workouts in.  It was outrageously rare that I'd miss one.  Actually, thinking about my best couple of years, I bet I never missed anything.  I made the training a priority and it showed on race day.  I was as surprised as anyone with what I was able to accomplish.  I can tell you that on my best Ironman day, in Lake Placid in 2006, all I wanted to do was break eleven hours.  I had no idea I had the ability to do what I did that day, but things just went perfectly. 

And it turns out that's just what happens when you do the work.  Your results usually show you exactly what kind of preparation you put in.  My heart and my head weren't in things for a while, and my results showed that, too.  You can do all of the training but if you're just going through the motions you're probably not going to get the results you want.  My heart and my head are back in it again.  My physical ability hasn't quite caught up yet (running continues to be slow in coming around) I finally have the confidence back that it will if I continue to follow the path I'm on.  And given that, I can be a little more patient and be glad that I wasn't racing this year, and still walk away with the drive and desire to do what it takes to make sure I am on the start line and, more importantly, at the finish line a year from now.

Okay, end tangent.  Where was I?  QT2 racers had a great day.  Cait came in ninth and even she wasn't smiling at the end of the race (if you've ever seen Cait race, it is rare that she shows any indication that running a marathon at the pace she does is difficult or taxing in the slightest) and my athlete didn't have the day he initially hoped for but having lost his Garmin on the swim and with no data to go on, accompanied with stomach issues that started before the race and continued for days after, not to mention race day conditions that were by all accounts the worst in years, I'm very happy with his race and I think he has gotten to a point where he is, too. 

We somehow had some dinner and then collapsed in the grass in a heap to await Greg and Jody after their dinner and we drove back to the house.  It was definitely a long and exhausting day.  That did not stop the early morning wakeup on Sunday and my early morning bike and run before we eventually went to a brunch at the TYR house where Mary found herself once again getting caught up in a kick-off challenge to raise money for Teens Living With Cancer, this time against Craig Alexander who happened to be at the house hanging out with his family. 

That afternoon Chuck and I tried to replicate our surfing experience from the other day, but the waves were basically non-existent and while I got in a couple of decent rides, mostly we just sat on the boards waiting for nothing to happen and wound up just paddling in.  It sucks how you can never replicate that truly awesome experience.  We hit up the awards that night and I found it is much less painful to sit in those folding chairs for three hours if you didn't race. 

Monday was the last full day on the island for Mary and Charlie and we did some swimming and hanging out in town and we had planned on trying to surf but the waves were terrible again, so instead we went and jumped off a cliff.  Because that's the same, right?  Mary didn't jump.  I'd jumped off high points of similar height, so I didn't waste much time launching myself off.  Actually, climbing back out of the water was much worse.  Then Charlie spent quite a while trying to convince himself to jump off, and got some inspiration from the first real-life slow clap I've ever witnessed from some other crazy cliff jumpers.  He also said that since I had jumped, of course he couldn't walk away without doing so.  We had a nice dinner on the water and ended our final day. 

The next day Charlie and Mary left and I was alone, left to train and... that's about it.  Honestly, it's been a really good thing, I think.  I'm kind of tired of it, but I'd be tired of it anyway.  My travels in preparation for IMAZ have done for me exactly what I wanted them to do.  I had more ocean swims, rode way too much on the Queen K, swam in the pool, ran on the marathon course and got too much sun.  Actually, I didn't get burned but I almost look like a crazy tanning lady, so it's probably time to go home. 

It's been an amazing trip.  We kept saying the first few days how we couldn't believe how short of a time we had been there, like on day three it felt like we'd been there for a week.  Probably because we had been awake most of the time.  The past week, however, has absolutely flown by and it's unbelievable to me that it's time to go home.  Although the fact that I have no clean clothes left begs to differ.  Also, while I've enjoyed not being cold, fall running in New England isn't such a bad thing. 

So now it's about time to board a red-eye flight to Los Angeles before getting on another plane to Newark, and then yet another one bound for good old Manchester.  I'm certainly not looking forward to the travel aspect but I am ready to go home.  And I know I'll be here next year.

If you actually read all of that, you are obviously way too bored.