Sunday, May 31, 2009

Is Mooseman really a week away?

It's that time of year again: time for Mooseman, the first local tri of the season. My bike can remain intact, save for the front wheel which must be removed so it fits on the roof rack, but I can sleep in my own bed and drive my own car to the race. Nice. With the approach of Mooseman comes the inevitable water temperature watch. Yesterday I happened to meet up with some QT2 teammates for a long ride over at Wellington, the site of the race, and the sign out front said the water was 55 degrees. That is only slightly above what I would consider "freeze-your-face-off" level. I'm going with face here because most of the rest of our bodies will be safely encased in neoprene, although if it doesn't warm up at least a few more degrees then chances are we can all expect numb hands and feet as well. Let me tell you, T1 can be a pretty interesting experience without the use of these extremities.

Mooseman always seems to sneak up on me since spring lately hasn't seemed quite so spring-like. For instace: we have a frost warning for tonight. That means that there is a strong possibility that it will be below freezing. Tomorrow is June 1st. The leaves only recently popped and it took me a while to hit the road for my bike ride on Friday because I had to locate some gloves and a hat since it was raining and in the 40's. But here it comes anyway, the first weekend in June, which means Mooseman time.

I am fairly certain that this is the 5th year that this race has been held. That is, if you don't count the original Mooseman in 2004, but that was held at Waterville Valley and included a sprint tri and an off-road tri - my only off-road race to-date and just to show you how often I use my mountain bike (the one I got in 7th grade) the race number is still affixed while the bike sits in the garage. First thing you should know, the water is always freezing. It's just a fact. Some years slightly more tolerable than others, but you are never happy to be getting in there. Perhaps this is why my fastest half ironman swims have all been done on this course. Although the actual coldest swim I've done - 54 degrees in California '06 - certainly didn't make me any faster in the water. We're actually probably lucky that in recent years it's even gotten as "warm" as it has. For some reason the past few years the month of May has been worse than March as far as weather is concerned. Never-ending rain, temperatures in the 40's and serious flooding. A couple of years ago there were a few days where I couldn't get more than 4 miles from home without having to turn around and go back due to washed out roads. Fun training.

Note that this absolutely does not mean that race day will be cold. In fact, it can mean quite the opposite. The first year, 2005, after months and months of unseasonably cold weather, race day arrived and treated us to temperatures that soared into the upper 80's. There were more than a few total melt-downs that day. Fortunately, I was not one of them. I think I was just happy to be sweating while riding my bike instead of shivering. 2006 treated us to temperatures that maxed out at about 55 degrees with drizzle. The water was actually warmer than the air. Apparently good conditions for me as on that particular day I managed a 3rd place overall finish (lost out to second in a sprint finish - and if you already know I can't run, you should see me try to sprint) and got my still-standing half ironman PR, as well as half marathon PR and swim PR.

In all honesty I don't remember too much about the weather in '07. I think it started out muggy but not too hot. I've mentally blocked out many of my races starting after IM Arizona that year, as that marked the beginning of a long, downward spiral. Unfortunately, I do remember that last year at Mooseman it was once again brutally hot, only this time more like 90's. Like I needed anything else to make me slower after getting injured and fat and not having run very much in the months leading up. That was the beginning of a streak of setting new personal worsts in every race I did all season long. Try not to do that.

The weather report right now calls for temperatures in the low to mid 70's. Hah. If I've learned anything living around here, I've learned not to trust a long-term forecast. You can barely trust the short-term ones. I sincerely doubt that will be the case by next weekend, but we shall see.

I have no idea what to expect for the race. My training, frankly, has been kind of crappy lately, as far as I can tell. I'm getting out there and doing everything I'm supposed to be doing, but none of it really seems to be getting any better. I've also been in "weight-loss mode" for the better part of 7 months now, and the end seems to be getting closer, but still seems like it will never get here. Fixating on your weight for that long can really start to drive you insane, especially when you get to a point where it all gets harder and you feel like everything else you're doing - all of the training - is a complete waste of time if you have to drag around extra, unwanted fat. So that has been a source of frustration as well. Every time I run I feel like I'm dragging around cinder blocks. Nothing hurts, it just feels HARD. Just once I'd like to have a breakthrough run, finish, look at my watch and thing yeah, that felt good. Biking goes well some days, not so well on others. Swimming has, frustratingly, remained exactly the same... since about 2004. Why do I not just do it once or twice a week and spare myself the aggrevation? I am pretty sure my times would remain exactly the same.

Anyway, another big training weekend in the books. Yesterday was a 6-hour ride with many of the QT2 team, as I mentioned. We rode some tough hills, one of which on the second time through seemed to completely fry my legs, irreparably. It is very unusual for me to finish a long ride and my legs are the things that are the most tired and make me want to get off. Usually it is that I'm uncomfortable in the saddle, maybe my back or shoulders hurt, I'm hungry, or just plain sick of riding and want to lie down. But my legs were TOAST. Apparently I went too hard early in the ride, although it really didn't feel like I did and I never thought my heart rate was too high except maybe on some of the hills. I don't tend to attack hills either, I just kind of ride up. But it just wasn't my day, I guess. It was nice to ride with some other people though, and I got to ride with everyone in the group at some point. My run afterward wasn't so much fun, either. I ran along the Mooseman course and my legs felt awful. It was giving me flashbacks to last year when I felt like I could barely cover the course and every step was pain. Very different from 2006 when somehow some magical, fleeting running ability snuck out from deep inside me and I just felt great almost the entire time. Between that race and my marathon at Lake Placid that year, looking back I think I used up all of my good run results in just those two races, because I haven't seen them since.

But anyway, I got it done, and it always feels so good to be done, even if it wasn't the best workout. I got to drink warm Endurox for recovery as my remaining water had been sitting in the trunk of my car all day, as well as a banana which was also baking in there. Definitely not the tastiest post-workout treat. My coach checked my body fat percentage, which he seems happy with given where we are (still going lower for LP, but progress) but I'm still annoyed. And finally made it back to my parents lake house, roughly 25 miles from Wellington (not Chrissie, but the park) and was ready to lie down! In fact, last night I went to bed at 8pm. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I was out for the next 10 and a half hours.

I got a late start this morning for my 1-hour run, 2-hour ride and another 1-hour run workout. Just once I wanted to sit around in my pajamas for a bit and do the Sunday paper crossword, so I did. My first run actually felt pretty good physically, but was another abysmal performance pace-wise. Luckily I managed to avoid the approaching rain on my bike ride for all but the final 10 minutes, and only got rained on for about 15 minutes of the even more abysmally-paced second run. Seriously, how did I ever have good run splits in any race, ever? Ah, but at least it was time to relax for the afternoon.

Chicken for dinner, because with me, it's almost always chicken for dinner. And now just another week until Mooseman. I wish I could say I was looking forward to a nice taper week, but I'm not. just due to the timing I don't really get to taper almost at all for this race. I don't have to do a track workout this week for running, which is certainly a good thing because track workouts seem to only serve to remind me of what a crappy runner I am, and of course Saturday instead of riding my bike for 6 hours I'll be eating lots of pancakes and other carbo-licious treats. But other than that, it's going to feel like a pretty typical, high-volume week. The worst part of the whole ordeal will surely be the 45-minute run and 2-hour bike ride I have to do after the race. I normally have a hard time sleeping after a race, but something tells me that after all of that, I might not have so much trouble. And I'm sure I won't now, either...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Disney World Trip Report

My family vacation to Disney World can be summed up pretty much exactly the same way as my Ironman Lake Placid 2008 race report:

It rained. A lot. The end.

Ok, surely there was more to it than that. But that was the gist. Now for the long-winded version:

We had a direct flight to Orlando at 7:40 on Saturday morning. Living 10 minutes from the airport makes this kind of thing pretty easy. The flight was less than 3 hours and we actually landed early. Since we were staying at a Disney resort we took advantage of what they call Disney's Magical Express. They could've just called it Disney's airport shuttle or something, but no, it needed to be "magical". I'll tell you though, waiting in that ridiculously long line while bus after bus got filled up was anything but magical. That's my least favorite part of traveling, when you're there but you're not really there because you still have to get to the hotel and check in and everything.

We checked into the Yacht Club where we would be spending the week. My older sister, her husband, my niece and nephew had one room, my younger brother and I shared another and my parents were in the third. We had a quick lunch by the hotel pool and headed over to Disney's Hollywood Studios, formerly MGM, for a few quick rides since it was only about 2:00 in the afternoon at that point. That's my favorite park, and we easily got on Tower of Terror and the Aerosmith roller coaster.

The great thing about Disney is the free transportation which makes it easy for everyone in a relatively large group to do their own thing. So when my niece and nephew had had enough, my sister could take them back to the hotel and we could stay and continue our afternoon of fun. So after a few more hours, my brother and I, the last two remaining, made it back to the hotel. Now, the thing I suppose is "magical" about that Disney's magical express is that your luggage magically appears in your hotel room and you don't have to go and get it. Except in this case, once again, "magically" my bike was not among the items delivered. Seriously? Again? I knew that whole magical thing seemed like a bad idea, but my mom is usually the paranoid one about the bike getting where it's supposed to go, and she didn't seem concerned.

Needless to say, this was far less stressful given that I did not have a race to do the next day, and here on the mainland there are people who will do whatever they can to fix things like that for you. In fact, my mother had been talking to a guy at the hotel who assumed I was doing the Disney 70.3 which happened to be the next day, and mom decided that she should tell him I was, in fact, racing so that maybe we could find it quicker. That I did not like so much. I hate lying. For starters, I'm terrible at it on the rare occasion I try it. And second, there is nothing worse than getting caught in a lie. And in this case, we were talking to someone who worked in a hotel we were going to be staying at for the next week and who would at least on occasion be visible in the lobby. What are the chances do you suppose that sometime over the following 7 days I'd run into him and get the inevitable, "how did the race go?"

Anyway, I tried not to think about it too much and had dinner with the family and then picked up a couple of snacks for before what was supposed to be a 6-hour bike ride the next morning. I figured if the bike was going to show up, I should be prepared, although at that point I was convinced it had been stolen from the airport. I was down in the lobby picking up a 24-hour access card to the hotel gym in case I needed to get VERY well-acquainted with the stationary bike, when I ran into the guy who had been frantically trying to find my bike so that I could "race." Apparently it was just sitting at another hotel, and it had made it back to my room. Phew! Another crisis averted! However, I am extraordinarily happy to know that this is the last time my bike has to get on an airplane for at least the next 6 months. This was 9pm, and I still had to put it together to be ready to ride. Wake-up time for Sunday morning? 3:30am. Ouch.

Before I left I had done some research on where to ride in Florida. I printed out some maps and even considered riding the official 70.3 course since the race just happened to be that day. I got some lights since I knew I'd be riding a lot in the dark (the sun doesn't come up down there until about 6:30, where at home it is more like 5:15) I didn't have a set plan when I got on my bike at 3:45am that morning because I had been too distracted the night before about whether or not I'd even have a bike to ride. So I kind of just started riding. At first I went out some road towards the Magic Kingdom, but of course the morning of a local 70.3 race is the only morning you're ever going to hit traffic at 4am, as all of the racers were headed in that general direction. The good thing was that the streets were well-lit, so my little lights and headlamp served much more as a way for people to see me rather than a way for me to see where I was going.

That road seemed to dead-end so I headed back towards where my hotel was. A little more investigating and I discovered there was a nice little loop right around where my hotel was that only involved 2 hard right-hand turns and was very low-traffic with the exception of one very small stretch of main road. It was well-lit, it even had 2 "hills" in the form of one overpass and one tunnel. The downside? It was about 2.4 miles. I thought about it for a bit. I could either go off and try to find some route to ride and possibly get lost, fight what would likely be a lot more traffic, but maybe ride some different roads. Or I could ride around in circles, knowing that if something happened I could always walk back to the hotel, which was important given that we hadn't rented a car and I had no idea what I'd do if I found myself 40 miles away and had nobody to call to come get me. I couldn't get lost. I could see everything. I had an easy bathroom/water stop. Given the fact that it was going to be dark most of the ride, I wasn't going to lose out on any scenery. And I've been through central Florida, so I know that there is not much to see besides Waffle Houses and Red Lobster. So the decision was made. I was going to ride in a circle about 45 times. Yahoo.

There is a surprising number of people heading to work at Disney between 4 and 5am. I passed many of them crossing the street from the employee parking lot. Other than that, at that time of the morning there wasn't much to see. The Epcot ball around the corner, the Tower of Terror glowing in blue for the night, the Eiffel Tower in "France". At about 7am I took my water stop, or went back to the hotel room. The family was going to go to the Magic Kingdom that morning for a few rides and then some princess lunch for my niece. My father was not attending said princess lunch (somehow my brother still had to go) and instead would come back to meet me for lunch after my ride and run. It was nice to ditch the lights and reflective vest, and off I went for the rest of the ride. The traffic increased quite a bit and the buses were out in full-force, but somehow before I knew it, the ride was actually over. I had finally finished riding around in circles. I didn't figure out until late in the ride that the loop only took me about 7 minutes to complete each time. It's not something I'd like to do forever, but for a week of knowing I'd be safe and not have to worry about anything, I dealt with it. But I still had to run.

It was awfully hot at that point, even starting at about 10am. And of course the humidity was no help. I felt surprisingly good. The running was better than the biking. The hotel is in between Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and there is a boardwalk and some paths connecting everything along the "river" so I got to run all along there. Again this required multiple loops, but we're talking maybe 3 and not 45, so it was much more tolerable. I finished up my 7-hour workout at 11am. It's amazing what you can accomplish if you get up early enough. Again, I definitely wouldn't make a habit of it, but I wanted to get everything done as early as possible since we only had a week down there and I wanted to get in as much Disney fun as possible. Riding around in circles at 3:45am is not the craziest thing I've heard of, by far. My teammate Mark rides his trainer at like 2am to be done by 8. THAT is crazy. At least I was outside!

I had lunch on the boardwalk with my dad and we walked over to Epcot to do a few rides over there. After a few hours in the park I was making my way back when I heard the thunder in the distance. This was the beginning of what the rest of the week would be like. Rain, rain and more rain. Although we had lunch outside in the sun, that was the last we'd see of it literally for the entire week. It was incredible, and not in a good way. Although somehow I managed to escape the rain for almost all of my workouts. I got up at about 3:45 every morning and except for the first 7-hour day, and a 2-hour reprieve on Tuesday, each training day was 4 or so hours, and I got it all done without getting rained on. I don't know how that worked out. Tuesday, the easy day, was the only morning it was raining that early, so I did my hour-long easy ride on the stationary bike in the gym, and conveniently did my swim in the hotel pool where it doesn't really matter if it's raining since you still get just as wet.

Each day was a rain waiting game. On Monday we made it until about 11am before it started torrentially downpouring, which offered up the perfect opportunity to go around the corner to the INDOOR Muppetvision 3D. My mom, still being a mom, had packed ponchos for all of us before we even left New Hampshire. I just never realized that I'd be wearing it almost all day every day. It was just a sea of ponchos. Unfortunately, this does not help your feet. Of course an old pair of running shoes seemed like the perfect footwear to get through several miles of theme park walking every day after my workouts. Not so perfect when it is pouring every day. So, maybe the flip-flops. These work great... for a while. Then they just start rubbing in all the wrong places. My brother had resorted to carrying his around much of the time due to some truly incredible blisters. But his sneakers were soaked. None of us realized in our packing that we'd need so many pairs of shoes, or at least two changes of clothes for each day, or as my brother pointed out on the second day, 14 pairs of underwear. This is supposed to be a simple vacation with minimal packing. And considering the dampness in the air, nothing would dry when you hung it out.

Early in the week though, we thought we had some hope given the forecast. Like I said, on Tuesday it rained all day. Never hard, but just constant. We had gone to Animal Kingdom to fight no crowds and walk on all kinds of rides. After lunch everyone had left but me and my brother, who wanted to go on Expedition Everest and a few other things. We hadn't done the river rapids ride and figured that we couldn't possibly get any more wet than we already were. Oh wow, were we ever wrong about that. So very, very wrong. I'd been on that ride before on another trip and probably not gotten any more wet than I would on say, Splash Mountain. You know, a few soaked through spots on your t-shirt, maybe a bit on your shorts, but not much more than that. Well, a bit more than halfway through the ride the circular raft goes down a big hill and splashes down at the bottom. My brother and I were sitting with our backs to the edge of the boat that hit the bottom first, and a tidal wave came up over our heads and made us feel as though we might as well have gone swimming in our clothes. Heck, I had my poncho on and I still got drenched as water snuck its way under my collar and soaked my shorts and sneakers. Johnny, my brother, was wearing a rain jacket and just wound up with completely soaked through shorts. Although we had plans to do a few other things before heading back to the hotel, we decided that that would be the end of our visit to Animal Kingdom for the day, and we were off for hot showers and dry underwear.

The 3:45 wake-up calls continued and I somehow made it through all of my workouts, riding around in lots of circles on my little route. It certainly could've been worse, because all I really needed to do was get my rides in, even if it was on the same, short stretch of road over and over again. And it was nice to be done my training for the day usually by 8am. Again, not something I'd want to do all of the time, but I was only in Disney for a week. On Wednesday the rain actually held out for a while. It almost got sunny there in the middle of the day, if only for a brief time. My sister took the kids back to the hotel to get in some pool time since my niece loves to swim, and I think they made it in the water for about 10 minutes before they closed the pool due to an approaching thunderstorm. I was having lunch in Mexico (or Epcot's version) with my brother and my parents, and we heard the thunder approaching for a good 30 minutes before it actually started storming, thankfully just after we found our way back to the hotel, conveniently within walking distance of where we were. That was some torrential rain, and it sucked up the rest of the afternoon. Actually, later that night my sister and I walked back over to Epcot so she could do one ride without the kids, and it was absurd how hard it was raining and how deserted everything looked through our umbrella.

On Thursday the rain held off the longest. Again the sun came very close to coming out. I was still wearing the same sweatshirt I had to wear every day while I was there. I wasn't even going to have one with me, but I figured the plane would be cold. I didn't anticipate needing it every single day we were down there because it was unseasonably cold. Not only was it unseasonably cold, but we actually got to be there for record-setting rainfall. I am not sure of the exact total (in the Orlando area I think I saw it was at least 15", although over by the coast they got as much as 28"!) We're talking more rain in a week than they've had since they started keeping records, which also means more than any hurricane. Aren't we lucky? We haven't gone on a family vacation like that in 13 years and that's what happened.

That day I met up with one of my friends from college, Heather, and her husband, son and parents. Her husband works at ESPN (Heather did too, before she became a stay-at-home mom) so they get into the parks for free. Also, they knew someone over at Hollywood Studios who could get us some priority seating for the Fantasmic show that night. Apparently this is something you normally have to line up for hours in advance, so this was a good deal. I'd never seen the show and had no intention of battling crowds and staying up late for it, but given the circumstances, I decided to go for it. It hadn't rained all day, by some miracle. And at 8:00 that night we went over to meet Heather and her family for a 9:00 show. And guess what happened? It started raining. I had been carrying my poncho around all day long only to not use it, and had looked at the radar online and seen no approaching rain and decided not to bother bringing it. Well, there was a mistake. I learned towards the end of the week that whenever they said it was going to rain a lot either on the internet or the local news, it didn't. And whenever they said it was going to let up, it would rain even harder. So we sat in the rain for an hour or so, hearing the announcement that they show could possibly be canceled due to inclement weather as the rain kept coming down harder. Then it was delayed for about 10 minutes, but thankfully it finally did start and we got to see it. Had I spent the night sitting there in the rain for nothing I would not have been happy. It was a good show though, I'd recommend it. Just don't try and bring an umbrella because they don't let you use those in there.

Somehow I made it through my last 3:45 wake-up call on Friday. I was even finished with my swim, bike and run workouts in time to go out to breakfast with my parents and have myself a nice roasted vegetable omelet. It also marked the last time I'd have to ride in circles and adorned like a Christmas tree. Also on that morning while out on my run I got an up close and personal view of some hard-core Star Wars geeks. Apparently Memorial Day weekend, as was approaching, marked the beginning of the Star Wars weekends at Hollywood Studios. The entrance gate over there was the end of an out-and-back portion of my run route. And that morning at about 5:30 I came across quite a few of them all lined up and ready to go in for whatever festivities occur during a Star Wars weekend. I was over there myself a bit later and am unsure as to what exactly required them being lined up outside the gate at that hour of the morning. I went in just after the park opened and I didn't have to wait in any lines and still got to see the Stormtroopers guarding the entrance. I guess I could've gotten to meet Wicket the Ewok or waited in another ridiculously long line to purchase some collectible pins, but neither of those things seemed that important to me. I did, however, get to see a lot of costumed people wandering through the park that day. Now, many of them were young children, but many of them were, well, not. I also saw one dad walking with his two young boys, one dressed as Boba Fett and another as an X-Wing pilot, and a couple of times I heard him say, "Anakin, come on." At first I thought maybe this was just an in-character kind of thing. But I quickly came to realize that no, that actually probably was his real name. Yikes.

Anyway, I used that opportunity to ride the Aerosmith rollercoaster and Tower of Terror over and over again with no lines. These are arguably my two favorite rides down there, which makes it all the more convenient that they are right next to each other. Unfortunately, one of my other favorites, Space Mountain is currently down for refurbishment. In between rides I would sometimes almost see the sun trying to come out again. It almost looked like it was going to be a nice day... almost. Somewhere around noon I took my Fastpass back to the Tower of Terror to get a quick ride in. If you've never been on this ride, it is supposed to be an old hotel and you get on an "elevator" and sit with about 20 people before it brings you to the 13th floor and drops you and brings you back up to drop you again a few times. To add to the fun, you're in total darkness until you get to the top and these doors open so that you can see out over the entire park, and even over to Blizzard Beach on a good day. Well, on this particular occasion the doors opened to reveal more torrential rain. It was raining so hard I almost couldn't see anything at all. Not so fun on a day that started out looking promising.

There is only so much rain you can handle before it really starts to get to you, and I had finally had enough. I was tired of walking around in it, and decided to go back to the hotel. At that point the rain was coming down in buckets and people were just hiding out under any kind of shelter along the "streets". I didn't care anymore, I just wanted to get out of it. And I could tell there was no use trying to wait it out. I had also just soaked my airplane shoes for the next day. Nice. It absolutely poured the rest of that afternoon. The hotel pool lifeguards had been redesignated to toweling off the water seeping into the walkways around the hotel restaurants. I just couldn't believe that it wouldn't stop the entire time we were there. I hadn't used a drop of sunscreen all week, had spent probably 14 hours a day outside in Florida, and I had no hint of a tan.

After dinner that night it miraculously had stopped raining. This was the first night that it hadn't been raining the entire time we were there. I took this unique opportunity to go to the pool at 8:45 at night. Not to work out, but just to be in the water and enjoy it. That hotel has a really nice pool with sand on the bottom, so I floated around a little, went in the hot tub, and even went down the waterslide with the other 10-year olds. They were finally able to show a movie on the beach in front of the hotel like they should have every night while all of the kids made s'mores. People were out and about. It all just made me kind of upset that that was how every night was supposed to be, and I just felt cheated.

On Saturday morning I got to "sleep in" until 4:30 so I could do my long run before we left. Our flight wasn't until 1:30 or so, so we had some time. My parents have to do everything inexplicably early though, so we were leaving the hotel almost 4 hours before the flight, even though it only takes 30 minutes to get to the airport. It was almost nice out that morning so I took a magazine out to sit on a bench after my run, but after about 5 minutes of course it started raining again, and I officially gave up.

So what did I learn on this trip? I learned that I will probably never again have worse weather on a trip such as that one in Disney, if only because we set all-time records for rainfall and I would hope it'll be a while before that happens again. I learned that I can ride in circles for 6 hours and still not go crazy, and maybe even still get a decent workout in. I learned that I can in fact get in 27 hours of training during a week at Disney World, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it and I'm not sure I'd want to try it again. I learned that there are a lot of overweight, lazy people in this country. The best example of this were the people who had obviously rented wheelchairs not because they actually had some sort of disability that required them, but because they were just too lazy to walk around the parks. I learned that my niece and nephew are real troopers in the rain, and I hope that they get to experience Disney without it sometime in the near future. I learned that I can in fact handle a week of only getting 5 hours of sleep a night, but I wouldn't want to do it all the time. I learned that I do like hanging out with my family, and I hope that we can try this again sometime soon when the weather is better. But I will say that I managed to have a good time anyway, and we almost never had to wait in line for anything.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that I did get caught in the lie? I blamed my mother, because I never actually lied to anyone, but of course I ran into the guy on like Tuesday and he asked me how the race went and I decided to tell him the truth rather than make up some story. We all know you can look up those things online anyway. Of course I felt bad and I could tell he just felt stupid, but he was a mountain biker so then just changed the subject to bike talk for a bit. But still, this is why I hate lying!

What has happened since then? Mostly I've been pining for a vacation redo. But also a long ride in which I got to go more than a mile from my start point, my first open-water swim of the season in 57-degree wind-swept water, and guess what I got back in time for? That's right, more rain! Only this time it's been a cold rain, as in it was in the 40's and 50's these last few days. Seriously, it's almost June. I've had enough!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Getting on a plane... again

Tomorrow I am off to Disney World. I must reiterate that it is simply a coincidence that the Florida/Disney 70.3 is taking place this weekend. I am NOT, I repeat: NOT racing this weekend! Jeez, people, I just did a half two weeks ago. I may be crazy on many levels, but I am certainly not crazy enough to be doing yet another half ironman this spring. I mean, it's only three weeks until Mooseman!

My bike, of course, is not yet packed. Oh, and neither is anything else. There's some stuff laid out, but none of it is packed in anything. I must say, although I know for a fact that I am going to have fun this week, I am seriously looking forward to an extended period of time in which I do not have to get on an airplane, take my bike apart or go to the airport. For at least the next 6 months any races I am planning on doing involve me driving my own car. Nice.

One good thing about this trip though is that aside from the obvious of not having a race to worry about, I don't have to do any workouts in the morning before I leave. I have to swim tomorrow, but my pool won't be open before I leave and why would I want to waste time that way when I can swim outside when I get to Florida? I just have to be extra careful with the sunscreen as anything outside the usual tri outfit has not seen the sun since October.

This morning I got my last workouts out of the way. First up was a nice, 4500-yard swim workout that included 30x50 on 50 seconds. Did I mention how much I hate trying to go fast? Because I do. Really, the shorter the interval, the more I dislike it. I am convinced I have some sort of sprint-speed impossibility disorder. My pace for all-out 50's seems just about the same as for all-out 100's, which in turn is only barely faster than my pace for an 800 time trial., and it all works out to just plain too slow! I just love swimming year after year and never getting any faster. At least I stopped at mid-pack swimmer for the most part instead of back of the pack!

Then it was just an easy bike and run and everything in the laundry so that there are only clean things for the trip and for when I get back. If nothing else, all of this traveling forces me to remain organized and on top of the laundry. I hope to take some good pictures on this trip and to somehow manage to have some family fun in between the slightly-more-than 27 hours of training I have to get in while I'm there. I'm thinking I might be the one who gladly volunteers to "watch" my 3-year old nephew while he takes his afternoon naps. He'll probably be the one waking me up, ready to hit the road again with some sort of train or car wrapped up in each of his little fists.

Talk to you from down south!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I forgot that training can be hard

Every new phase of training poses new and unique challenges. Just when you finally adapt to the training load and intensities, you move on to a whole new set of workouts that make you hurt in very different ways. It's like in the beginning of the season, when I first start building up my long bike rides and upon finishing those 4, 5 and eventually 6-hour bike rides, I find myself completely exhausted and unable to do much more than lie on the couch for the rest of the afternoon, pretty much only getting up for food and eventually to go to bed. Week after week of long rides, and eventually I will still finish feeling like I've really done a long workout, but I can still function like a normal human being for the rest of the afternoon.

With the exception of my taper week and my rest week last week, I've been putting in pretty big hours. But it had started to feel so routine that I almost didn't feel like I was training that much. Except on weekends, when I definitely felt like I was training a lot. This week began 11 weeks out from race day. This is where you take all of that base and strength work and hopefully turn yourself into a fast athlete for race day. The problem is, I hate going fast. It hurts. Every time I run a 5K I wish it was a half marathon because those hurt a lot less.

I also tend to forget how much a really hard speed workout can take out of you. I already mentioned what a disaster my track workout was, and today was my first serious bike workout in a while. I had to do it on the trainer to hit some wattages due to my lack of power meter, which was kind of annoying since at least first thing this morning the weather was decent, but I don't think there is any way I could've replicated this one outside. I had to do 8x2.5 minutes at 295 watts with 2.5 minutes recovery. Right from the first interval I was convinced I wasn't going to make it through all 8. My legs burned, my stomach felt queasy, the sweat puddled up on the basement floor, my heart rate soared and I just kept on pedaling. I have no idea how I got through it, but I do know that I haven't felt that exhausted after a bike workout in a very long time. I think that probably means I'm doing something right. The transition run after that sure did suffer though. At least my cold seems to be dissipating.

In other, unrelated news, on Saturday I am going to Disney World! I'm heading down with my parents, my younger brother, my older sister, her husband and their 2 kids, my niece who is 6 and my nephew who is 3. We haven't been down there as a family since 1996. Everyone but my parents has been down since then on our own, but it will be fun to take a real family vacation like this. Obviously a lot different since we are not kids anymore, but I think we'll manage to have a lot of fun anyway. The only thing is that of course I will still have to get all of my training in. My bike is coming with me. After this I will have certainly had my fill of flying, the airport and packing and unpacking the bike for a while since this is the 3rd trip in 6 weeks. If anyone has any tips on where to ride in Orlando, I'll take them! Ugh, have to pack again....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

First track workout of the season - not a good start

You know, there are a lot of times when I dread a workout and I am positive that it is not going to go well. Then I just suck it up, put on my workout clothes and go out and do it and it turns out to be ok. Today was not one of those occasions. I was definitely convinced before going out that my track workout wasn't going to go well, and I was definitely right.

I closed out my rest week with a nice day off on Sunday, hanging out at my parents house on Mother's Day and enjoying their company as well as my sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew. It was nice to sleep in and come downstairs to find almost everyone was already awake, rather than slipping out the door at sunrise, only to return to everyone just getting up and eating waffles. I had to skip the waffles, but at least I got to lie around in my pajamas all morning... and as I later realized, well into the afternoon. I didn't get dressed until like 3:30 when I decided it was time to drive home.

So I made the most of my rest week, but somehow managed to come down with a cold. I've felt this stupid cold coming on probably since the day I went to St. Croix. It was one of those things I could feel in my throat, but it never really seemed to materialize into anything and I was hopeful it would just go away. As the week wore on, I started coughing and my nose started running. Still it more or less only felt like about 25% of a cold, not really enough to worry about. I briefly thought that maybe it was allergies, something I've never really experienced, but these past couple of days I think I've decided I have an actual cold. I have been waking up with that dizzy feeling where your head sort of spins when you lift it off the pillow. It doesn't make getting up in the morning all that appealing. Yesterday was another easy day of workouts: just an easy swim, so no real opportunity to see how I'd hold up. Today was the real test.

After sleeping way more than usual - and even the usual is plenty - I went out to do my bike workout. I didn't feel great, and my mouth was incredibly dry from all of that mouth-breathing, but it wasn't too bad, either. Then came the waiting for the track workout. I haven't done one of these since I think last June or July, and I am terrible at trying to run fast. Seriously, there is very little speed variation for me between race distances. This is good for the long stuff, not for the short stuff. I felt tired, because that's just how I've been feeling lately, even though there is no real reason to since I haven't been training hard and I've been getting plenty of sleep. The other fun thing that started happening today - and I'll warn you that this involves bodily fluids, but if you're a triathlete, and if you're reading this you probably are, then you are used to this kind of talk - is that whenever I blew my nose, which was very, very often, it was just as much blood as it was plegm. I've never had a bloody nose in my life, but this was bordering. Anyway, off I went.

I started with a nice warm-up run. Ok, nice is not a good word. It was a beautiful afternoon and I should've been enjoying it, but it just felt hard. My heart rate shot up and I knew I was running slow. Ok, on to the track. I had to do 10x400, which is simple enough. My coach had given me a pace to hit. That right away made me nervous because I think I've only ever run 1 single 400 in the pace he wanted me to hit for 10 of them. Granted, I do not have an extensive history of track workouts, but still. So I set off for #1. Gee, I was only about 17 seconds slow. Ouch. Maybe I just needed to shake out the cobwebs. #2 was 3 seconds better. Ok, maybe this will just keep getting better. #3 was another second better, and #4 was 3 more seconds better than #3, but it came at the expense of feeling dizzy and kind of wanting to throw up. That kind of feeling is much more acceptable if you are actually running fast, or maybe on the last repeat, but I wasn't even halfway finished. I took a total rest after that interval and tried to clear my sinuses. That just resulted in somehow managing to get blood on my shirt. I wasn't wiping my nose with the shirt, it just kind of splattered on there somehow.

Each repeat just felt worse and worse. I stayed in the same general time range, but never got any faster, just kept feeling sicker and blowing some nice, bloody snot rockets between repeats. As I made it about halfway through #8, the bitterness of defeat overwhelmed me and I decided to call it quits. Let me assure you, I almost never don't finish a workout, especially one I'm already in the middle of doing. My legs weren't working anymore, my head hurt, my stomach hurt, I was likely going to be frightening people if I got any more blood on my shirt, and all of this for a pace that isn't even fast. Instead, I spent the next 20 minutes running very easy with a very high heart rate, got in my car and drove home.

I hate unsuccessful workouts, especially really important ones. Running is obviously a weak point for me - a very weak point - and I can't afford to be messing up key run workouts. But today was just a bad day, and I feel like messing up this one day has just put me a week behind. Hopefully this stupid cold will leave me alone soon. I'll tell you one thing though, tomorrow's pool workout could be interesting for anyone else in the water with me if this blood-out-the-nose thing doesn't stop before then. Not much I can do about it when I spend so much time exhaling through my nostrils. Tomorrow will be a tough swim, but then just an easy bike and run which will hopefully make me feel more like myself.

So I dreaded the workout, but eventually I laced up my shoes and drove over to the track.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mid-season break

It's hard to believe that I started officially training for the 2009 season 26 weeks ago now. I arrived at my coach's house for a threshold test and body composition analysis in the worst shape I'd been in since before I started training for triathlon in 2002. My abysmal 2008 tri season had essentially sucked the life out of me, making me feel as though I had screwed things up so badly that I could never get it back. But for some reason a tiny sliver of hope remained and I decided to start over and give it one more shot. The workouts started out pretty simple, certainly nothing I hadn't done before. But it seemed 100 times harder than I ever remembered. My aerobic fitness was gone. My body fat and BMI told me that I wasn't just big for an athlete, but I had actually crossed the line into being medically overweight. I was still 30 pounds less than my heaviest back in college when I finally decided to turn things around for good, but I was mad at myself for letting it get so bad once again.

The progress was slow, but steady. Of course the progress was only impressive relative to where I had started, but knowing where I used to be still made it hard to be happy about it. The weight slowly crept off, running slowly started to get easier, swimming went exactly the same and biking was almost entirely indoors.

But here we are now in May. Somewhere in the last couple of days the leaves popped out on the trees without me noticing. The grass turned green instead of being that matted, yellow straw that was buried under two feet of snow all winter long. I had to pack up my sweaters and dig out my shorts. I'm roughly 30 pounds lighter, have two half ironmans done for the season and it's time to take a little break. It almost seems a little unfair since I really wasn't that sore after St. Croix since I just plain didn't run fast, but given that the next 11 weeks are sure to be grueling, I am going to soak up the last few days of my rest week.

It was good timing given that it rained most of this week. I've been catching up on sleep, which has been great. I usually sleep pretty well anyway, but the travel and several days of getting up between 3:30-4:30am really threw me off. Today being Saturday, under normal circumstances I'd have gotten on my bike somewhere in the 5am hour, ridden for 6 hours and done a little transition run. Today is quite different. On the schedule for today is a 35-minute run. It's funny how the shorter the workout is the more I seem to like to put it off. I don't know when I'll get to it, but it'll happen eventually.

Instead, I was able to sleep in and eat breakfast in my pajamas in front of the TV, kind of like what normal people do on a Saturday. Of course, it would've been nicer to have had my favorite chocolate chip banana pancakes rather than egg whites with tomatoes, onions and broccoli, but I'll take that compromise if it means I get some extra time to relax. This is the first "normal people" weekend I've been able to experience since October I think. I wouldn't want to do it all the time, but it's a nice change of pace. I'm at my parent's lake house and my sister is coming with my brother-in-law, niece and nephew, and my brother, grandmother and aunt are also coming up for Mother's Day. It's going to be nice to wake up tomorrow morning and hang out and read the Sunday paper with everyone instead of getting out of bed before everyone and spending the whole day getting my training in while they sit around and do nothing. Again, not something I'd probably enjoy doing every weekend, but I'm going to enjoy it while I can!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Aventures in St. Croix

Be forewarned: This is long. Way longer than it needs to be, but I write these more for me than anyone else since hardly anyone reads them anyway.

This past weekend I raced in the St. Croix 70.3. From what I had heard, it was certainly not going to be an easy race. Although depending on who you talked to, you'd think you were going to have to climb Mt. Everest on your bike and follow it up with a run on the surface of the sun with hurricane-force winds. We all decided that if we heard the words "the beast" one more time, we were going to have to kill someone.

I had way too eventful of a travel day down there. The night before I got in a second, short swim since I knew I wasn't going to be able to get it in on my travel day. I got up at 3:30 on Friday morning to do an easy spin on my trainer and followed it up with an easy, 20-minute run with the light from my head lamp. Needless to say, I did not run into any cars on that run. But I was soon showered and ready for the 10-minute drive to the airport to catch my 7:10am flight to Philadelphia, which was where the start of my problems began.

The flight was boarded on time and there didn't seem to be any issues. However, the next two hours had me hearing the word, "unfortunately" said by the pilot many times over the next two hours. As in, "Unfortunately there is a lot of air traffic in Philadelphia," and, "Unfortunately, due to some rain in Philadelphia," and, "Unfortunately, they have told us to hold here," and, "Unfortunately, we did not anticipate any further delays," and, "Unfortunately, they have put us in a holding pattern." The only thing he did not say to me directly, was, "unfortunately, you are definitely going to miss your connection."

So after boarding the plane, sitting on the runway for about 35 minutes, taking off, then circling Philadelphia for another 25 minutes, we finally landed in Philadelphia. According to my original flight schedule, I was supposed to have a little over an hour between flights. I was supposed to be getting on a plane bound for San Juan at 9:40am. I got off the plane at about 9:30am, somehow still hopeful that maybe I'd make it. One thing they did say was that all of the planes coming into Philly were likely experiencing the same delays that we were, so there was a good chance we wouldn't have any issues. Unfortunately, I was pretty sure that a big, fat plane headed to the Caribbean likely had been sitting there waiting to leave since the day before.

Upon getting off the plane I found the nearest departure board and found my flight. I have never been so mad to see the words "on time" listed next to my flight number, and I tightened up the straps on my backpack and took off in a run towards my gate. I was fortunate enough not to have been at the satellite terminal that requires a shuttle bus, but it was still much more of a workout than I had anticipated I might have to add on for the day. I kept glancing at my watch, just hoping I'd make it. Finally, at the end of the terminal was my gate, and not a soul in sight other than the woman at the counter. She didn't seem to even notice me when I got to her and handed her my boarding pass.

"This flight is closed."

I exhaled a sigh of frustration, saw that my watch read 9:37 and saw the stupid plane still sitting there with the jetway connected to the plane. "You'll have to go to the service desk." Airport workers are incredibly unsympathetic people, and every word that they speak seems to scream, "I really don't give a crap about your problem and someone else is going to have to deal with you now."

I walked dejectedly to the desk, wondering not only how long I might wind up stuck at the Philadephia airport, but also if I'd even be getting to St. Croix that night. It's not like missing a flight to Los Angeles or Chicago, where tons of planes go on a daily basis. I was far from the only one who had missed that plane, which made me even more annoyed that they didn't hold it for say, 15 stupid little minutes. Also running through my head at that time was that the 50% chance of my bike getting there had probably just dropped to 0%. As they helped the people in front of me I heard that the next flight to San Juan was at 5:45 that night and I envisioned myself sitting in the airport for the next 7 hours, followed by sleeping in the airport in San Juan because surely by the time I got to Puerto Rico there wouldn't be any more planes going to St. Croix.

I heard several final boarding calls to other flights heading to various destinations in the Caribbean and wondered if maybe there was another way. One of the only lucky parts of my day was that there was a 10:05am flight to St. Thomas, and for some reason they decided to hold that plane for those of us who missed the San Juan flight. So instead I'd be flying to St. Thomas and then to St. Croix from there. That last part wasn't going to be so fun because after a 2pm arrival I was going to have to wait until like 7:15 that night to get to St. Croix. As long as I got out of Philadelphia, I was happy for the time being, so off I went.

That flight was completely uneventful, although I did contemplate whether or not St. Thomas was considered part of the US or if I was suddenly taking an unscheduled trip out of the country. I was glad I had opted to bring my passport - that expires in about 9 days - just in case.

I arrived in St. Thomas and was glad to at least have that part out of the way, even if I might have been stuck there for a while. I went to check in for my next flight. US Airways does not fly to St. Croix from St. Thomas, so I'd be flying on Cape Air. The nice woman at the counter decided she could get me on a 3:30 flight instead of the 7:30, which made me incredibly happy. She said she only did it because I was nice, and a lot of those other triathletes were, well, not so easy to deal with. I actually heard that quite a bit at the airports, and I really don't understand why people are nasty to those poor gate agents. They really don't have control over anything, except maybe whether or not they decide to charge you for the bike, but you can't really blame them for that either. But anyway...

I had to go through security again, but in St. Thomas it is not exactly the same kind of thing. I was the only one there and the guy was just talking to me and I'm not sure he even looked at the x-ray of what was inside my bag. Nothing left at that point but to go wait for my plane at the gate. At that point I was absolutely starving. Before I left home that morning I ate a banana, which was just about the last item of food I had left in the house. I didn't bother restocking anything before going away for 5 days. I obviously did not have the time I had anticipated to grab something in Philadelphia, so I was left with 2 Luna bars and an apple that I had in my backpack. My only option in St. Thomas was a vending machine, which didn't exactly fit with my dietary needs. The beverage one was broken so I couldn't even have any water. This is not the best way to precede a big race.

Waiting in the gate area there were a mere 8 of us, so it seemed pretty obvious that the plane we were going to be getting on was not exactly going to be a 737. I chatted with another guy who happened to be one of the photographers for ASI Photos, and then started talking with some of the other passengers who of course were triathletes headed in for the race. They were all amazed at how calm I was considering I was so sure that my bike had not made the trip with me. At that point I was honestly just glad that I was going to get there after what had happened. I was even going to get there at the exact same time as originally planned, which seemed impossible.

After waiting about an hour, a tiny little propeller plane pulled up to our gate. This was going to be interesting. Of course we had been asked how much we weighed when we checked in. I'm kind of surprised they trust people there and don't just have you step on the baggage scale, and it took me a minute to remember how much I weigh since of course I've been losing lately. One of my aunt likes to tell a story of how when she had to do that she told them she weighed 400 pounds, just to make up for the lies all of the people in front of her had told. My backpack was also weighed. There were two people who they had not decided whether or not they could make the flight due to weight. Considering it was a flight full of almost entirely triathletes, the weight limit probably wasn't as much of an issue as it otherwise might normally be. Although it seemed a little scary how they went about deciding if we would be ok. It seemed more like guessing than anything else.

We boarded a 10-seater plane with our carry-on bags stuffed in the nose. Someone even got to sit next to the pilot, who was the one who gave us the standard exits/seat-as-floatation-device speech. What a strange way to round out the trip. But 20 minutes later, I had finally arrived in St. Croix. Then came the really fun part: figuring out how to find my bike. From what I had been told, they lose bikes all of the time there because so many of the planes are so small they don't even fit. The triathletes on my plane had lucked out that there was another cargo plane heading over at the same time as our flight, so their bikes got sent that way and arrived at the same time.

Of course I knew that Cape Air, the airline I had gotten in on, had absolutely nothing to do with my bike not getting there. There was a US Airways counter, but since there is only one flight in and one flight out, there was nobody at the counter. So I had to file the claim with Cape Air, even though just talking to the guy there I knew that it was completely useless. But at that point, there was nothing left but to catch a cab and get to my hotel.

I was staying at the Company House Hotel in Christiansted, quite close to the transition area from what I understood. It was hard to tell from the brochure map that I had picked up at the airport how far things were from each other. I checked in, dropped off my stuff and pretty quickly went to check out "Jump Up" which was some sort of street festival they were having for the race. There was a lot of music, street vendors and I think even a parade at some point. I also needed to find some of my QT2 teammates who were staying at another hotel. This was going to be a lot more difficult once I arrived and discovered that my cell phone was not going to work. I tried to dial some numbers but it just kept telling me to redial the 10-digit number, blah, blah, blah. So that wasn't going to be useful that weekend. Other good news was that the phone lines in my hotel were not working, so I was going to be amazingly difficult to get in touch with.

Luckily, while I was walking around checking out the scene and discovering that essentially everything was really close to everything else, I ran into a guy who was on my plane and he let me use his phone to call my coach so I could meet up with them. We had dinner right on the water, ordering the triathlete's special of pasta and some chicken. They ran out of bread after we had a little bit. We each had about $5 worth of food, but had to pay $35 each. We certainly did not expect that. I would've paid $100 at that point because I was absolutely starving. After that and a phone call to the airline where all I learned was that my bike was at least no longer in Philadelphia, it was time to get to bed.

My hotel room, although decent enough on the inside, was practically in the street. There weren't any real windows or screens, just venetian-blind-type glass and curtains that blocked the fact that my "view" was of tires of cars parked 2 feet from my "window." I had to go to sleep with my head phones on because of all of the cars and people, who might as well have been sharing my bed they seemed so close. This made me incredibly concerned for getting sleep the whole time I was there, but fortunately I think there were only that many people out and about because of the Jump Up thing, because even though there were always cars, it was never as noisy as that first night.

I slept fairly well that night, but was of course awake early. I decided to check out our "sister" hotel, where I was told I could participate in the free continental breakfast which would start at 7am. We were having a team breakfast at 9, but I definitely needed something before then. I was too early, but at least got a chance to use the computer over there and send an e-mail to my mom so she knew I was still alive, since at that point it was my only form of communication. After an english muffin and some cereal, I walked around a bit more to check out the much-less-crowded streets before going to catch a cab to the race host hotel where we had arranged a team breakfast at the buffet. Here's a tip, the host hotel is nowhere near the race itself, and therefore incredibly inconvenient if you choose to stay there. 3 of my teammates stayed there and it was something insane like $44 each way to catch the shuttle to and from the transition area on race morning.

We had a great breakfast and kept causing the buffet to run out of pancakes. We certainly got our money's worth on that buffet. We all headed back to town to register. This is definitely a much more laid-back race than any I've been to. Really it seemed that anyone could race as anyone. No ID, no USAT card, just tell them your name and they'd write it down on a post-it and send you to the various tables to get your numbers, timing chip, t-shirt and goodie bag.

After that I called the airport to see if my bike was there, which it wasn't. I was still completely calm at that point, and for some reason confident that my bike was probably just sitting there in some office waiting for me to come pick it up. Calling people didn't seem to be helping, so I did the only thing I thought would help, and took a cab back to the airport to wait for it to arrive or at least talk to some people face to face. Besides, it had to arrive at some point, and I might as well be there when it did. See, in St. Croix it's not like in other places, where they bring you your bags when they arrive. You have to pay another $25 to get back to the airport to get them, and another $25 to go back to your hotel. At least I had packed everything but my bike in my backpack and carried that on so I had all of my other stuff.

This is where I completely lost my calm demeanor and confidence that everything would wind up ok. The bike was not there. And nobody seemed to be able to help me find out where it might be. The US Airways counter was actually open, but they did not have the capabilities to track baggage. One of my teammates had loaned me her blackberry so I could try and make some calls, but I was getting nowhere. I thought maybe I'd at least try and put in a claim for the bag with US Airways since the bike never went through Cape Air anyway, and even if it had made it that far they don't even take bikes - a fact that they constantly reminded me of, but the US Airways lady said that you have to file the claim with your last destination carrier, even though they of course had nothing to do with anything. So my baggage claim was filed with an airline that doesn't even take the kind of baggage I was missing. Can you feel my frustration yet?

At one point I had gotten a bit of hope when I was told that Cape Air sends the bikes over on Seaborn Air, another small carrier that flies between the islands, but is big enough to handle bikes. They have their own satellite terminal hangar close to a mile down the road and it might have been there. So off I walked, eventually realizing that it was just a little bit scary to be walking down this sketchy road by myself, but I've always felt that a 6' tall female probably wasn't seen as an easy target. When I got to this warehouse building of course the guy inside had no idea what I was talking about, and I headed back to the main airport.

This was not the best way to spend the day before your half ironman. I had spent zero time with my feet up, instead most of it either standing at different counters not being helped, or sitting on a bench in the baggage claim area waiting to see if the bike might magically appear off one of the other arriving planes. I had brought a sandwich with me that I bought before I left town, ate the Powerbar nut naturals bar that had been given to me in my registration bag and kept feeding dollars into the vending machine to attempt to get enough water. There was obviously a large plane that had arrived as a whole bunch of people came into the baggage claim area. I thought maybe my bike would be on that plane. As the Atlanta passengers collected their stuff, one bike came off. But it was someone else's in another kind of case, and I was starting to think that I might not be able to race at all. The even more painful part at that point though was that I wasn't sure if I'd ever see my bike again, after either being lost forever by the airlines or maybe even taken by someone else the day before.

I decided to call Jesse, my coach, and let him know the status at that point so maybe they could look around and see if there might be some other bike I could use. I told him that there was only one flight coming in from US Airways that day, from Charlotte, and I was going to wait for that one to come in and if it wasn't on that one, I was just going to come back and forget about it. I had been sitting in the airport for about 3 and a half hours at that point. I was under-carbed, dehydrated, exhausted, and my feet were all swelled up. I was feeling hopeless and helpless as I sat on the bench while the passengers on the 3:15 from Charlotte started grabbing their bags off the carousel.

The woman from the St. Croix information booth, who was well aware of my situation at that point, came around the corner and said to me, "I think I see a bike." Now, I had seen my exact bike case 4 other times by then, so I still wasn't exactly convinced. I stood up and slowly walked over, noticing the black plastic before it came around the corner and revealed the bright red piece of tape on the top of the box that said, "ZAHR". I cannot express in words the incredible sense of relief I experienced at that point. My ordeal was over. My bike wasn't lost forever and I was actually going to be able to race. At that point any worries about the heat or the beast were gone. I felt like the hard part was over.

I called Jesse and my mother and told them that the bike had been hanging out in Charlotte (I don't know why you can't track these things like a UPS package and they could've told me that over the phone so I didn't waste over 3 hours waiting there for nothing) and I got a cab back to town. The cabbies have learned from the airlines about charging extra for bikes. I didn't even put the thing together right when I got back, I just needed to relax for a little bit. I went over to where Jesse, his wife Chrissie, Cait and Tim Snow - all also QT2 team members who were racing - were staying and in the span of 45 minutes ate nearly an entire bag of pretzels and literally drank a gallon of water. When I got back from the airport at about 4:30 I realized that I had not had to pee since 8:30 that morning, which in case you didn't know, is not the best hydration strategy. We went over my race plan, which now I could actually pay attention to since I knew I was actually going to get to race, and I finally went back to my room to put the bike together.

I had at least checked and made sure that everything was in the box. The only minor issue was that somehow the rear brake had moved so that one of the pads was resting against the wheel, and the Cervelo rear brakes are not as easy to adjust as the rear brakes on my Aegis are. So that took a little longer than I'd hoped, but I did manage to fix it. I got my stuff all laid out for the morning, put numbers where they were needed, had my small dinner and finally got to put my swollen feet up. I suppose I could've spiraled into another panic at that point, but that wouldn't have made things any better, so instead I just decided that what had happened had happened and I was still just going to try and do the best that I could.

On race morning my alarm went off at 3:45am. My wave was set to go off at 6:50 (pros started at 6:20) and I had to eat 3 hours before. I had to do some fancy math way too early in the morning when I saw that the jar of unsweetened apple sauce I had for breakfast was not 6 half-cup servings, as every jar I had ever seen was, but 5 2/3 cup servings. Huh? I was supposed to eat 3 cups, which is so much easier when it just means eating the whole jar. It took me a lot of staring into space to finally come to the conclusion that if I left a third of a cup uneaten, then I'd be perfect. Phew. At least my protein powder was pre-measured and 1 banana almost always equals 1 banana.

The whole day before had left me so far off from my usual pre-race self that I was moving incredibly slow that morning. I had to walk about an eighth of a mile to the transition area, which can sometimes make you leave a lot later than maybe you should. Also, suddenly I realized I wasn't wearing my timing chip and it took me way too long to find it velcroed inside a towel I had in my transition backpack. Transition had opened at 5, and although my wave did not go off until 6:50, at about 6 we were all supposed to swim over to this little island about 200 yards or so off shore to start the swim. I don't think I got to transition until about 5:45. at which time I found out that I couldn't get air in my tires. These are the kinds of things that come up when you have your bike 12 hours before the race start and spend 9 of those hours asleep. Luckily, Jesse got it all figured out and the bike was good to go. I was at a rack with Chrissie, Lauren and Michelle, 3 other members of my team. I never get to be in the same age group as any of my friends, so it was kind of nice to have people around, even if I was a little embarrassed at my seeming total lack of preparation! I swear, I am usually a lot more focused, but at that point just getting the opportunity to race at all seemed like a bonus.

I had my transition set up in no time and before I knew it, it was time to put on my Blue Seventy skin suit and swim over to the little island. It was kind of nice not to wear my wetsuit, even if it does make me a lot faster. Michelle, Chrissie, Lauren and I finally jumped into the harbor and did our forced-warm-up swim over to the island. That was actually kind of a nice little way to start the day. For a while it felt like there was no race. It was just a bunch of people in swim caps and speed suits sitting around in beach chairs drinking water and Gatorade.

The nerve-wracking thing at that point was that essentially I had no clue where the swim course went. Upon starting the swim we would be taking a sharp left merely 25 yards out and then disappearing to who knows where. There were only two minutes between each swim wave, so when the one in front went off, we would move forward and the race director had about a minute to tell us something about going through two sets of two buoys and then keeping the rest of the buoys on our right. Um, ok. Good thing I'm never leading the swim.

We lined up for the beach start, in a nice, small group of women. We heard the air horn and it was time to go. I don't know really when I came across those two sets of two buoys, but eventually I saw some other ones off in the distance and figured I might as well swim towards those. As usual, I found myself swimming almost entirely by myself. To the point where I thought maybe I was completely off course. The buoys were far off to my right, and I could see people swimming close to them but I couldn't seem to get myself over there. I really don't understand why or how I wound up so far away from everyone. Eventually I made it to a big tetrahedron buoy (anyone who does one of Keith Jordan's races knows that it is a tetrahedron buoy, not a triangle) and figured that must be where we turned to head in. For a brief period there I did get to swim with some other people, but they were all in waves ahead of me so there was no point in trying to stick with them since it would only slow me down.

I followed the faint hint of bobbing heads in front of me since every time I tried to see where I was going there was a wave in the way and I couldn't see anything. At least I was swimming with the current at that point and at times I actually felt like I was going kind of fast. I never looked at my watch because I was convinced that the swim was taking me about 45 minutes at that point. I came to the sea wall and was swimming in very shallow water, still wondering if this was where I was supposed to be swimming, but since there were finally some other people around, I figured I'd be ok. I came across another guy who not only had a snorkel but also some swim fins. I have no idea what that was about, but since I'm not even a fast swimmer and I passed him quickly, I didn't really care.

Finally I came to the swim exit and glanced at my watch to see just over 36 minutes. Obviously not a good half ironman swim time, but considering the conditions it was actually dead in the middle of my goal swim time, so I was on track. I felt a little dizzy as I ran through transition but it helped not having to pry an entire wetsuit off my ankles, and I was off on my bike pretty quick. How quick I don't really know though since the bike split includes both transition times and doesn't keep them separate.

It was really interesting doing a race where I had no clue what to expect on the course. Every turn gave me something new. This is the first time I've done a new race since 2006, so not my typical experience. It was pretty much as advertised. In the beginning it was kind of fun because we got to ride down these narrow alleys in front of all sorts of spectators. I wanted to ask them how many people they had seen crash there before I came through. After a bit of urban riding we went off into what seemed like the jungle at times, a canopy of trees overhead and a curve in the road that left whatever came next as a complete surprise. The roads were incredibly rough at times, rattling my aero bottle and making me hope that I didn't lose it or get a flat tire. A few times I got paranoid that I was losing pressure and I kept looking down to check, but luckily I was ok.

I was supposed to get down 2 bottles of fluid in the first hour, and I knew the beast was 21 miles in so I kept it as my goal to get down those 2 bottles before I got there. I had no clue how fast I was going because although I had set my speed sensor to work right with my race wheels the night before, for whatever reason it wasn't registering now. I passed my two faster-swimming teammates and continued on. You see, the bike is all I have, so I have to make it count! There were signs every 5 miles telling us where we were, so I at least had a general idea as to how I was doing. I did not do so well on my first left-handed bottle hand-up (we had to ride on the left in St. Croix) but from the second attempt on, I did ok. My watch was approaching an hour for the bike, and I knew it soon would be time. After lots of rough roads, warm-up hills, and sucking down sports drink, I made a sharp left out of the jungle and before I knew it, I was on the infamous beast.

I was sick of hearing people talk about it before, and after talking to a few more trust-worthy sources, so knew just to approach it like any other hill: just keep pedaling in your easiest gear until you get to the top. They make it all the more painful by spray painting the road and constantly telling you the grade, as well as marking every tenth of a mile through the 7/10ths stretch, as well as the halfway point. There were quite a few other people on it when I was riding, but I only saw two people I think who had to stop and walk. And only one guy near me passed me. Yes, it was absolutely the hardest, steepest hill I have ever had to ride up. But when you get down to it, it really is just another hill. I sat for as long as I could, covering the initial 14-15% grades before I hit 21% and finally had to stand to crank away at like 35rpms in my 25-tooth cog while the sweat started to pour off of me, my heart rate shot into the 180's, I wondered if I might fall backwards and I started to feel like I might throw up. But just when I thought my vision might black out, the grade "eased up" to about 17% and I was able to sit down again and recoup a bit before finishing out the final stretch.

Before I knew it, I was at the top. There is a combination of relief and sudden anxiousness because there at the peak is an aid station where you have about 5 seconds to get what you need with your hands that are all cramped up from gripping the handlebars with every ounce of strength your fingers possess before flying down the other side on rough, winding roads at 30+mph. I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade and squeezed it into my aero bottle as hard as I could, resulting in maybe half the bottle making it in there before I had to chuck it and get back to my handlebar death-grip, only this time it was keeping them near the brakes so I wouldn't fly off into the jungle, never to be heard from again. I am not usually one to be afraid of descending, but when you don't know how sharp the turns are because you have never seen the course before, the road is not much better than riding on gravel, and you are pretty sure about 2 feet on either side of the road is enough of a drop-off to kill you, you probably shouldn't just let it fly as fast as possible. However, I will say that the descent didn't wind up being nearly as treacherous as I thought it would be considering what was on the other side. As hard as it was to climb up the beast, I'd rather ride up it 100 times than ever have to ride down.

Somehow after cresting the peak of the beast I was surprisingly alone on the bike. At times almost to the point where I wondered if I was still on the course. This race is a lot smaller than most I do, and the intersections are not marked nearly as prominently. The next challenge came as I rode through a little neighborhood and while I was trying to make sure I didn't ride through too many of the huge craks in the road I looked up just in time to notice the ridiculous speed bump in the road. Had I not stood off the saddle and done my best to sort of absorb the shock I'm pretty sure I would've launched myself airborn and broken at least some part of my bike. That wasn't all, though. They just kept coming. One after another, speed bump after speed bump. I almost started laughing at how many of them there were. Finally I got to turn off onto another road and the obstacle course portion of the ride was over. Well, sort of.

The next section was on a long stretch of 4-lane highway. Of course these roads were rough, too. This is also where we passed some young kids, probably only 5 or 6, who were sticking their hands out for high-fives. I felt bad, and I will usually give a kid a high-five in a race if they want one, but if I tried to do it from my bike I foresaw a few possibilities, and none of them resulted in a successful high-five. Most involved an injured child, and some an injured me, so I kept my hands on the aero bars.

The miles kept on ticking away and my time checks with the mile markers left me knowing I was going a little slower than I was supposed to, but the course really is a lot tougher than most, so instead of getting mad at myself and trying to hammer too hard and blow myself up, I just kept on pedaling in the zone and knew my time would be whatever it was going to be. I was, however, thinking about how much fun I was having. The roads were rough and the hills were a pain, but it was just such a cool course. Well, cool is probably not the right word because actually, it was hot. I do remember thinking to myself at one point that it was definitely nothing like Hawaii, but it was still pretty hot and also fairly windy (again though, not like Hawaii)

The course continued to scare me at times about going the right way. Again I was all by myself and at one point I made a right turn onto this road and only realized when I saw another biker coming right at me that apparently on that particular stretch we were supposed to ride on the right. Would've been nice of them to have told us. But from there it was a lot of up and down and riding along the gorgeous ocean. In spite of my being behind my goal time, I still felt like I was riding pretty well, and in spite of the fact that it hasn't taken me that long to ride 56 miles in a race since 2003, I was happy with how it went.

I didn't really know where exactly the end of the bike course was so I didn't get a chance to take off my bike shoes before I got off. But I was in and out of the way-smaller-than-California transition area nice and quick and off on the run. In short, I felt like crap when I started that run. I don't know exactly what it was. I drank as much as I was supposed to, but my legs felt like crap and I think my head hurt. I was pretty sure it was going to be a very long 13.1 miles. In this race the aid stations are every kilometer apart instead of every mile, so we got more chances for fluids. I decided once I reached the second aid station that if I was ever going to feel better on that run, I was going to have to take in a lot of liquid right then and there. This was the first race I've done this year where I didn't go out too fast, actually hit the first mile 9 seconds slower than my goal, but I don't know that was such a good thing. So I walked through the next aid station and downed a cup of Gatorade, a cup of water, and dumped a bunch of water and ice over myself. I continued on and hoped things would get better.

After about two miles we approached the Buccaneer hotel and the golf course, where we ran one big loop. This section had about the 1 tiny section of shade on the whole course, which was a nice, brief reprieve since it was incredibly hot out. After all of the talk about the bike course though, nobody warns you about the run course. There were a couple of tough hills on that section, although we did get to give our legs a bit of a rest by running on some trails. In spite of how crappy I felt and how slow I knew I was running (barely managing to stay under 8-minute miles) I was actually mostly passing people rather than getting passed, so I tried to remind myself that it had more to do with the course conditions than anything else.

I'm not sure exactly when it finally happened, but somewhere on my way back towards town as I closed out that first loop I started to feel a whole lot better. It didn't make me run fast really, it just made it feel a whole lot easier and more natural. I wasn't really trying to push the pace at that point, more like just trying to stay relaxed and comfortable with my own personal version of good form (which really just means still really bad form, just not quite as bad as it can possibly get) My teammate Cait blew by me at one point on her second loop, making me feel like I was standing still as she offered some words of encouragement. And Cait, when you are running your way up to third, you do not have to waste your energy saying hi, I will understand.

I came to the turn-around and headed out for my second lap, no longer dreading running another 6 and a half miles or so, but knowing that I'd be able to get through it ok. I continued to drink a lot and dump a lot of ice down my jersey and I even got to continue to pass some people. I never really felt like my legs were giving out on me. Nothing else really exciting happened on that second loop. I enjoyed the scenery running along the ocean one last time, almost sprained my ankle when I thought it would be a good idea to run on the grass instead of the pavement down one of the hills, and just kept on running as much as I could. It had gotten cloudy for a bit, but the sun finally came out again and made it feel 15 degrees hotter. But I was almost done, so I didn't care.

They didn't have mile markers for the second loop, with the exception of mile 9, so I had to guess based on the first loop mile markers. That meant that at the mile 6 sign, I figured I had a little over half a mile to go. I approached the sign for the turn for the second loop and ran towards the finish, even after a suspicious-looking race director made sure to ask me and the few people around me if we were, in fact, heading to the finish and not still only on our first loop. We were heading directly for the transition area, and presumably about to cross the finish line. Then, due to some really cruel course planning, we inexplicably made two left turns and headed in the exact opposite direction from the finish line. There were only two people ahead of me in the distance, and I didn't know how far away exactly we would be heading. Had I known this is how things would go I might've been ok with it, but when you mentally set yourself up to be finished with a race in about 2 minutes and suddenly you have no clue where the finish line is, things get a little bit harder.

Some spectator yelled out, "almost there, just 7/10ths of a mile to go!" Seriously? Almost three quarters of a mile? When you thought it was barely a tenth, that kind of information can almost make you want to stop running right then and there and hunt down whoever it was who designed this finish so you can kick them in the shins. I felt like I was running in circles at that point. Even when we finally turned and headed in the general direction of the finish line I had no idea how much further it was because I couldn't see it. At least I didn't get passed on that stretch.

Finally up ahead the white arch of the finish line became visible, and I knew it was almost over. I crossed the line in 5:25, 10 minutes slower than my goal and way slower than I otherwise might go on some other half ironman course, but actually kind of happy with my performance. My run was way too slow, but my entire team had gone about 10 minutes slower than we were supposed to, so let's blame it on the conditions and the fact that leading up to the race I was unrested and dehydrated due to that whole missing bike thing. Jesse was right there at the finish, as was Michelle, my teammate who I had passed on the bike but who re-passed me on the run and finished a few minutes ahead of me. I was glad that I was tired, but definitely not in need of a medical tent. Chrissie came across not long after me and eventually we went to get some food.

The post-race spread was 100% the kind of treats your mom might stick in your school lunch when you were a kid. Snack-sized bags of chips, Doritos, Fritos and Cheetos, bags of Oreos and Nutter Butters as well as mini candy bars, which you'd think they would've known would not really survive the mid-day St. Croix heat. I'm going to have to admit though that I ate a couple anyway. We all decided that in spite of the tough course and slow times we had a lot of fun.

I walked the three minutes back to my hotel room to shower and change and take a little nap. After my rest I went back to meet up with the rest of the QT2ers to go get a few post-race treats. My coach Jesse is also my nutritionist, and one of the key things in my performance for the rest of the season is going to be losing the rest of what I like to refer to as my "injury weight." Kind of like pregnancy weight, only not nearly as good of an excuse, although maybe a bit easier to lose after since you don't have an infant to deal with. So when everyone else was getting ice cream, the world's most perfect food, I was surprised that he told me it was ok to have some. I was allowed one night of splurging, so I did. I only got a small as my own compromise.

After that we caught a cab up to the host hotel where the awards were being held. It was, like everything else on the island, incredibly low-key. Just a bunch of tables out by the pool and a couple of stations set up with our food buffet of hamburgers, veggie burgers, sausage, chicken, pasta salad, potato salad, cole slaw, chips, cookies and brownies. Pretty simple, but also pretty good. I am pretty sure I wound up 5th in my age group, although there seem to be some conflicting results that have me in 6th. Doesn't really matter when Kona slots go to 2, don't care about Clearwater slots and awards only go to 3. This was the first race where they put a 30 on my leg, in spite of the fact that yes, I'm still in my 20's. The worst part is that I would've won 25-29, and this stupid age-up rule only took effect for this race this year. I will probably like the rule when I'm 34, but for now it only makes things harder. In short, I am always in the wrong age group in the wrong race at the wrong time.

We had a nice night, Jesse got his award, Cait got her award for 3rd pro and her amazing run, and we caught another cab back to town. There was just enough time for one more splurge at Rum Runners there on the water, wher we always seemed to find ourselves. Each of us had our own peanut butter pie, which is probably the best dessert that does not involve ice cream. It was a good day.

The next morning I was awakened at 4:30 in the morning to a garbage truck outside my "window". It was parked there for about 10 minutes before it moved on... about 10 feet down the street and started it all over again. I never get much sleep the night after a race anyway after spending the day fueled on caffeine and sugar. I waited at least a little while before going out and walking around a bit. I was meeting my teammates for breakfast at 9, so I definitely had some time to kill.

When we finally had breakfast - at Rum Runners, of course - I got to eat a veggie omelet and give away my toast and hash browns. Don't get me wrong, I actually like veggie omelets, but it's not as much fun when everyone else is eating really delicious-looking breakfast quesadillas, and you would've loved to have had some of those banana pancakes they had on the menu. This is why it's sometimes good to just stay home, you never feel like you're missing anything if you can't actually see it. We all agreed that none of us were really sore. I'd actually say that it is probably the least sore I've ever been after a half ironman. But I finally realized it was probably because my run pace on the half marathon was slower than my last recovery run as opposed to, you know, the race pace you're supposed to be running, so it makes perfect sense if you think about it.

Cait and Tim headed back to Boston after that and Chrissie and Jesse were nice enough to let me hang around with them all day. Beats spending the day by myself. We went over to the island the swim had started on and had lunch at the restaurant there. We made it back to the mainland just in time for it to start pouring. I went back to my hotel for a bit before we all met up again. First for everyone to have drinks and nachos - the other world's most perfect food - while I sipped water. By the time we made it to dinner I thought maybe I was already at race weight from being starving all afternoon. But finally we found someplace that was pretty nice, I had a healthy, delicious meal that made my stomach stop eating itself, and we all enjoyed a nice evening.

The next morning I had to get up at 4:15 again since my flight was at 6:30 and I had to catch a cab. The attitude there is so laid back that I honestly worried whether or not my cab I had arranged the night before - from another hotel phone since the phone lines at my hotel were still out - would actually be there. Luckily, he was. Although the torrential downpour that ensued just before I had to get the bike in the van did not help matters, nor getting to the airport. My mom would've been proud of me as I was the first person at the airport, and therefore the first person to get to go through customs, and this time almost 100% sure that my bike was going to be making the trip with me. Even the guy at the airport though thought that it was incredibly hot on race day.

My trip back was far less stressful. Made it to San Juan as predicted, San Juan to Philly, delayed in Philly but at least I saw my bike get on the plane to Manchester and I was only a little late when I arrived to rain and 48 degrees. In spite of the bike losing dabacle and the incredible slowness, I'd go back and race there. I'd just get there at least Thursday or earlier, and I don't think I'd make it a yearly event.

Now it is time for an incredibly easy training week before the really big push to Lake Placid. My priorities this week are sleeping a ton and eating hardly anything. I don't like having to continue to blame race performances on the extra weight I'm carrying around. Good week to have off too, since the weather is pretty crappy. Less than 12 weeks to Lake Placid!