Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bouncing back from the big weekend

It's been about 48 hours since I finished my last workout of the big training weekend. I guess one advantage to finishing out with a crappy run is that my legs aren't nearly as sore as I might have expected them to be. Yesterday also helped with nothing but a nice, easy recovery swim. Well, maybe it wasn't quite as easy as it could've been because by the time I ventured into the lake I got to fight some serious chop kicked up by the wind. I guess a good thing about it was that it made me feel a little queasy so I certainly wasn't all that hungry afterward.

Today had a bit more training. At some point there will be a swim that I haven't gotten to yet but hopefully will involve calmer waters. But I opted to do my swim/bike workouts first. Nothing but a nice, easy 1-hour recovery ride was first up. It was pretty uneventful with the exception of the older couple who passed me in their pick-up truck, slowed down along side me making me thing maybe they were going to ask me for directions or something (that's happened before) but instead I saw that they were giving me a silent word-mouthing/hand gesture lecture in which all I could make out was the arm-waving and definitely the word "road". Most likely as in, "get off the road!" It drives me crazy when people don't understand that they have to share the road with cyclists, and especially in this case, where I was on a rural road with no shoulder, meaning I had to be in the driving lane, but 1 car might go by every 3-to-5 minutes, so it's not like they didn't have any room to move over a bit and maybe lose .9 seconds on their drive to the bingo hall or the yarn store or wherever it was they might've been going. Also at the time I was a bit more in the road than I otherwise might have been because I was avoiding a runner coming in the other direction. Exactly where did these people expect me to be? I gave them the, "what do you expect me to do?" look/shoulder shrug and they were on their way, surely not having lost any time on their drive except maybe to slow down and berate me through glass for no reason.

But anyway.... After that little ride I had a 45-minute run. I have to alternate my shoes lately because the air is so damp that nothing EVER dries. My heart rate monitor has been driving me crazy lately and I think it might be time for a new one, so the data there was a bit off unless my heart rate actually was 85 for 10 minutes, then 190 for 5 minutes, then 86 for a few more minutes... BUT, in spite of that, I actually felt like I had a good run, which was encouraging. Definitely my fastest pace so far and WAY faster than anything over this past weekend. Let's just hope it wasn't a fluke...

Monday, June 29, 2009

QT2 Training weekend report

I spent this past weekend training with about 25 of my QT2 teammates in Ludlow, VT. It was set to be an epic weekend of training and it certainly did not disappoint. After a short bike workout and a nice, open-water recovery swim on Thursday morning I packed up the car and headed west, arriving at my home for the weekend at about 3:00. Unfortunately, nobody else got there until closer to 3:45, so I spent some time hanging out in my car, but at least it was finally sunny and nice outside for the first time in a month or so.

After unpacking the cars many of us set off on a nice, tough run that was to include a 5K hard interval in the middle. My team consists of some of the best runners you'll ever come across in any triathlon, and I am, well, not. So although we all left the house at the same time, I was definitely on my own for this one. Especially because they were so far out of sight that I wound up doing my run on a different road entirely from everyone else. But at least I missed them coming back the other way since for some reason my run duration was longer than everyone else's (quite possibly because it just plain takes me a way longer time to cover the same distance as everyone esle) Even though I had been dreading the run, especially after sitting in a car for a couple of hours and the fact that it was not only humid out, but also fairly hot - something we haven't experienced yet this summer - I actually didn't feel that bad. I was completely soaked with sweat from head to toe - to the point that my shoes were making squishy noises with each step - but it was a good start.

Most of the other athletes had arrived by the time we got back and cleaned up. We had some pizza for dinner that night. Apparently the consensus was that the pizza wasn't good at all. Personally, I thought it was fantastic. But that probably has a lot more to do with the fact that I have been severely pizza-deprived for the past 8 months. I'm surprised I was even allowed to have any, but I thoroughly enjoyed my two slices once I was given the official okay. After that, Cait, Chrissie and I spent a very long time formulating a list of all of the deliciously indulgent foods we are going to eat during the week following Lake Placid. It includes things as simple as cheese and crackers and peanut butter and jelly, along with some of the more obvious: ice cream, nachos and an array of baked goods. The list was several pages long, and we certainly have our work cut out for us that week!

Friday was poised to be the longest day of the weekend. I'm normally all for starting the training just about at the crack of dawn, but given the volume we were going t be dealing with over the 3 days, I am glad that we were scheduled to start later so I could sleep in. Of course, sleeping in for me is anything after 6, really. I was up at 6:45 and ready to make my breakfast. First up for the morning was just a nice, easy 30-minute swim at a local state park that was opened just for us to use. It was a beautiful morning and the water was pretty comfortable in our wetsuits. Also, the short, easy nature of the "workout" almost made me forget that I was about to get on my bike for 7 hours.

It was somewhere between 10:30 and 11 I think when we were finally ready to roll out for our 7-hour ride. I don't know why adding just one little hour to your usual long ride can make it sound so daunting, but it does. A nice feature of the day was more sun than clouds, which is definitely not what the norm has been as of late. It was cloudy for a bit early on and certainly looked like it might have rained, but we were mercifully spared from dealing with inclement weather. We rode from Ludlow, where Okemo Mountain is, over to where Killington ski area is, so I apparently without realizing it just pre-rode most of the bike course for a little race I'm doing this Saturday. Many of the roads were fairly quiet and low-traffic, so it was a great route to take. I always find that reaching the halfway point on these rides always seems to take way longer than the second half. Luckily we were smart enough to turn around a bit before we hit halfway time-wise, because it seemed as though we had ridden more down than up so far, which would of course be reversed on the way back. Not to mention the wind that had kicked up and would surely be in our faces for most of the return trip.

For whatever reason, I found myself riding much of the second half solo. Probably better than drafting. We had a SAG wagon roughly every 20 miles to refill on sport drink, Powerbars and gels when needed. It was a very nice thing to have, although after about 4 and a half hours I found myself desperate for just plain WATER. This desperation for something not consisting of sugar made me reluctant to consume much fuel at that point, so I started to wonder if maybe I'd find myself in a bit of trouble before I made it all the way home. Thankfully, with about 30 miles to go I rolled up to a few of the team members who had stopped at a convenience store to stock up on a few supplies. In their case it was Gatorade, but thanks to Jesse, I got my water and felt 100 times better as I set off to ride the final stretch into the wind.

I knew that I had lost time on the return trip and would be pushing beyond 7 hours at that point, so I really wanted to try and go as fast as I could to finish up without going over too much. There was one last hill to climb with about 15 miles to go, and the rest was nice and flat and I was able to push the final stretch back to the house. I was surprised actually at how good I felt at that point. I managed not to get caught by too many of the teammates who had followed behind me after the pit-stop, and was glad to be done with almost 138 miles in 7 hours and 9 minutes.

But for the triathlete, the workout never ends with the bike ride. It was time to run. Lately these transition runs have been an hour, but given that we were approaching 8 hours of training on the day, I only had to run for 30 minutes. After over 7 hours on the bike, it was over in the blink of an eye. I felt surprisingly good and finished in my typical surprisingly-slow fashion, but at least I had survived the day. Even more important to me than a shower at that point was brushing my teeth after a day full of sugary fueling products. At that point it was about 7pm, and of course I was tired enough that I was more interested in just lying down than eating anything, but I'm not so sure I would've made it through the rest of the weekend if I just went to bed, so I joined the rest of the team for a small portion of a 6-foot sub.

Saturday was the day that seemed the least intimidating to me. The hardest part was going to be over with early: a 2-mile swim time trial. Or at least some distance in that vicinity, as it was impossible to anchor the paddle-boat that served as the turn-around in the surprisingly-deep lake and the wind surely altered the GPS-measured distance a bit. I had slept pretty well (who wouldn't at that point?) although would've loved staying in bed a bit longer, but we had to hit the road fairly early to head back to the state park for our swim.

We took our time putting on our wetsuits and getting in the water, and were less-than-enthusiastic when we were told that we should do a 10-minute warm-up. Without the fanfare of a race, Jesse called out, "ready, set, Go!" and we were off. The "course" was out to the boat that was about a quarter-mile away, four times. In spite of our fairly large group I at least managed not to bump into anyone in the midst of our mass-start. I went out fairly hard and tried to head in a straight line towards the tiny boat in the distance. Just like in a real race, I found myself swimming alone with nobody to draft off of. Without intermittent buoys, it was difficult to figure out if I was headed in a straight line. After I rounded the buoy that we had started from and finished my first lap, I saw that I had already been swimming for over 14 minutes and I really wondered how I was going to keep up the pace for another 3 laps.

Somehow I managed not to ease up the effort as I completed each lap. The time went by faster than I expected and finally as I approached the boat for the last time to make my final return to the finish I found myself on the feet of Keith and Pam. A few times I thought about trying to swim past them, but whenever I pulled out of their mini-draft I didn't make any progress around them, so I just settled in on their feet and let them drag me to the finish. I was tired but not exhausted, and definitely happy with that swim.

Of course, the day didn't end there. Next up we had a 4-hour recovery ride and a 1-hour transition run. We headed out at about the same time as the day before, but obviously for a much shorter day. We went out a different road that offered a bit more traffic early on, but wound up on a nice stretch of empty, flat road before turning around to head back to the house for a pit-stop. I was happy that my legs didn't feel too bad, although my biggest issue at that point was just that I really didn't want to be sitting on my bike saddle anymore. I had been on my bike every day for close to two weeks, and after a while it just gets uncomfortable, but at least the effort was nice and easy and my heart rate was nice and low. After a quick stop we went back out the road we had started on the day before to finish up the four hours. It had gotten cloudy at that point and was barely spitting rain at times. But with less than 20 minutes to go, it finally really started raining. So much for a dry weekend. Although it actually somehow managed to stop between my finishing the ride and heading back out in run attire.

I felt like I was moving along pretty well on my transition run and my heart rate was really low. Unfortunately I just didn't work hard enough to bring my heart rate up to where it maybe should've been and ended with another less-than-stellar pace. However, any disappointment I felt was quickly replaced with the excitement that it was time for my massage! Probably the best addition to the weekend were Jim and Katrina: the massage therapists who would work on each of us for 30 minutes. It was probably just what I needed to get through the weekend.

That night we headed out to Pot Belly's Pub for a nice dinner out. Given that this is a ski town in the off-season, we pretty much comprised the entire clientelle that evening. It was a fun night out, although towards the end of the evening I thought I might just have to fall asleep right there at the table, so I skipped the run-analysis portion of the evening that took place when we got back to the house. I was way too tired to sit upright any longer.

I slept great that night - and again, who wouldn't - and when I went downstairs Sunday morning it was not too surprising that it was the quietest I had seen the kitchen. Nobody was up yet. I felt like I could've slept another 1, 2, maybe 10 hours, but I figured I might as well get up. We got off to a late start with our mere 1-hour recovery ride and didn't even start until about 8:30. It was overcast and started raining after about halfway through. Of all of the rides to get rained on, the shortest was probably the best one.

I would've been happy to have just gone back to bed at that point, but next up was the part of the weekend I had been dreading the most: the long run. I tend to dread all of my runs lately, because each one seems to be more and more demoralizing. Either I feel like crap and run really slow, or I feel like I'm running fast and then find out that even though I felt good I was still running really slow, so kind of a lose-lose situation. Plus, I wasn't sure how my legs would find the energy to get through the 2-and-a-half hours with the final 40 minutes in zone 2. I hadn't done a long run like that in one stretch since before Mooseman.

We started from the state park where we had been swimming from, with some nice dirt roads and again not much traffic. I enjoyed the route itself and the quiet, but the run itself was less than enjoyable. It started out well enough, I ran with Lauren for a while. But she is tapering for Ironman Switzerland in just two weeks so I lost her after about 40 minutes when she went to finish up. Slowly but surely, anyone who had been originally running near me pulled on ahead and I was left alone again. My legs actually didn't feel all that bad, but my heart rate was inexplicably high. It was to the point that I felt like I was walking up some of the hills to keep it in check. I seriously wanted to cry, or at least just stop running. I keep thinking it has to get better at some point, but I'm running out of time and things just don't seem to be getting any better. I was told it probably had to do with the humidity, but that excuse didn't do much to make me feel better. What the situation did do was make it a whole lot easier to get my heart rate into zone 2 at the end, because it was already almost there anyway without even trying. I actually even borrowed someone else's heart rate monitor after about 90 minutes because I thought maybe there was something wrong with mine, but nope, just high.

But at least it went by faster than I expected it to, even though several times I just wanted to stop and make the whole experience end. I like training, it's just that after months of running and almost no positive feedback, it gets a little old. Sooner or later improvement just isn't good enough anymore. I don't consider it an accomplishment to be better off than I was this time a year ago, I can only see how far away I am from where I was three years ago, and I don't think I'm old enough yet to be able to blame it on old age, even if I did finally turn 30. (yes, I finally said it, I'm not in my 20's anymore) But enough negativity, at least the last of the long runs are done....

After we spent some time lying around, we headed back to pack up the house. I couldn't believe the weekend was over. 17 and a half hours of training in 3 days. Nice. And really, just such a great group of people to spend the weekend with. I am just so glad that I can be a part of it (and hoping the great running skills start to rub off sooner or later!) A sweep of the house and one last stop-off at Subway, who we apparently cleaned out of tomatoes and cucumbers over the weekend, and it was time to head home.

Now, after two weeks of 30+ hours of training I am in a recovery week. Good timing, because it's raining again, and of course set to do so every day until the end of time. I got a great night's sleep and am currently putting off another nice recovery swim in the lake. It will be nice once I get in there, but why rush? There are only 4 weeks to go for Lake Placid and I can't believe it. Part of me is really looking forward to it, and part of me is dreading it because for the first time in three years, it actually matters to me how it goes. Two years ago I had already qualified for Kona in Arizona, and once I crashed halfway through the ride it just became a matter of finishing in one piece. Then last year after being injured all spring I was pretty sure it wouldn't go well anyway, so it wasn't a surprise that it was a disaster. This time it matters and I really want to have a good race. I keep being told that it's possible, but for whatever reason I can't see it myself yet. For now, all that I can really do is get the last bits of training in, rest, don't do anything stupid and hurt myself, rest, eat right and rest some more. In less than 4 weeks, we will know how it all turns out...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 7 on the sunless planet...

One of the things you usually have to deal with when you spend a lot of time outside biking and running is awkward tan lines. Usually there are several levels to them. On your legs, the lowest one is typically from the bike shorts. But then there is often a stripe above that one that was left from your tri shorts. But it doesn't necessarily end there, because higher still can be the line from the run shorts. Each section a tad paler than the previous, leading to the tanned lower leg... at least all the way down to where your socks block out the sun. If you do it just right, sometimes by the end of the summer you can look like you have socks on when you're in bare feet. There is also often that farmer's tan on your upper arms, or if you go sleeveless then there is a line on your back where the jersey ends. The sneakiest little spot is the half-moon tan that forms on that little spot of skin that gets exposed on your back between your shirts and your jersey when you bend over the aero bars. There's also the infamous watch tan line. Sometimes you also get some nice lines on your face from your sunglasses.

None of this has been an issue for us thus far this "summer". The sun literally has not been out in a week. And honestly, last week it was out for a day and a half and before that there was another long stretch of no sun. Needless to say, it has gotten downright depressing. These are the longest days of the year, but who can tell when it is perpetually dark? I suffer through all of those cold, dreary bike rides in March knowing that in the summer I can go out in the sun on a warm afternoon and not have to worry about being cold. It just makes it so much harder to motivate yourself to go for a ride when it won't stop raining.

But of course I do it anyway. I have to wear sweatshirts every day still in June. Fun. But supposedly that is all ending tomorrow. Or kind of, at least. There is still not a single day in the extended forecast with less than a 30% chance of rain, but it is finally supposed to get warm and that big, glowing ball that sometimes shines in the sky is finally supposed to come out. The timing couldn't be better, because tomorrow I am headed to Vermont for a QT2 team training weekend. Lots of training with lots of talented athletes. It should be a lot of fun. This is the last really big few days before it's just about time to start tapering things down. That gets a little scary because it means that I'm almost out of time as far as adding fitness is concerned. Fortunately or unfortunately, there is still time to be gained by me losing a bit more weight. I am so sick of fixating on losing weight. I know it needs to be done, but I hate constantly having it on my mind. It's my own fault for making it a necessary part of the process though. At least it's salad season and I am a big fan of a good salad. I wish there was some way to have a supermarket salad bar in my house. Well, now I'm just rambling about nothing which means it's time for me to go to bed and rest up for the big weekend!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Run focus week = DONE

It has definitely been a tough week of training. Actually, the increase in volume was very subtle until the weekend, when it got poured on. The rest of the week just had slight increases. Yesterday's transition run was a mere 10 minutes longer than usual. But today the running amounted to a grand total of three hours, split up as two 90-minute runs with a 2 and a half hour bike ride in between. I am no stranger to the 3-hour run, as I used to do a couple of them leading up to my ironmans, not split up. Of course I never had to bike that day, I only had to scarf down pancakes when I was done. But I'm doing things differently now.

So I got up fairly early this morning, not exactly the 4:30 of yesterday, but 6:15 is still early. I debated staying in bed a bit longer, but I figured I might sleep a little later than I really wanted to, and I was also incredibly hungry. So after some more pre-race oatmeal for breakfast I was on the road a bit before 7:30. The weather today was incredibly unpredictable. It wasn't raining when I first went out, and I thought maybe it'd stay dry. Well, it didn't take long before the drizzle began, and then it wasn't long after that when it was just plain pouring. It very nearly made me physically angry. I don't necessarily mind training in the rain. What I do mind is training in the rain every single day! Is it honestly too much to ask for one little day of sun? It is technically summer, after all.

The rain did subside for about the last 15 minutes, and that was the worst of my weather woes for the day. But it did make for some soaking wet shoes which I would have to put on again not long later, so I continued the latest post-workout tradition of stuffing them with newspaper to help soak up some of the moisture. It'd be nice to finish a workout and not have to worry about that.

Oh, as for the run itself: Well, I actually felt pretty good. I always cringe a little bit when I first put my feet on the floor on Sunday mornings and wait to see what my quads feel like when I get out of bed. Not too bad today. Aside from the fact that I felt ok, I am still running astonishingly slow. It is honestly embarrassing at this point. I hear friends talk about their training paces for some recent run and wonder why it is that I just can't come anywhere close. I think I was good about being patient for a while, but it's just getting ridiculous now and I haven't seen any improvement lately. In fact, it seems like I'm sliding backwards.

I took a two-hour workout break as instructed, even though I probably would've rather just gone out and gotten the misery over as soon as possible. Plus, like I said before, it's starting the workouts that is the hardest part, and you eliminate that part when you just do them one after another without thinking about it. But at 11am, it was time to ride.

For about 10 minutes, I thought I'd be dry. Then of course the rain moved in again. It would rain, then stop, then rain, then stop, then be windy, then be calm, then the sun might pop out for a minute, then it'd rain again... it was a crazy weather day. Rain for 5 minutes, no rain for 10, rain for another 10... I almost prefer it when it just doesn't stop raining, because at least then you can sort of forget about it at times. The good news was that for probably the last 45 minutes I don't think it rained at all, which was definitely a nice change. Of course that's when the wind kicked up, but whatever, at least I wasn't wet anymore.

Ok, time to run again. Of course I was not looking forward to it. I tend to dread all of my runs lately, because each one ends with me discovering a more and more demoralizing pace. No matter how decent I might actually feel when I'm out there, I can't be that happy with it because I'm still way, way, way too slow.

The rain held off for my run, and the sun actually came out for a bit. This also exacerbated the fact that it was incredibly humid. So the end result was running clothes that were just as wet at the end of the second run as they were at the end of the first, rain-soaked one, it was just sweat this time. I started out feeling a lot better than I did in the first run and even managed to run faster. Not nearly fast enough, but faster. I ran the same out-and-back route and was hitting all of my landmarks earlier than the previous run, and got further along before it was time to turn around. That was slightly encouraging... until I got home and did the math and figured out how slow I had still run, even if it wasn't quite as slow as the first run. The last mile or so wasn't pleasant at all though, as I became desperate for water as I had drank my Fuel Belt supplies and I just felt done. But at least my nice little nearly-13-hour training weekend was finally over, along with my run focus week.

I am still waiting for my running to come around, but each time out just seems to be another exercise in futility. I'm doing the training, I'm staying in my heart rate zones, I've been paying close attention to my form and it's just not getting any better. Maybe it's because I'm still working on dropping weight and operating in a calorie defecit is really affecting my running. I don't know. I do however know that it'll be nice once I hit that target to actually feel like I can adequately fuel myself again.

Next up: the bike focus week. Gonna get to know that saddle really well over the next 7 days.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

No rain, lots of motorcycles

Today was of course my long ride day. I've been doing them almost every Saturday throughout the spring and summer for about the last 5 years now, so I'm pretty used to it. I also have a strange obsession with starting really early in the morning. Basically, if there is daylight, I want to be out in it. This can get pretty darn early considering today is the second-longest day of the year. In the past I've hit the road as early as 4:40am. This time though I gave myself a bit of a break by not getting up until 4:30 and heading out just after 5. It was already light enough to ride (for me, anyway) when I got up, but I was ok with starting a little "late". I am never excited about being up at early to ride, but once I get out there I really do enjoy it. I also realized as I brushed my teeth through a groggy haze that I don't really have a whole lot of long rides left. Actually, as far as actual, real long rides, it might just be one. And that one will take place next weekend with a group of the QT2 teammates on our training weekend, and I'm pretty sure nobody else is planning on starting at 5am. So this might mark the end of the getting up at dawn to do my long ride. At least until August, if all goes according to plan... But there's something just so nice about riding down a quiet road while the sun comes up. I might see a fishing boat or two on the lake because they seem to be the only ones who get up earlier than I do on a Saturday, but mostly it's just me and the occasional wild animal. Although there have been moose and even black bear sightings in the past, the most exciting one today was a turkey and a baby chick turkey.

So after some oatmeal - blessed pre-workout carbs, never thought I'd actually look forward to oatmeal - and a banana I was off. The first amazing thing about this morning is that it wasn't raining. The other was that it actually looked like it was clear. Apparently this was a bit of a lull between these "systems" the weather guys keep talking about that won't seem to go away. Very quickly I found myself riding through a nice, thick fog for a good hour or so. I couldn't wear my sunglasses because they fog wouldn't clear. And why is it that the sweat always likes to form a direct trail from my forehead straight to my mouth? Let's just say that it is not tasty.

The fog cleared and I got some sun for a while, but about halfway through the clouds moved in and never relented. Because of course it is going to rain again tomorrow. And the day after that. Oh, and the next day too... and yep, the next 5 or 6 days after that... But I did make it about 90 minutes before I passed my first motorcycle, and after that, it was pretty constant. It's not the worst thing in the world, but when you're used to riding on these roads with quiet and almost no traffic, well, you can see which way I'd prefer it. Plus thinking about trying to sleep tonight with the constant sound of motorcycle engines out the window. Oh well, it all ends tomorrow.

I rode up to the base of Waterville Valley ski area and saw that there is actually still one small patch of snow left. Yep, tomorrow is the first day of summer and there is still snow there. But to be fair, it was probably about 40 feet deep in the middle of winter, presumably a huge mound that served as a snowboard jump. After my ride and another discouraging transition run I went and stood in the lake for about 10 minutes to try and use it as sort of an ice bath. But even with this constant cool weather it probably wasn't nearly as effective as a real ice bath might have been. Still felt nice though.

So now just one more tough day in the first of two overload weeks in the training. I wouldn't be dreading it if it weren't for the fact that the rain is due to return, and the fact that it involves two runs and a ride in the middle, which means I have to somehow muster up the motivation to head out in the bad weather three times. I was just thinking today how the hardest part of almost any workout tends to be just making yourself start it. Once I start, I'm fine and probably at least 80% of the time I actually enjoy it. I'd bump that to 90%, but with all of this rain lately the percentages go down. Oh, and having to put on wet shoes for that second run. Blech.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Enough with the rain already!

For some strange reason it has been decided that those of us who live in the northeast should be punished with never-ending rain and clouds. My biggest issue with this happening now is that when you live here, you get about a 12-week window for really good weather out of the 52 of the year. So when you take away large chunks of this window it really gets demoralizing, because before you know it, it's going to be November again with no chance of warmth for at least 6 months... unless of course we are blessed with another crappy spring. The sun came out for about a day and a half this week after almost two weeks of rain and very unseasonably cold temperatures. Then it started raining again, and is forecast to do so for as long as they will make forecasts. I'd like for someone to tell me of somewhere that is experiencing a severe drought that has no end in sight, because I'd like to go there, please.

But of course, the training continues anyway. I got two rides in the sun this week, amazingly enough, and so far two rides in the rain. In fact, after my ride yesterday I actually found my fingers were cold enough that I had trouble manipulating things and it took about 2 hours before the overall chill subsided. That is ridiculous for this time of year. And yesterday afternoon, when I was resting between repeats in my track workout, I realized through the rain that I could actually see my breath. I'm starting to go a little insane. We suffer through winter and are supposed to be rewarded with nice summers. Instead, I'm getting never-ending March and it's starting to drive me a little insane.

We're coming up on 5 weeks to go before race day. I'm glad it's 5 and not 4, thanks to moving the race out a week. I had a terrible track workout yesterday because they're all terrible. Although it made me feel a lot better when I saw that in 2006 I ran a similar workout with a few similar splits for the mile repeats, and at the time I thought that was pretty good. I don't know what is wrong with me and trying to go fast, but I apparently just have no anaerobic capacity at all. Muscles start to burn at scary-low paces and that's about it from me. Not sure if this is something that can be fixed through training or if it is more of a genetic disability, but in the meantime, I'll continue to do longer races.

Up for tomorrow is another long ride, but amazingly there are only a few of these left. I'm going to have to start really early because it happens to be motorcycle week here in NH. So tens of thousands (maybe more, I'm not really sure) of motorcycle enthusiasts come from all over the country to gather together and do whatever it is that they do. This includes riding all over the lakes region in large packs and mobbing the parking lots of local establishments. The thing that bothers me about this is that I do not at all understand how motorcycles can make 50 times as much noise as a car when they are so much smaller. It can be hard to sleep indoors with the windows closed, so it's not so fun when they are buzzing right by my ear as I pedal along on my bike. And I swear some of them purposely try to pop their engines just as they go by me. The rain has not deterred them, so tomorrow will be interesting. I figure I'll get in two peaceful hours before the madness begins. And maybe, just maybe, the rain will hold out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ashland Olympic Tri race report

I think it's pretty easy to tell that the longer a race is, the better off I am. Of course that is precisely why it is good for me to do the shorter stuff, because I don't like it and it forces me to work in ways that I'm not so good at. The only nice part is that the races are over a whole lot quicker.

After spending a nice "rest" week (still plenty of training, just less relatively speaking and a lot of extra sleep) and getting some open water swims in, I headed down to Boston on Saturday to stay with my coach before the race on Sunday. The main reason for this was so that we could evaluate my (crappy) run form and talk about some long-term goals.

I didn't really need video footage to know that my run form is not exactly perfect, but I was actually surprised that it's not quite as terrible as we originally thought. This is good and bad of course, good because it means that there is nothing too crazy going on, bad because now there is not some huge thing we can fix that will suddenly make me a minute a mile faster, which would surely be nice. So I'll just have to get faster the old fashioned way... But apparently I am a mid-foot striker, which is a very good thing and surely thanks to reading that in a lot of articles years ago and making sure that was the case. My biggest problem is that I tend to drop my right arm way too low, and that may be why one side sort of collapses and I have this lateral movement going on that makes me look ridiculous when I run.

If you haven't seen it and you don't believe me, a few years ago one of my high school teachers who also writes a sports column for the local paper decided to write about me after the first time I qualified for Kona. Everyone knows I hated to run in high school and was quite the chubby teenager. He was one of my favorite teachers and he used to come to all of our basketball games, and essentially the whole article was about how ridiculous I looked when trying to run up and down the basketball court. I don't think my style has changed much, I just have like 50 less pounds to drag around so it's at least a bit faster. Luckily I know how true it is, so I wasn't insulted by the article, although some people thought I should've been. Hey, maybe if he was wrong, but the man knows what he saw...

Anyway, hopefully I can get that little glitch fixed and maybe that will make me a tad faster. After that we mapped out some long-term goals for me. Originally he was talking about 5 years, but we stopped at 3 since things had gotten pretty darn good by that point. Too good if you ask me, but he's the coach so I'll listen. It'll be pretty sweet if he's right though.

After a nice pasta meal it was time to go to sleep, which is something I've gotten really good at lately. The alarm was set for 5:30 in order to get breakfast in. It was an 8am start, so that makes the early morning thing a bit more sane, not like the 3:30am I'll get for Placid. Oh look, it's raining outside. Will it ever end? We haven't had 24 hours of clear skies in about a month.

After a fairly short, rainy drive, we arrived in Ashland, MA. This race is put on by FIRM events. They put on races almost every single weekend and they tend to be fairly low-key events, which can be a nice change. I really didn't feel like I was racing. And I really didn't want to race when it just kept raining harder and harder while we were all setting up in transition. I actually heard a girl at the next rack tell her friends that she had already decided that she was only going to do the swim and then call it a day. That seemed a little too much. If you've never raced in the rain, you should know that thinking about racing in the rain is a whole lot worse than actually racing in the rain. Honestly, it's not so bad. And of course you don't overheat!

Eventually I got my stuff set up and put on my wetsuit, which was the perfect gear choice given the weather. I wondered if there was any rule against wearing it for the whole race, but then I thought about Lake Placid last summer and how it rained a lot harder that day, and for over 12 hours, so surely I could handle two and a half hours in the rain.

One thing I noticed when I arrived to transition was that there was no sign of any body of water. I had been warned about this, but was amazed at how far we had to go to get to the pond. It was a steep trail down to the water, probably at least a third of a mile. This might not have been so bad had it not been for the rain turning portions of the trail into a virtual mudslide. But as I discovered when I watched a few people go down, and finally I myself took a spill and slide when I was merely 10 yards from the water, if you're going to fall in the mud, a wetsuit is a great thing to be wearing.

Next up was a game I like to call: guess when the race might start? The laid-back approach means that the race starts whenever they want it to, and pretty much never the time it says on the race info. This might not be so important if not for the fact that I'm supposed to have a gel 15 minutes before the race start, but in this case it was really hard to tell when 15 minutes before the race start might be. I was in the third of three waves, and I think I only took my gel about 11 minutes before the start, but that's not a bad guess. The rain seemed to have let up a tad as the first two waves of men took off into what felt like a toasty warm pond compared to what I had been swimming in lately. 68 degrees. Nice. Then I heard, "Go!"

So off I went. The course was pretty easy to follow, especially since the water was dead calm. I stayed on the inside with nobody to draft while once again everyone seemed to be wide-right on this counter-clockwise course. For some reason I felt pretty good and was able to swim fairly hard (for me) the whole time. It went by incredibly fast and I was glad to hit the beach dead on my swim goal at 23:40 I think it was. I later learned that I had the fastest swim in my age group, which is unusual for me. Not long after that I discovered that I only had to beat 7 other people. Ok, well, take the small victories...

I took the "Please-don't-let-me-fall-and-kill-myself" approach for T1 as I made my way up the slippery, muddy slope. I think that this part of the race should be tagged onto the run course. I managed to remain upright and managed a much quicker transition than Mooseman (minus that long run part) and set off on my bike.

I really didn't know how I was going to feel at this point. I was still feeling Mooseman in my legs for all of my workouts that week, so I wasn't sure I was going to be able to go hard enough for such a short race. Not to mention the fact that I am terrible at trying to go really hard, which is why I prefer the longer stuff. The beginning of the bike was somewhat drizzly and the roads were quite wet, but the real rain seemed to be gone for the day. It was a fairly hilly, two-loop course and I just tried to get through it as fast as I could without making it hurt too bad. I passed a few people early on, but because this is a smaller race there were large sections where I was completely alone. So alone, in fact, that at times I wasn't sure if I was still actually on the race course. Luckily, I would always eventually come upon someone. We got to cross the start line of the Boston Marathon, which I actually had never seen before.

Without many people to pass and the fact that my bike computer wasn't working I had a hard time being able to tell how I was doing. I finished the first loop in just under 36 minutes which put me behind in hitting my goal time, but since there were a few times where I had to sit up and slow down and try and figure out where I needed to turn to stay on the course, I wasn't too concerned. I was just glad that the second time through I'd know exactly what I was in for and could do a better job of just worrying about riding hard and not worrying about where to go.

The second loop went by incredibly fast even though I didn't ride it as fast as I was supposed to. The rain had almost completely let up and I was able to get down all of my nutrition for once, which has been a bit of an issue for me lately. I couldn't believe it was time to run already. At the bike dismount, we turned off the road and were told we could continue to ride through this muddy part of the field before we got off. I had visions of my skinny tires sliding out from underneath me and me ending up on the ground in a muddy, bloody heap, so instead I opted to push my bike that last bit.

T2 was not so speedy for me. I couldn't feel my toes and was convinced they were curled up in some horrible way in my run shoes, so it took me a minute to decide that they were actually in there the way they were supposed to be. I grabbed my hat and was off. One other good thing about a rainy race is not having to bother with sunglasses...

The run starts with a long but gradual uphill. I actually felt pretty good at that point but I have no idea what my pace was because there were no mile markers. Mostly I was just concentrating on running with good form and keeping that right arm up. The blisters that formed on my heels last weekend were doing ok because I had smeared the insides of my racing flats with vasalene, which was a little messy but very effective. The course was quite hilly and tough, but again I just tried to hold form and run at least at what seemed like a decent pace. Again I found myself completely alone at times and wondering if this was actually the course, but I am pretty sure I always went where I was supposed to go.

I didn't do so well going up the hills as my legs still seemed kind of tired, but I was able to pick it up for the last stretch back down the hill I had started on. I crossed the line and was glad to be done, but I think I felt far too good to have gone anywhere near hard enough. Still, fourth female overall and happy under the circumstances. I'd still love to solve what I'll call the run riddle...

Of course, the day wasn't over yet. It never is. So off we went to run for another 45 minutes. I felt kind of bad passing some people who were still out there racing. But this was much less painful than the run after Mooseman last week, so I didn't really mind at all. My super-fast teammates took off while I ran my awesomely slow pace, but it was over pretty quick.

So another race was done. I realized that this was only my fourth olympic-distance race ever. Twice I had done the original Granite Ledges tri, which is basically what Mooseman has become, except it was held in September. And I did a tiny little race in Arizona two years ago that I actually managed to win, although I only had to beat like 15 other women. Still, in my three triathlon wins - one sprint, one oly, and one ironman - that olympic is the only one where I got an actual award for finishing first, so I definitely appreciate it! This time, for coming in second in my age group I got a medal and a Trisports water bottle. Nice.

I spent the first two hours upon my arrival home on the bike trainer, spinning out the legs for some recovery riding. I opted not to go out and face the cold and rain. Seriously, it's June, right? Then I had to make an appearance at a graduation party and later went to see The Hangover with my brother and two of my cousins. Highly recommended.

So what now? Well, it's time for two serious overload weeks of training. I've trained single weeks with this much volume before, but never two back-to-back. This week is a run focus week, which should be interesting. Although the run volume really isn't a whole lot different until the weekend, so I might not notice as much. Still not fully recovered from the race, but I better get back to normal quick because I have some serious workouts to do.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


It has been 3 and a half days since Mooseman and there are still remnants of the race left in me. One of the more obvious would be the open sores on both of my heels caused by my experiment with running sockless for 13.1 miles. For some strange reason I've already decided I will probably try it again, although this time maybe with a different pair of shoes. Second is the incredible amount of sleep I seem to find myself getting and the fact that it only takes me about 15 seconds to fall asleep once I turn out the light. The muscle soreness is gone, but the fatigue is definitely still there. It can be a good feeling though, because at least I know that I went hard on Sunday and have physical proof. Hopefully it doesn't stick around too long, because the past couple of workouts have been a bit rougher than expected.

I have about half the training volume this week compared to what I have to look forward to next week. It's actually kind of funny how much of the time I actually find it more difficult to motivate myself to do the short, easy workouts than I do to do the longer, tougher ones. This is never more evident than during the taper. Some people apparently want to get out and train like crazy during their taper, but I usually feel like I would rather just sleep the entire two weeks leading up to the race. But we're not quite there yet...

So instead I am enjoying the light training week, getting in a few shorter workouts and banking some extra sleep. What also makes the less training easier is that once again the weather SUCKS. I mean, it was nice all weekend, but ever since those clouds rolled in while we were waiting for the Mooseman awards ceremony, I haven't seen the sun. Not for a minute. And it's been in like the 50's and 60's. Seriously, haven't we suffered enough? Is it too much to ask for a little sun when it's June?!?! Tomorrow is actually going to be even worse as it won't just be cloudy, but rainy too. Nice. At least it makes it easier to sleep in while I have the chance since it is not exactly bright and sunny every morning.

We are now closing in on 6 and a half weeks to go before Lake Placid, which seems unbelievable. It seems like it was just last week I was wearing hats and gloves and running in the snow, training for a race that was so far off I might as well not even think about it. But now that it's getting closer it's getting scarier, because most of the work has been done, which seems incredible. There's not a ton of improvement to be gained in these last few weeks because there's just not enough time. Still waiting for that miraculous run workout that makes me feel amazing, and today definitely was not it. Actually, today made me feel like I was 30 pounds heavier and coming off several weeks of no training again, but I'm not going to concern myself with it right now. Hoping it's just the race still in my legs. There is still weight to be lost (feels like there always will be) and that will surely help some. Other than that, just a few more weeks of tough training to go after this little race this weekend, and it's going to be time to taper before I know it!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mooseman race report

I think I need to preface this by saying that just one year ago, Mooseman was the first tri in an abysmal season for me. It started a chain of setting new personal worsts in all distances and made me seriously consider forgetting about racing entirely. I showed up to the start line about 2 weeks after running pain-free for the first time in 3 months, completely under-trained and heavier than I'd ever raced a triathlon in my entire racing career. Needless to say, things did not go well. This is just another step in my long road to redemption...

The first local tri of the season has come and gone, and although I didn't necessarily hit all of my "on paper" goals, I almost couldn't be happier with how the race went. I came up north on Friday to help set up the Fast Splits tent over at the race expo. This also gave me the opportunity to pick up my race packet on Friday night so I wouldn't have to deal with it on Saturday. After that I met my parents for dinner at the Italian Farmhouse in Plymouth to carbo-load. This is one of my two favorite Italian restaurants, but given that since November I have eaten pasta a total of four times, only before races, and many of those occasions have arisen out-of-state, I haven't had the opportunity to enjoy it much lately. Of all of the delicious things I've given up in my seemingly endless quest for race weight, I haven't really missed pasta so much. But it was still nice to enjoy a nice meal at a good restaurant and since it was not St. Croix, not be charged $35 for it.

I slept pretty well on Friday night but got up fairly early on Saturday so I could make it over to watch the Olympic race. I got there not long after the race started and got to see the leaders come out of the water, along with everyone else of course. It was a chilly morning, but crystal clear and windless. The water, was of course freezing, but everything else seemed perfect for racing. I watched some of my friends finish but then had to leave to meet up with a lot of other QT2 athletes for more carbo-loading at a late breakfast. It was mostly heaping plates of pancakes for everyone, along with various extra ones with toast, eggs and home fries. I am a big fan of pancakes and of course have only had those about 4 or 5 times in the past 7 months, but my friend Leslie had it right when we were spectating at the race that morning and eating bagels and granola bars and she said, "you know, carbo-loading is really fun for about the first 100 grams..." Yep, then it kind of becomes a chore and you start to feel like you might just be about 20 pounds heavier than you were the day before when you were still eating vegetables, and had negated 6 weeks of weight loss efforts with a couple of very-un-Atkins-friendly meals.

Of course, that is not the case and if you didn't fuel up, you wouldn't be able to perform at your best. But it's still kind of funny how for the 36 hours before the race all of the dietary rules you'd been following are suddenly completely reversed. "Don't eat that broccoli, it's bad for you!.... today..."

After being sufficiently stuffed I headed back to my parents house on Squam, conveniently located about 30 minutes from Wellington State Park, where Mooseman is. Nothing left to do really but relax and try to get in a few more carbs to my over-stuffed belly. Another great thing about weight loss is that the more you lose, the fewer grams of carbs you are forced to stuff down your throat before the race! My bags were packed, numbers applied, bike prepped, bag of pretzels open, water flowing, feet up. My friend and teammate Kevin was staying at the house for the race on Sunday, as well as another friend Trent who had a good race on Saturday. We had our pasta and chicken, and Kevin will probably forever give me a hard time about forgetting to heat up the sauce, but at least the eating was finally done! In bed nice and early and ready for the day ahead...

I had my alarm set for the sort of random time of 4:12am. I knew I had to eat 3 hours before the race, which meant 4:20am based on my wave start time. Everything was done and ready to go so there wasn't much for me to do. I rolled over at almost exactly 4 and decided that was close enough. Just before I got up I had heard the trees rustling outside my windows and hoped that we weren't in for a windy day. I donned my QT2 uniform and headed downstairs for breakfast. Luckily here on the mainland they do not measure apple sauce servings my thirds of cups and I could just eat the whole jar. Yep, still sick of eating, but you just have to get it down. The banana wasn't much easier, but the protein shake was gone in a couple of swift, painless gulps. I didn't waste much time and hit the road at 4:30. I am a big fan of having good parking spaces at these races, especially when there really doesn't seem to be any reason to stick around at home any longer. It has nothing to do with being there to set up early, it has to do with knowing at the end of the race I will be very glad to know that my car is just around the corner instead of a mile down the road. Plus, this time of year if you arrive at 5am it's already broad daylight, so it doesn't seem nearly as early as it is.

I got my great parking space and was far from the first person to arrive even though I got there pretty much right when the park technically opened. I got all of my stuff set up pretty quick and was able to enjoy the use of the still-clean porta-potties without having to wait in line for 20 minutes. More than once. I drank a fair amount of water because for some reason whenever it is time to race my mouth dries up. Waiting for the race to start is my least favorite part of the day. I start thinking about how nice it was to just come and spectate the day before and I start to think about how nice it would be to go back to bed. Luckily, once we finally line up at the start, I'm usually ready to go.

The wind seemed to have picked up which made me a bit nervous. The water looked rougher than I had ever seen it for Mooseman. We're not talking Timberman-rough, which always seems to be more like the ocean on a stormy day for some reason, but certainly not the smooth, glassy, calm surface I've gotten used to there. It looked like it was going to be a rough swim on the way out, but hopefully not so bad on the way back. It also looked like it was going to make the bike tougher.

I donned my wetsuit and headed down to the beach with my teammates and age-group-mates Michelle and Chrissie. Although I must adamantly state here that I am still 29! The woman who did my body-marking asked my age, and I said, "today, or..." she replied, "at the end of the year." I had her write the stupid 30, and she said she was sorry and there were a lot of people already that morning who were like, "Don't make me say it!" I told her it wasn't her fault I was born in 1979 and it surely wasn't her fault that USAT started with this stupid rule. But anyway...

Michelle and Chrissie forced me to get into the 60-degree water for a little warm-up swim, which I have to thank them for because I think it helped me get used to it quicker and I definitely wouldn't have gotten in there on my own. We were, as usual, the last swim wave. At least in this case that means 6th and only 20 minutes after the first wave went off, so not too terrible. Before I knew it, we were off.

Historically, for whatever reason, Mooseman has been the site of all of my best half ironman swims. To be fair, the only halfs I've done have been this one, Timberman and Clearwater, and the other ones have only come soon after an Ironman and not a lot of swim training in between, so who knows the real reason. I think starting the swim in a pack of mostly women (there were some men in relays) usually makes the start a bit less chaotic. It might not be quite as "You go, girl!" as a Danskin race, but I have yet to come close to the brutality experienced in mass starts surrounded by men. I headed for that first buoy as hard as I could to start and spent very little time bumping into anyone. As usual on this course I had no trouble sighting and found myself right on the buoy line while the vast majority of my competitors seemed wide-right. This made the opportunity to draft non-existent, but at least ensured that I swam the least possible distance. I settled into a comfortably hard rhythm and felt pretty good. The only problem seemed to be that the further from shore we got, the colder the water seemed to be. This only made me want to swim faster. We hit the first turn and headed into the roughest water of the day. This was where I really noticed the wind-chop. It is also where I and my red-swim-capped wave-mates caught up to the sea of slower-swimming pink caps who had started four minutes ahead of us. I had to do some maneuvering around there for a good stretch before I hit the second turn to head back to shore and was able to find some open water once again and swim with the current. I had a harder time staying in line with the buoys this time, but I was still feeling good and swam hard for that swim exit arch. Lately I've tried to avoid looking at my watch in the water because I don't want to get annoyed with a slow swim time before I even get out of the water, so I was a bit surprised to see my watch read 32:27, slightly slower than even last year and slower than my goal time, but I chose not to be bothered by it. Nothing I can do about it now. I also coincidentally came out of the water right on the heels of my teammate Michelle. Someday we will have to learn how to work together on the swim so maybe we can both be out faster!

T2 was somewhat comical for me. I had forgotten to take note of how to get to my bike rack from the swim exit and wound up running into a dead-end, aka: big tree right in the middle of transition between me and my bike. I picked another wrong row but eventually got to my bike, albeit through a slightly more round-about route than might have been necessary. To top off this oversight, I also had quite a time getting my wetsuit off and bike shoes on without falling on my face. For some reason standing upright was proving to be more difficult than anticipated and I actually leaned on the bike next to mine in order to complete the change. Luckily that person still wasn't there to get their bike before I was finished using it and could finally set off for my ride.

Ah, the bike. Pretty much the only reason I ever might get a decent placing in one of these races, so I have to maximize my efforts here. I had raced this course 6 times before if you count the four Moosemans and the two Granite Ledges which no longer occurs but was on the same course. I also had trained on the course just a week ago with some of my QT2 teammates, so I knew what I was in for. Luckily this year they had repaved a lot of it so it wasn't nearly as rough as it usually is. There are certainly still some tough sections, but it was a whole lot better than it used to be. I was given a heart rate cap not to exceed by my coach and I'll admit that right out of the gate it was tough to stay under it. Not that I really had to slow down a lot, I just had to calm myself down and stop trying to push so hard right out of the gate. This can be especially hard with the first hills on the course where everyone seems hell-bent on charging up them like Lance Armstrong taking the Alpe d'Huez on his way to victory in the Tour, but Lance didn't have to run after he finished the stage. I just stayed in my saddle and got myself to the top, figuring I'd pass those guys later and never see them again. And I was right.

It was perfectly sunny but definitely windy out there. Not incredibly windy, but windy enough that it was certainly going to affect the splits a bit. I concentrated on staying aero and trying to push whenever I could as long as my heart rate didn't get out of control. It seems to me that the first half of this course has a lot more tough hills than the second half, so it was hard to keep the heart rate down and go fast for a while. My bike computer also was giving me a hard time since the magnet on my race wheels only seemed to register about half of the time, and when it did, it usually told me I was going 8mph when I was in a flat and passing people, so I had to try and ignore it and maybe figure out my pace based on the mile signs I'd pass and the running time on my watch. But I don't tend to chase pace goals, since those are so conditions based and can make you crazy if you aren't hitting them, even if it's not your fault, so I continued on keeping my heart rate in check and going by feel. My quads seemed to be kind of tight and in all honesty I didn't feel that great. I didn't necessarily feel bad, just not great. Due to the timing of the race I didn't really get to do a full taper, so that may have had something to do with it. Who knows?

What I do know is that eventually when the course flattened out a bit I was able to really start pushing it and making my way through the field. I love plowing through the field on the first loop and having a whole lot more open space on the second one. It's nice not to have to maneuver around people. I drank my sports drink, only regurgitated a tiny bit of my half a Powerbar and took down some gels, but mostly I just rode and wondered how I might be doing. The wind seemed to be a headwind 90% of the time, although I'm not sure it affected the splits an incredible amount. I made it through the first loop according to the race site in 1:18, which was a little slow based on my goal of going 2:33-2:36 (the goal given to me by my coach, as I have never picked specific goals like that for myself) but I felt like I had held back enough that I might just be able to push it a little harder the second time around. My heart rate didn't seem to get as high and I was able to push it a bit more on the hills.

There were a lot less people to pass at this point, which was fine with me. I made sure to push the flats and try and use the momentum on the downhills to get up the next hills. It consistently amazes me how often people waste opportunities for almost free speed. I was behind on drinking but hoped it wouldn't be a bit issue since it wasn't really a hot day. This was a first for Mooseman: it was neither really hot nor really cold, just a genuine, comfortably warm day. The rest of the miles went by really fast and I tried to push as hard as I could right to the end in order to come close to my goal. For the first time quite possibly ever I actually negative split a bike ride and just barely eked out my bike goal with a 2:35:58, averaging 21.5mph, fastest women's bike split of the day (unless you count Karen Smyers who did the aqua bike, but she didn't have to run!) and setting my new non-Clearwater half ironman bike PR, because we all know that Clearwater shouldn't count when it comes to bike PRs. I haven't set a PR in anything in a few years, so that felt good. It was also a whole lot better than my 2:46 last year in my dejected state.

T2 was a whole lot better than T1, although it's a lot harder to find where your bike goes when there are none already there in the rack. At least I was in the right row this time and recognized my wetsuit balled up on the ground. I opted to go sockless in a half for the first time ever. I've done it up to Olympic and been fine, and ran without socks the other day in my race shoes for about 3 miles and it seemed fine, and I figured I really had nothing to lose, so I tried it. And it got me a 1:01 T2. Visor and number belt and off I went.

Oh, the run. My nemesis. Well, not always, but lately for sure. It seems to be hit or miss lately, and I was hoping for a hit today. I was afraid that I might feel a little rough from the hard biking, but it only seemed to take 2 minutes or so before I felt pretty good. Once again I was trying to keep my heart rate in check and remember that after that first mile split there were still 12.1 more to go. I was told to head out at a 7:25 pace and no faster. Well, how about a 7:07? It's a pace that hopefully sooner or later I'll be able to hold for the whole race (I've done it before) but not just yet, so I dialed it way back and tried to just stay comfortable and pay attention to my form. I didn't spend much of my run in St. Croix passing people, so it was nice to actually get to do it this time. I had a tough time running up the first long hill just past mile 2, and I don't know what happened after that, but that was the last time I really felt bad. I had this strange feeling. Could it have been confidence? I wasn't sure, I hadn't felt it in a very long time. But I actually felt like I could hold it together for the entire run.

After the first turn-around at about 3.2 miles I started looking for Michelle and Chrissie. Although I can bike faster than them, they can both run a lot faster than I can, so I would know that my run was finally improving if I was actually able to hold them off. It took me a long time to see them coming back the other way, so I knew that at least for the first loop I was safe! I hit the turn around in a little over 48 minutes and just hoped I'd be able to keep it up for the second one. It was kind of funny coming through that area as there seemed to be several groups of people who were cheering for me and knew my name and half the time I really couldn't tell who it was. It's also funny because I remember the first couple of years I raced when I didn't know anybody and if I heard anyone shout, "Go, Molly!" I could be 99% certain that it had come from my mom or my dad. It's so much nicer to know people now, and I'm sorry if I didn't acknowledge you!

I don't know what it was on the second loop, but I really do think I felt better. Usually somewhere around this point I can feel my legs starting to give out from under me, but at that point all I was really aware of was that although my sockless test-run had proven to be successful after 3 miles, it only took about 3.2 miles before I could feel the blisters forming on my heels. It wasn't painful enough to really deter me in any way, it just made me very aware that my post-race shower was going to include searing pain emanating from that area as soon as the hot water touched it. (oh boy was I right about that!) On my way back out I saw that I still had a good chunk of time on Michelle and Chrissie who were both still looking very strong, as usual. I had also already seen many of the top QT2 men come flying by and leading the race. I was still running at a comfortably hard pace and trying to hold my run form. My form was still probably horrible, but at least I felt good. I was amazed to still be feeling so good, and it was great to see all of the QT2 athletes looking so strong. I don't think anyone on the team had a bad race, and there were a ton of us racing.

This was kind of a unique experience for me because as the miles ticked by I wasn't becoming increasingly anxious for the race to be over. I mean, even on a good day I usually hit a point somewhere that my brain finally says, "Ok, it's been fun, but this hurts and I'd like it to be over now." Nope, I felt like I could've run all day. I hope that feeling doesn't go away because in about 7 weeks I'm going to have to! At the last turn I had my last Michelle and Chrissie time-check and it looked like I was actually going to hold them off. Again, this was only important to me to know that my run was improving, not because I wanted to "beat" my teammates! I just want to be able to do as well as I can, whatever that means on any given day. Anyway, I hit mile 12 and still felt good and might have even picked up the pace a bit. Or at least it kind of felt like it, who really knows at that point. I turned to run down towards the water and the cruel section of beach-run before the long finish chute. I crossed the line in 4:52:44 with a 1:40:55 run split. Not exactly my 4:44/1:32 from 2006, but definitely a whole lot better than my 5:39/2:17 of 2008!

It was so nice to finish and feel good, not just physically, but mentally. Aside from my less-than-efficient T1, I really don't know what I could've done to have a better day. I suppose I could be annoyed with the fact that my run split is still way too slow compared to my bike split, but I can finally see and appreciate that it is getting better and will eventually get faster. I just need to keep doing what I'm doing. Michelle and Chrissie came in not long after I did, and of course most of the guys were already done and there to greet us. I later found out that I had come in 5th female overall and second in my age group... once again missing out on first due to that stupid age-up rule.

There wasn't much time to celebrate though, as almost everyone on the team who is doing Lake Placid, of which there are a lot of us, had to go out and run for another 45 minutes! While we were talking about our races, Kevin pointed out that the heels of my shoes were soaked with blood. No wonder I usually put on socks in T2. Luckily Trent loaned me a pair of socks for that extra run, otherwise there probably wouldn't be any skin left at all on my feet. The guys headed off first and I started out with Chrissie and Michelle, who promptly took off at a much faster pace. For me, it was just about surviving. Remember when I said before I felt like I could've run forever? Well, apparently I was wrong. The elation of the race had worn off and I felt worse than I quite possibly ever had on a run. Of course on this idiotic display of hard-core Ironman training I was bound to run into a few people I knew who could point out my stupidity. I'm just blindly following my training program, I've learned there's no use questioning it, I just do it because it's worked so far. Besides, my own sadistic coach was out doing the same thing.

The minutes ticked off incredibly slowly, pretty much the same pace my legs were moving at. Not even fast enough to beat the Turtle on level 1 of the old Nintendo Power-Pad track and field game. The further I went, the worse it felt. My blisters were the least of my worries. Within the final 10 minutes it really started to get to me, my mouth was completely dried out and I realized I hadn't had to pee since 7:00 that morning and I was thinking about drinking the whole lake when I got back. Out of nowhere I suddenly felt like I might start crying and I still can't figure out why. I can't even really describe it. Nothing was particularly painful, it just felt awful. Somehow I made it back to the park and mercifully the watch ticked off the 45th minute and I was able to stop. I leaned my hands on my knees and felt my legs shaking, but I had to stand upright as I ran into my teammate Chris who had come in third place and we talked about our races. Chrissie was waiting for Michelle to return, who we somehow lost as she ran up ahead and got further out than we did before it was time to turn around. Several minutes later she came back and apparently bonked and walked into a grocery store and had to ask a stranger to buy her a muffin so she could make it back. Yep, we are all completely insane. But at least we were done.

After that it was time to get some much-needed calories. It suddenly felt awfully cold so the ice cream was definitely out of the question, but after that horrendous run the Pepsi I drank was just about the best thing I'd ever tasted.

The QT2 team took home quite a few awards and I actually got to be one of them. I went all last year without taking home a maple syrup award. I hadn't been shut out of the awards since my very first Endorfun race in 2002 and it was nice to get another one! I really can't thank my coach, Jesse, enough for bringing me back to life. It's also incredibly nice to show up to races and actually feel ready for them. It was a good day. But it wasn't over yet...

Nope, upon my return home I had enough time to drink a bunch of water, finally pee for the first time all day (don't get dehydrated like that, bad idea) down a quick granola bar and head out for a 2-hour easy ride. At that point, 4:30, it really looked like it was going to rain, but thankfully it held out and made the ride a lot less painful than it might have otherwise been. And believe me, as crazy as doing another 2-hour ride sounds, compared to the run, it was a piece of cake. I hardly even noticed it. However, I was incredibly ready to lie down when it was over!

So there it is, another successful race. It's nice to finally be able to report more good than bad. Next up for me this coming weekend is the Ashland Lions olympic tri in Massachusetts. This was a last-minute addition to the schedule by my coach. I've only ever done 3 olympic distance races, I think. I am not a fan of the shorter stuff. I did win the last one I did, but I only had to beat like 14 other women. I'm pretty sure my teammate Cait will be racing this one though, so the pressure is definitely off for the win. Unless I learn how to run 5:30's in the next 5 days. Should be fun though.

Edited to add: I almost forgot about the highlight of the day. After the race my friend Leslie was talking to Karen Smyers, who coached her for a while. I walked up and she said, "Do you know Molly?" I had actually met her once about 4 years ago at a random tri clinic, but of course she didn't remember that. But she did say, "Well, I know OF you. I heard you're officially back." Ok, so not only does Karen Smyers know who I am, but she knows about how I was injured all last year? Are you kidding me? This was more than enough to make me not feel bad that apparently I was not memorable enough when I did that clinic in 2005 and managed to get a flat tire in an indoor spin class. I still regret not taking her up on her offer to let me ride her bike, but since she is probably at least 7 inches shorter than I am, it probably wouldn't have worked out anyway.