Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lake Placid 2009 Race Report

Just one year ago I walked myself to the finish line in Lake Placid in the pouring rain after suffering through the worst Ironman performance of my career. I thought that was it, there would be no more good finishes. I had surely messed things up too badly, and permanently. I didn't think I had it in me to fight my way back. Yet for whatever reason, I still signed up for the 2009 race. I wasn't sure what might happen in the next year, and I definitely didn't think that things would change as much as they did....

The night before the race I turned out the lights at about 8:15. I was tired, and definitely needed the sleep. I actually did manage to sleep for a good portion of the night, but was definitely awake when my alarm sounded at 3:30. Time for breakfast. Blech. Once again after weeks and months of dreaming about eating all sorts of delicious things, I was so sick of eating by that point. Of course, copious amounts of applesauce definitely wasn't something I had in mind. I shoved it down without giving myself a chance to think too much about it, downed by banana and protein shake, sucked down a bottle of sport drink and went back to bed. I didn't fall asleep again, but it was nice to just lie there and relax for a bit.

My alarm went off again at 4:45 and this time I would be up for good. I used the bathroom as many times as I could before I left the room, knowing how the lines for the porta-potties always were, got dressed, gathered up my stuff and headed down to transition. The forecast had not changed, 50 or 60% chance of showers and possible severe thunderstorms. The forecast for last year was pretty much the same, and look how that turned out. I decided not to worry about it.

I got body marked and spent about 5 minutes in transition setting up my bike. Here's a note to the good people at WTC: when setting the heights of the bike racks, please consider those of us who are taller than your average triathlete, especially since we are forced in these races to rack our bikes by the saddle and not the handlebars. Most people's bikes hung off the ground from the rack, but my bike actually had to lean over to the side in order to rest on the rack. Even as I left my bike there, I really had no idea how I was going to get it out when I exited the water. I hoped maybe a volunteer would help me, but there was really nothing I could do at that point. So I put my dry clothes in my bag, checked the transition bags and headed towards the water.

Just as I was heading for the lake, it started to rain. I immediately decided to put my wetsuit on because those things get a whole lot more difficult to put on when you are wet, and of course it would keep me warmer under the circumstances. When I got to the lake I went over to the side to see if I could find my parents. They are spectator pros at this point, so they know the best place to sit and I found them in about the same spot that they've been every year. I also got informed that my friend Trent, who was volunteering as a kayaker, had already managed to tip over and go for a little swim of his own. I hoped that nobody expected him to save them during the swim!

I said goodbye to Mom and Dad and went over to get into the water. It was really pouring at that point, and I wondered if we'd have a repeat of 2008. I didn't care that much if it rained, but I did hope that it wouldn't be too bad on the fast descent, because that can be just a little scary on wet pavement. I waited on the shore for a few minutes and took in one last gel and some water before I heard the pros go off and decided that I'd better get in. I think I may have almost teared up at one point when I thought too much about how much I had gone through in the last year to get back to where I was, and how this was where everything would be tested again.

The swim start still makes me nervous, but only in Lake Placid. There is quite simply just not enough room for 2200 people to safely mass start there. Somehow last year I managed to find a good spot to start and didn't feel like I was going to die, so I tried to seed myself in a similar area. As I was treading water there at the start, I tried not to think too much about the long day ahead. I like to take things one step at a time, and right now all I needed to think about was getting off to a good start on the swim and hopefully not feeling like I was going to drown. I actually saw a couple of people I knew right next to me at the start line. The national anthem was sung, and now we just had to wait for the cannon. It was time to go.

My 10th Ironman had begun. I had been instructed to start out hard to try not to get trapped behind slow swimmers. I tried, I really did. But no matter what in the beginning, even just starting two or three rows back at the start (depending on who kept drifting in front of me) left me with not much choice but to flail my arms in some sort of forward progression and try and keep up with those around me. I had no idea what direction I was going in, I just tried to stick with the flow of people around me. I saw nothing but swim caps and neoprene-covered arms. My chest felt like it was tightening and I was having a hard time breathing. This is not a good way to start the day. I immediately started longing for the end of the swim when I'd be safely on dry land, able to breathe whenever I wanted to, but knowing how incredibly far away that time would be. I felt like I had no choice but to try and relax and slow down a bit. I just couldn't conceive of keeping up that pace any longer and not starting to hyperventilate. I have never had any serious issues with panicking in the water, but I opted to play it a bit more conservative and not set myself up for disaster so early in the day.

I continued swimming forward, and pretty quickly things got better. There was certainly the occasion when I'd be going along and swimmers to my left and right started closing in on me, and I had nowhere to go but to bump one or both of them, but I managed to avoid any real disasters or painful bumping. I had no idea how far to the right of the buoys I was, but I could tell at least that I was headed in the right direction and saw the red turn buoy approaching. I even managed not to get killed as we all clustered up and rounded it, and as we came around the second one to head back I immediately made my way to the inside, where I had tried to swim every other time I've done this race. It has always paid off with minimal contact with other racers, and this time was no exception. I cruised in towards the shore and the completion of my first lap. I saw the clock at almost exactly 32 minutes when I got out to start my second lap. I had been hoping to swim 1:04 or better, and of course seeing a 32 on the clock would make you think that was a definite possibility, but experience has taught me that the second lap always goes slower, so I wasn't so sure I'd be able to pull it off.

One more lap to swim. I stuck with the inside line once again, trying to swim at a good pace and finding some open water. Somewhere along the way I noticed the sun was coming out. I didn't have high hopes for it sticking around. One thing that was driving me crazy at that point was the definite feeling that I needed to go to the bathroom. And not the kind of thing that can be taken care of in your wetsuit, but rather the kind of thing that necessitated a trip to the porta-potty in T1. In all of the races I've ever done of any length I have never had to use a porta-potty except to pee when I hadn't yet realized that triathletes seem to take great pride in just peeing their pants at various points in the race. But this time, I knew I was going to have to stop. I had forgotten my own rule: no matter how many times you use the bathroom before the race, always go one more time than you think you need to, and sit there until something happens. Too late now.

The remainder of the swim was uneventful, just stayed on course and was ready to get out and on with the rest of the day. I was finally approaching the shore and exited among the masses in... 1:07? Seriously? Again?!?!? I have some issue with Ironman swims, apparently. I don't know what it is. In Lake Placid, all six of my swim splits are within 48 seconds of each other. This one was the second worst. The worst one happened the year that I won, so I chose to completely ignore the bad start, not worry about maybe 3 minutes over such a long day, and just move on.

I had some good wetsuit peelers and ran my way through transition, glad to see that it wasn't raining at that point. I grabbed my transition bags, made my pit-stop and felt instantly better, hoping that that would be the last time I would have that issue. The tent was crowded, and I seemed to take way to long to get all of my stuff organized and ready to go. Shoes and helmet on, gels in the pockets, sunglasses ready, off to the bike while securing my number belt. No volunteer had grabbed my bike, so I had to get it myself. Tilt it to the side... nope, can't get it out. Other people's bikes in the way. I actually had to lift the bar up, tilt the bike as far to the side as it would go without knocking over other people's bikes or spilling the contents of my aero bottle, and just barely slid the bike out from under the bar. Again, someone please either make the bars taller or let those of us with such high seat posts rack our bikes by the handlebars!

I exited transition and was not excited to see that every single person in front of me crossed the dismount line and stopped immediately and directly in the middle to get on their bikes, so there was no room for anyone behind them. At least I was able to get on without incident and start my bike ride. The very beginning of the course has a series of steep descents and sharp turns, and I was taking no chances so early. But as soon as we rounded that last, hay-bale-lined corner, I finally started pedaling away.

The Lake Placid bike course is known for its hills, most notably the last 12 miles back into town. But one of the parts that nobody ever seems to talk about is the first 10 miles, which is also a lot more uphill than it is down. It takes a lot to be patient so early in the race, and you learn very quickly that almost nobody is patient. The leg-straining pedal-mashing going on is incredible. It's to the point where you almost want to warn these people because you feel so bad for what they are sure to feel like by the second loop, but instead I just let them hammer on by while I spun my legs comfortably, knowing that sooner or later, they'd probably crack and I'd never see them again.

The course was quite crowded early on thanks to my typically-mediocre swim. As I approached the infamous descent into Keene I had hoped not to encounter too many people to have to maneuver around, and luckily it wasn't too bad. There were certainly some people who were off to the side taking it a bit easier, but I had no trouble staying in my aero bars and cruising the whole way down. I'm not sure exactly what my top speed was, but I can say without a doubt that that descent is a lot less treacherous when the roads are dry and it isn't pouring rain. I was relieved to make it to the bottom in one piece as I turned left to continue on.

This next section is my favorite part of the course, mostly because it is the flattest section of the course and you can really gain some speed here without killing yourself. I felt great, just cruising along at a nice, high cadence, passing lots of people and loving how good my legs felt. You never know how you're going to feel on race day, and so far I was not disappointed. That flat section is over all too quickly though, and it was time to turn and head towards Jay, which meant more hills. This is another section that nobody really warns you about, because once again it is uphill for quite a while. Once again I was getting passed by groups of guys who were attacking the hills like they were in the Tour de France. Standing, grinding up as fast as they could go. Did they not realize that we still had like 87 miles to go before the marathon? They would all grind their way past me on the way up the hills, and I'd slowly reel them in at an identical effort level as the road headed down or flattened out. There were a few people in particular that I just knew eventually I'd pass for good and never see again, and I was right.

When we hit the out-and-back the first time, I was still feeling really good. That section is freshly paved and I just felt like I was flying. I saw some of the pros coming back the other way and started looking for my teammates. First came Tim Snow, then Cait. Then came Chris Casey, who would surely have a great day. Then I saw Jesse, my coach come flying by down a hill in the opposite direction not long before I saw Pat Wheeler, on his way to an age group win and a Kona slot. I have never thought the out-and-back was so short until this year, but it just seemed to fly by and before I knew it, I was making the left to start the hills to head back to town. At this point I had already dropped a ton of the guys who were mashing up the hills earlier, but still there seemed to be a few new ones hanging on at the end of the first loop. Once again, I just kept on spinning, trying not to let my heart rate get too high, drinking, eating my gels and knowing they'd soon all be gone. The wind had picked up during that last stretch and of course was blowing right in our faces. I tried not to think about how much worse it might get the second time around. Also at some point in there I had a guy ride by me going up one of the hills and ask, "Molly, what's your last name?" I told him. "You won this one year, didn't you?" I really can't help but smile a little when I remember that, even if there was no chance of a repeat.

Little Cherry snuck up on me, so I knew I was getting close to being back in town. Big Cherry, Mama Bear, Baby Bear, and there was Papa Bear looming in the distance. I couldn't believe it was one lap down already. It's hard not to feel a rush of excitement as you blow through town and see the crowds. I heard my name yelled and most of the time had no idea who it was coming from, except teammate Brian McGowan, who I definitely heard. Everyone else was a blur. I was extra-careful coming down the hill that I crashed on in 2007 and rounded the corner to start lap number two as I heard Tom Ziebart announcing something about first or second age-group female. Of course at that point I had no idea, but I am pretty sure I passed at least four women as I made my way to start the second loop.

The sky had earlier looked like it still might rain, but all threat of that seemed to have disappeared. I was thrilled to see that the hordes of people I had seen in front of me on the first loop were now long gone and I got to ride mostly by myself the second time around. Actually, almost eerily by myself at certain points. You'd think there weren't 2000 people in the race. It's a lot more comforting to head into the descent with hardly anyone around you, so I was going along quite nicely for a while. Then I rounded a corner and saw a racer down by the side of the road, in very obvious pain, but at least conscious. This particular section was without a doubt the steepest, fastest part of the descent. I was probably going close to 50mph at that point. I cannot even imagine falling at that speed. There were two other cyclists with him, not sure if they were racers or not since I went by so fast. I honestly don't know if I could've even stopped at that speed if I had wanted to. That definitely scared me more than a little, and I was a bit more cautious the rest of the way down, and thankful to see an ambulance headed back up towards him. I really hope that he was ok.

On to the flat section again, this time no sign of the pedal-mashers from the first loop. I was almost completely alone. It was sunny and warm by that point, and although there was wind it was actually at my back for a bit. I knew that wouldn't last long. Somewhere between miles 75 and 80 I passed a few of the pro women, including Hillary Biscay who was having mechanical issues, unfortunately. At least she probably has like 10 or 11 more Ironmans this year to make up for it. On to the out-and-back I was still feeling good and amazed at how fast the miles seemed to be going by. Still by myself, cruising along, having a chance to wave to my teammates coming back in the other direction again. It also appeared that there were no other women left in front of me who weren't pros, and upon heading back in the other direction, it didn't look like anyone was close, either.

The last stretch back into town was pretty lonely and windy. Except for racer #443, Joe, who would pass me going up and I'd pass him back going down, usually exchanging words of encouragement. Thanks, Joe. Wish I could've run with you! The wind was a pain, but I just tried to stay in my aero bars no matter how slow I was going, knowing that sitting up would only make the wind worse. The last hills came up slower than the first time, but at least I knew I was almost done, and I knew things were going well. I passed Kim Loeffler just before T2, took off my shoes and got off my bike. It's a bit of a rough run on the cement in bare feet, and of course I was wondering if my legs were going to hold up for the run. At least this time I didn't have to use the bathroom. I grabbed my bags and headed into the transition tent. This is when I especially love being a fast biker. I had every volunteer to myself, all asking if there was anything they could do for me. I just told them not to let me forget anything that I had in my bag, and they held out my things for me as I put on my shoes, stuffed my pockets with gels, Clif Bloks and salt tabs, grabbed my banana and visor and headed out on the run course.

As I stuffed a banana down my throat and started the marathon, pretty sure I was the first female age grouper on the course. As I ran down the hill I saw a few people I knew cheering, and heard my name but didn't always see where it was coming from. I was feeling pretty good and just concentrating on keeping good run form and not going out too hard. Apparently I didn't concentrate hard enough, because the first mile was gone in 7:25. So was the second. I couldn't seem to help myself. My heart rate wasn't high and I just felt great. I really didn't know what to expect that day. The year before I was running so slow already at that point that I didn't even bother looking at my splits because I knew how much it was just going to upset me. This time though, at least to start, it felt effortless. I saw a little girl cheering with a megaphone and as I ran by I heard her yell, "Beat the boys!" That made me smile.

As I approached the turn-around, I started seeing my teammates again. Tim, Chris, Cait, then coach Jesse who asked me how I was feeling. I told him I felt great, and I really did. I didn't even feel like I was breathing hard at that point. I ran the first 7 miles at a sub-8 pace and wondered how long I was going to be able to keep that up. I figured I wouldn't be able to hold it the whole time, but it was nice that it had at least come so easily at the start. I know for most of my teammates that is way too slow, but for someone coming off a 4:43 marathon just a year ago, it was a dramatic improvement. Plus, I knew I had padded a nice lead coming off the bike and it wasn't going to take an incredibly fast marathon to hold off the field. Now if only I could learn to further pad that lead starting with the swim!

I came back into town and got to climb the really fun hills between miles 10-12. I couldn't believe I was almost halfway done with the marathon and there was no sign of imminent disaster as of yet. I hit halfway in about 1:45, which was great. I think last year it was over two hours. The year I won it was 1:39, but I slowed down a lot in the second loop and I can assure you that it is a lot easier to run faster with the adrenaline rush that goes along with being the race leader. I also knew that even if it took me two hours to do the second lap I'd have a very respectable (for me) 3:45 marathon, well within the goals we had set before the race. I headed out of town just wanting to hold on and not slow down too much.

This is always the toughest part of the race. The thrill of being halfway done is replaced with the realization that you still have over 13 miles to go, and that is a long way to run. I passed the sign for mile 14 and was a bit overwhelmed at the thought of 12 more miles of running. I again just tried to focus on keeping good form and not slowing down too much. I continued eating my Clif Bloks and got down the last of the gels I'd be taking on the day. I was so sick of taking in sugar that my teeth were starting to hurt. I was contemplating swallowing the remainder of the Clif Bloks whole to avoid the whole chewing thing, but instead I would chomp down twice and gulp them down. At that point in the afternoon it actually seemed kind of hot out. The sun was finally out, the humidity was noticeable and there were an awful lot of people out there walking. I'm happy to say that I didn't walk a single step of the marathon, something I don't think I've pulled off since Kona in 2007. My mile splits were definitely deteriorating, but I just continued to think about moving forward. At one point I stuffed down half a banana to try and get rid of the tingly feeling that had started into my arms and it at least helped a little.

I saw all of my teammates out there, everyone appearing to have a great day. Cait was closing in on Sam McGlone in the final miles, Tim was yelling at me to keep my eyes up, Chrissie was all smiles in her first Ironman, Pam was looking strong, Andy had blown by me, Mark was in the zone after having broken a rib in the swim (which I didn't learn until later) Keith was hanging on after suffering some respiratory issues, but you'd never have guessed it by looking at him, Paul was closing in on me, Nicole was running strong in her first Ironman, it was just an incredible thing to be a part of.

I passed the sign for mile 22, knowing that after I crested the hill after the bridge, I was going to have some nice flats for a bit to get my legs back. I actually think I started running faster, knowing that I could hold on until the end. As town got closer, I felt my left foot start hurting. It felt like almost the exact same pain I had experienced the year before, only this time it didn't start quite as early. With less than three miles to go, I forged ahead, ignoring it and knowing that it would all be over soon. There would be no limping death-march to the finish this year while everyone and their grandmother passed me on the run course. I was going to make it.

I think I "ran" up the last hill towards mile 24 at about a 15-minute pace, but I wasn't going to walk. I choked down my last Clif Blok and was thankful to be free of taking in any more calories and making my teeth hurt anymore. I turned to run along Mirror Lake, thankful that the road levels out at that point. I didn't know what my overall time was going to be because I must've accidentally stopped my watch during one of the swim laps, but I didn't really care at that point as long as I still remained in the lead of my age group. Actually, at that point I wasn't positive because there was one girl who ran by me but I had no idea if she was on her first or second loop. Angie Defillipi was running strong behind me, and I know she runs much faster than I do, but as I made the final turn after mile 25, it didn't look like she had enough room to catch me. I couldn't believe I was actually going to win my age group.

I didn't get to savor that thought for too long because with probably 4 tenths of a mile to go I somehow managed to trip over a cone - hard. I didn't even have a chance to brace myself as I went down on my right knee first, then the shoulder, and then the right side of my head smacked against the pavement. Seriously, who gets road rash on the run? Oh, I do. Can't let a race go by without a little bit of drama, apparently. There weren't a ton of people around at the time, but another racer was nice enough to help me up and hand me my sunglasses while I tried not to look to ridiculous in front of the onlookers. Yep, that one hurt, but it wasn't going to hurt me enough to not be able to run to the finish line. I took one last glance behind me to make sure that Angie wasn't too close for comfort and I saw ahead of me the sign for the finish line. The volunteer there asked, "Are you finishing?" I just smiled and nodded as I rounded the corner to head into the speed skating oval.

I had the oval to myself at that point and saw the 10:35 on the clock up ahead of me. Certainly not very close to the 10:11 the year that I won, but because of how things went last year, I consider it to be nothing but a complete success. I crossed the line in just over 10:36, after a 3:51 marathon, winning my age group and coming in third female amateur after two other women passed me on the run.

I saw coach Jesse and Cait right at the finish and everyone was all smiles. I sincerely doubted my ability to come back to getting race times like that, and I'm amazed at how things turned around in just a year. And the best part is, I already know that I can do better. It is so nice to actually have fun racing again.

I saw my parents who confirmed that I had won my age group and would now be heading back to Kona after a year off. It was so nice to be able to finish and feel good about myself instead of just wanting to go back to my hotel and hide for the rest of the night. I had to keep moving though and get some sort of solid food in because although I wasn't in the slightest bit hungry, I knew if I didn't eat something, I'd probably be near passing out in a just a few minutes. I got a massage not so much because I wanted it for my muscles, but because I really liked the idea of getting to lie down for a few minutes, and it did not disappoint. Once I crossed the finish line my foot was killing me and I was forced to limp around, but I tried not to focus on that.

I grabbed my stuff and headed back to my hotel with my parents who were then released from their tri-sherpa duties and free to go out and get a nice dinner. After a much-needed shower and change of clothes, I met several of my teammates for some celebratory nachos and anything else that comes with french fries. By the time dinner was over, it was about 11:15 and I limped back upstairs, got some ice for my foot, crawled into bed and watched the live video feed of the finish line until midnight. The final finisher sprinted across in 16:59.85. Talk about cutting it close!

I tried to sleep, but after a day fueled on sugar and an immense amount of caffeine - for someone who almost never has caffeine at all - I don't think I fell asleep for even 5 minutes. But who cares, I had a great race and there would be plenty of time to sleep later. I gave up completely at about 5:30 and put on my bike clothes and headed out for a little bike ride. Oh, didn't you hear? I had to ride my bike the day after the race. Only for 30 minutes, and it wasn't actually as bad as you might think, but I still seriously was almost embarrassed to be seen with my aero helmet and race number still attached riding around the lake the morning after the race, with people passing me surely thinking I was completely insane. It's all Jesse's fault. I averaged 14mph and didn't break a sweat.

Later on I met up with the teammates for breakfast and then we headed down to claim our Kona slots. I forget exactly how many of us raced, but we had one second place pro female, one tenth place pro male, three age group wins, one second and one fourth. I had an insane thought as I walked down to the gym to get my slot of what would happen is someone came along and abducted me just long enough for my slot to be lost to the rolldown, but luckily that did not happen before I got a chance to fork over my $550 in the form of the last check in my checkbook. Also close to that last money in my checking account, but totally worth it.

That afternoon I got to collect my award for first place in my new age group. It's been a while, and it feels pretty good. It never would've been possible without the help of friends and family who have supported me throughout my training this year and even last year when things weren't going so well. But especially my coach, Jesse. It was just a year ago I sent him an e-mail just congratulating him on Cait's win in Lake Placid (before I really knew Cait) and he responded back that he wanted to coach me. So he took on a fat, out-of-shape, injured, demoralized has-been and brought me back. I still don't know how it all worked out so well, but I'm glad it did. And of course the rest of the QT2 team, the ones who raced and the ones who cheered. I'm so glad that I was given the chance to be a part of it all. Last but not least, Mom and Dad, backing me up the whole way, who stuck it out in the rain last year for my worst finish ever and still came back again. I'm glad I didn't have to make you wait as long this time around.

I suppose it might be safe to say at this point that the comeback is officially complete. There are lots of improvements left to be made, but it can only get better from here. For now though, it's time to get lots and lots of sleep and rest up. I've got less than 11 weeks to get ready for my next Ironman!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I'm going back to Kona!

I am not going to post a big race report here right, now. I just wanted to post that I won my age group and I get to go back to Kona! It wasn't my most stellar performance, but I am thrilled with how it turned out given how badly last year went. I never thought I'd be back here. And I am so excited that I get to race Kona again! Of course, at the moment I can barely walk, but there is time to heal :)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

One more sleep

Well, there's nothing left to do now but wait. My bike and bags have long since been dropped off. Once again my saddle is so high that it doesn't actually hang off the bike rack, but rather barely rests on it with both wheels firmly on the ground. If they are going to force you to rack by the seat they need to at least make it high enough that some of us aren't forced to tilt our bikes sideways in order to get them out. Also slightly strange was that the guy who led me to my spot on the bike rack said before he left me, "Good luck, Molly." I don't think I had told him my name and I don't think I had seen him before. Maybe I was just hearing things.

Anyway, I slept pretty well last night and was able to enjoy a little extra time in bed this morning. I think I mentioned before that in the past I've always done some short workouts the day before the race, but this time was different. I certainly didn't mind. I have enough to do tomorrow. We had our QT2 team breakfast and certainly did a number on the buffet at the Crown Plaza. Although honestly, you look forward to eating for such a long time, and then you're not training as much, not nearly as hungry, and have to stuff down all of this food. I'm not even excited about eating after the race anymore. But we will see if by the end of the race I will have built up a bit of an appetite!

After breakfast I packed up my stuff and dropped off my bags and bike. That was quick and painless, except of course for the bike thing I mentioned earlier. And it looks like it probably won't rain tonight... although with the way things have gone this summer, I suppose I shouldn't count on that! Now it says chance of "severe" thunderstorms for tomorrow. Things could be interesting. But really, as long as it's not too hot, I don't care. I had some lunch I didn't want, took a nap, and then watched last year's Ironman Hawaii on TV since it happened to be on today. I actually made the footage. Of course it was the one time I was there but not racing. Luckily, it is so brief and in the distance that I am probably the only one who knows it was me. Everyone else would probably have been looking at Chrissie Wellington just before she wins.

And now, there is nothing left but to sit around and wait for the race and hopefully get some sleep. Unfortunately there is a bit more food I have to somehow get down. Seriously, I'm not even excited about eating tomorrow night.

Tomorrow is my 10th Ironman. It is also the first one I've done in 4 years that is coming after a year off from the previous one. Let's hope that means I'm extra rested. It is my 6th year in a row here. It doesn't feel like it was that long ago that I came here for the first time, no idea what I was doing, scared out of my mind to do my first Ironman. In some ways, it doesn't ever get any easier. Sure, you have a better idea of what to expect. But for that first one, all you're really thinking about is getting to the finish line, and for me with no clue how it would turn out. So pretty much any number you see on the clock, as long as it is less than 17 hours, is just fine. I managed an 11:23 that first year, and I was absolutely thrilled.

The second year I went 11:08 and got myself a Kona slot thanks to a 3rd place age group finish and the fact that #2 had gotten her slot in Arizona a few months earlier. In 2006, all I really wanted to do was come in under 11 hours. Instead I went 10:11 and won the race. Unfortunately, it only got worse from there. 10:47 the next year, after crashing right at mile 56 and deciding that rather than kill myself before Kona, maybe I should take it easy and get to the finish line in one piece. Then of course came my awesome 11:37 (or something like that, I tried pretty hard to erase all of my pitiful 2008 race times from memory) Walking to the finish in the pouring rain, wondering how things had gotten so bad in such a short amount of time.

I'm hoping that tomorrow will be different. Am I ready yet to pull off another 10:11? Probably not. But at least I can see that with a little more time and work, I can get there again, and maybe even faster. I'm healthy, which is the most important thing.

You know what else is funny that has changed since those early races? I used to show up and know maybe 3 or 4 people, if I was lucky. Now it's like I can barely walk down the street without running into at least a few people. I haven't really had the chance to celebrate a good race with friends. Let's hope that changes tomorrow too!

For now, I've got to just relax and rest and hope that the mass quantities of carbs pass through my system in time for the race tomorrow. I don't know what the day will bring, but hopefully by this time tomorrow I will know the outcome, I will be sore, tired and satisfied.

Friday, July 24, 2009

38 hours to go...

What better way to waste some of the time while I sit in my hotel and do nothing than to ramble on in my blog? Today was a good day, so far anyway. I woke up far too early, just too excited to get out and do what I needed to do, so I was on my bike for a nice, easy spin at 5:30 this morning, before it was even totally light out. I have always preferred to train early in the morning. Especially here, when you're in a town crawling with thousands of triathletes, if you get out on the road early enough it's like you have the whole town to yourself. It's amazing how quiet it is compared to what it turns into just a few hours later.

I rode several loops around Mirror Lake since all I wanted to do was get an easy, 45-minute spin in, and there was no reason to go off and start climbing hills. Each time I went around there were a few more people out and about, but for the most part, it was just me. A few ducks in the lake and a couple of swimmers, maybe. It was cloudy and a bit humid, but a pretty comfortable temperature. Traded bike shoes and helmet for run shoes and hat and went out for a nice, easy run. Felt pretty good and it was over before I knew it. Not done yet though, got in the car and drove about a half-a-mile down the road (using the taper as the excuse) to get my swim in. The water is a perfect 70 degrees. Really, if it's too warm I'd just get uncomfortable out there. And again, before I knew it, that was over. It was 7:30 and I had nothing left to do for the day. Nice.

This is actually the first time I've done an Ironman where I've trained at all two days before the race. I had always previously operated under the two days before off, day before a bit of training. Now it's reversed. I have no problem with it, it's just different. There are a lot more people out there I'd say, but then again, either way there are always a lot of people.

First up after the workouts was a nice nap. I love having excuses for that kind of thing. My parents arrived just in time for lunch. I thoroughly enjoyed a big, fat turkey sandwich. You know when you have an idea in your head of exactly what you want and you actually get it? It was perfect. The only problem now is that 4 hours later I'm still full and supposed to eat a big dinner at some point this evening. I had been looking forward to a nice pasta dinner, but now I'm hoping I'm physically capable of handling it! Funny when you are dreaming about eating some nice meals and then the time comes when you're supposed to, and it almost becomes a chore. I'm sure I'll make it work somehow.

I had a meeting with the coach this afternoon to go over my goals. Things are looking good. Let's just hope that I am able to execute the way I'm supposed to! I am sure I will post again tomorrow, when I am forced to spend all day tomorrow doing just about nothing aside from dropping off my bags, resting and eating lots of carbs. I hope my too-full stomach clears some room in time for tomorrow morning's pancakes. I've been thinking about those pancakes for the past 7 weeks, since I had them the day before Mooseman. I can't believe that Mooseman was 7 weeks ago. I've got all of my nutrition ready to go, bags are pretty much packed, nothing left but to keep on waiting and getting antsy and drinking lots of fluids.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I'm here

I have arrived in Lake Placid. I started my workouts this morning before the sun came up so that I could hit the road nice and early. The drive was quite pleasant. I didn't spend much time on the interstate so there was always something new to look at, plus the nice break on the ferry that took me across Lake Champlain and it hardly felt like I spent over 4 hours traveling.

Immediately upon my arrival I went over to get registration taken care of and walked incredibly briskly through the expo since there is really nothing to look at over there. It amazes me how much smaller that thing gets every year. I swear there used to be like twice as many vendors. But whatever, it just makes me waste less time. I checked into my hotel and have spent most of the afternoon just sitting on my bed flipping through the channels. Though boring, it's pretty much exactly what I need to be doing right now.

It's good to be back, although admittedly I'm a bit more nervous than I remember being the past couple of years. Here's the thing: I haven't done a race that has meant this much to me in probably close to three years. Seriously, maybe since I raced here in 2006, although probably Kona that year too. Either way, it's been a while. I feel a lot more tense when I actually care how it all turns out. It was almost easier when I wasn't trained and I knew it would be a disaster, it's not like I was expecting much anyway.

It was funny driving into town this afternoon. The last stretch of the drive goes along the final two miles or so of the marathon course. I remembered turning off of River Road in the pouring rain, and heading over that little bridge and up the hill. Walking. I couldn't run anymore. Aside from the fact that my legs were not adequately prepared to handle running a marathon due to injury, my foot, which had hurt some in training but hadn't given me much trouble until about mile 22, decided to start throbbing in pain to the point where I had no choice but to limp the remaining three miles. As I went up that hill after the bridge, walking slowly with a limp, arms crossed in front of my chest because I was shivering, another racer ran by me and nicely offered the long-sleeved shirt he had tied around his waist. A nice gesture, but since the shirt was sopping wet and probably wouldn't have helped anyway, I declined and just kept shivering. I figured I had earned myself a nice, slow, chilling walk to finish the race.

I walked the final miles and watched my Kona slot run by me. I hadn't really expected to get one, anyway, unless there was some miracle. But up to that point in the season my other race performances had basically been taking the worst-case scenarios I made up in my head, and making them even worse. I didn't really expect to have to walk, either, but I didn't feel sorry for myself that day. I knew it wasn't going to be my race. I was just glad to be able to finish.

This time, though, I don't expect to have to walk. I don't necessarily expect to have a blazingly fast race either, but I do hope to see something resembling at least a shadow of my former self. It'll be interesting to go out and actually feel ready... or at least I think I feel ready. You never really know until you get out there. Until then, all I can do now is rest and eat. I am very good at both.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I ate pizza!

I ate pizza! No, that is not a confession, but rather a declaration of complete joy. I ate pizza for dinner, and it was delicious. And no, it wasn't like, lettuce-leaf crust pizza with marinara and veggies, but real pizza. No, it is not because the carbo-loading has begun. Who needs to carbo-load for 5 days? I'd probably explode before race day. Rather, I was told to have a high-fat meal for dinner tonight. No, really. The same coach who had been telling me to eat protein and veggies almost exclusively not only told me to eat a high-fat dinner, but specifically mentioned pizza and french fries as options. Well, I didn't get fries, but I did have a couple of fried ravioli as an appetizer! Apparently there is some logic to this, I don't really know. I'm not sure I care. When someone who has been keeping tabs on your body composition and what you've been eating for 7 months tells you to eat pizza after not touching it in so long, you don't need a whole lot of convincing.

So I went to get my current favorite pizza, at the Italian Farmhouse in Plymouth. This is one of my two favorite Italian restaurants and they also have amazing lasagna, which I also haven't had in months and months, but tonight that's not what I was after. It is this amazing thin-crust pizza that they serve you right on the wooden pizza peel it was cooked on. It's so thin and crispy, definitely not easy to come by around here. I went with broccoli, onions and peppers. I know, you're thinking, why would you have veggies on it? Well, I like them. I hate pepperoni and sausage and all of that, so I went with the veggies and I have no regrets. Plus, that's one less thing I have to worry about on my post-race indulgence list. More room for other stuff!

Today was a rest day, so there were no workouts to deal with. Perfect timing since it rained all day. I hate training during race week. Really. I just want to get to the good part, already. I don't want to train anymore! I mean, normally I enjoy the training. But when we get this close to the race, I've had enough. But unfortunately, it is back in the water, on the bike, and in the run shoes for tomorrow. So close now though...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

One week to go...

It is absolutely unbelievable to me that at this time one week from now, assuming of course all goes well, I will have finished Ironman Lake Placid. I was thinking about this past November when my program began and how far I had to go - in more ways than one. My flabby skin was bursting out of the bike shorts and jersey that could barely contain my hefty self during my initial threshold test to set up my training zones. My performance that day was drastically different from what it had been the last time I had done one. I was fat. I was immensely out of shape and slow. Mentally, I wasn't sure there was any way I could get back to my old self. In just a few short months I had basically become my pre-triathlon self. The problem was, my pre-triathlon self was, well, fat and slow. I had spent a year and a half starting with my final semester of college finally starting to run just to be more fit and to at least make some better food decisions. 18 moths later I was 70 pounds lighter, did my first triathlon and actually enjoyed swimming, biking, running and generally exerting myself without some coach screaming at me to go faster. I thought I would never let myself slide again, but I was wrong.

The good news is, as I sit here, 8 and a half months after deciding to try again anyway, even if it didn't work, I seem to be almost back to normal. When you lay out goals for the following summer before Thanksgiving even hits, and you're doing your training runs sometimes at over 10:00/mile, it's hard to imagine that it might actually work out the way its planned. I was certainly skeptical. Willing to do the work, sure, but not necessarily convinced that it would result in a whole lot of improvement. Obviously the real test remains to be seen, but at least it appears that I've done what I needed to do in order to at least make it a possibility.

Yesterday was the last long-ish ride at 3 and a half hours. The forecast called for it to be pouring rain, but like most forecasts, it wasn't exactly right. This time it worked out in my favor, and aside from being drizzled on some and the fact that it remained cloudy, it wasn't so bad. I also felt pretty good, finally starting to shake that quad-burning feeling I've been experiencing lately with almost any level of exertion, including walking up a couple of stairs. Even the run afterward wasn't so terrible. Even better, pretty much from the moment I got out of the shower the sun came out and evens stayed out, resulting in the perfect weather for sitting outside and reading a book. That is essentially what has filled the bulk of my time this weekend while not biking or running. Really, the perfect taper.

It was great this morning when I got up to know that I didn't have to worry about any long runs, just a nice, easy and relatively short bike and run. It sure makes the day seem long when you're done with the workouts at 9:15 and back in the chair, feet up with a book. Sometime in the late afternoon I started thinking about where I'd be on the course next week. At that point it was pretty much a given that I'd be somewhere in the middle of the marathon. That's when you think back to 7am, and how long ago that was, and how you would've started then, not stopped since, and still had a long way to go. I think that's when you really realize what a long day an Ironman truly is. Seriously, think back to what you were doing, say, 10 hours ago. Think of all of the things that you have done or how much time has really passed between then and now. It's a pretty long time. And there are certainly times during the race when you think it might never end - usually the later miles of the marathon. But in some ways, it's amazing how fast it goes by. And how when you go to bed that night, the huge goal you've been working towards for months is finally over. But hopefully, it only sets you up for new goals.

And have I mentioned how much I'm looking forward to eating when this is all over? Really, a person can only focus for so long. Currently on the TV in the background is a show they're calling, "Deep Fried Paradise" in which they are spotlighting several places around the U.S. where they make some amazing deep fried treats. Now, even if I weren't actively trying to lose weight and taper for the big race, I probably wouldn't be seeking out deep-fried Twinkies (heck, I never even really liked regular Twinkies) or deep-fried peanut butter cups. Still, it helps plant ideas in my head for my post-race indulgences!

Friday, July 17, 2009

"So done with the training"

I ran into my friend Betty at the pool this morning. I don't often get a chance to chat with her because like any good athletes training for their races, we're too busy actually swimming. She happened to be enjoying a bit of a rest interval as I was getting in and putting on my cap and goggles, and I asked her how she was doing. She just shook her head and said, "I am so done with the training." Yep, that pretty much sums it up for me, too. She is currently training for her second ironman, second time in Lake Placid. Of course she is finding that training for the second one isn't nearly as exciting as training for the first. So the feeling of being sick of the training at this point is only magnified.

I haven't felt this way during a taper in a while, and I'm just now realizing why. First of all, this is the first time since 2005 that I'll be doing an Ironman after not having done another one in a year. Last year I had been injured and out of shape and I knew that the race wasn't going to go well, so there wasn't the same level of anxiousness, just kind of a feeling of, ok, let's get this over with and see how bad it really is. Before that it was Kona in '07 when I was just plain burnt out, but I was at least fortunate enough to spend nearly two weeks in Hawaii before the race thanks to a college friend who happens to live there, so certainly being on the big island made it easier and more motivating, even if I knew deep down it wasn't going to be a good race. Lake Placid that year was a throw-away race since I had already qualified... I guess I didn't realize that my bike would be throwing me away at mile 56. At Ironman Arizona that year I think I was just anxious to go home after having spent 4 months living and training in Phoenix, so my mind was elsewhere then as well.

So I guess maybe the last time I experienced this kind of feeling when tapering was for Kona in 2006 maybe? If not then, certainly Lake Placid that year. So anyway, the point is, I had forgotten how much I hate this part. All I want to do is go to sleep and wake up on race morning. Well, maybe at least wake up in time for my carbo loading to begin in one short week, because my mind is constantly preoccupied with food. No amount of fruit or giant salads is going to fix that for me. Tonight, for instance, I watched my father consume an entire pizza while I ate my 400th giant salad with turkey and topped with salsa. I did at least thank him for ordering pepperoni, since I don't like that anyway, but still, which would you rather have?

I'm hungry, I'm tired, and the pseudo-resting of the taper has not filtered into my legs yet so I still feel like crap during most of my training. Actually, my swim this morning wasn't so bad, but anything that involves the use of my quads is just painful.

And tomorrow is the last long-ish ride... I think. To be honest, I can't see beyond Sunday, so there could still be a sneaky 3-hour ride or something hidden in there somewhere, but I highly doubt that would be the case. I'm already dreading it enough without the knowledge that due to an unfortunate case of bad timing, it will likely be pouring rain the whole time. That is certainly not going to help the time go by fast. Of course I just checked the weather forecast for Lake Placid next Sunday - and who knows if this is right - but yep, rain. Sure beats heat though. I think I'd be in real trouble if it was suddenly 90 degrees out that day. It was like 86 today, the warmest day of the summer so far by a wide margin. Crazy, considering usually we're good for several stretches of much warmer weather. Summer is pretty much going to be nonexistent this year.

Did I mention I hate the taper? Because I do. You will probably get a few more entries almost idential to this one in their rambling, nonsensical nature. I just need a break. And a sandwich. And a week or two away from my bike saddle. I promise I'll be more excited next week when I actually get to Lake Placid, and get to eat pancakes! But for now, I'm just going to be annoyed with every training session and wish the race were over so the eating fest can begin! Really, I'm excited for the race itself, but I try not to think about it too much for fear that it will just make me nervous, because for the first time in a long time, it actually means a LOT to me how things turn out. It's far easier to whine about the training and the rain and the food. But for now, I will savor the chocolate Powergel I plan to eat during my bike ride tomorrow. Yeah, right, like that's going to make me feel any better!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Half a pound to race weight...

Well, this morning I decided to step on the scale and just check the progress. All season long the routine has been to weigh in on Monday mornings, as for the most part I didn't really want to know the number because it was always higher than I wanted it to be. True to my tradition of somehow dropping quite a bit of weight in the final weeks leading up to my target race, I am now only half a pound over my target. Honestly, it's just unbelievable to me. I was so far gone and out of shape in November when I started attempting to claw my way back to being in some kind of decent shape, I really wasn't sure it was possible that I'd wake up in July and actually be back where I need to be.

I suppose given how incredibly hungry I've been lately it shouldn't surprise me all that much. Actually, I think as a result my workouts have started to suffer a bit. Like today's run workout, for example. First mile: 6:53. Last mile: 9:03. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if you're doing it that way, you're doing it wrong. The good news is that tomorrow my legs get a day off. The bad news is that I have a hard swim getting in the way of what could otherwise be a nice rest day. But it should be my last visit to the pool for a while, so hopefully that will motivate me.

And one week from now I will be in Lake Placid. I can't believe it's already here. I especially can't believe that July is more than half over, especially given the total lack of summer up until about a week ago. So hopefully the next week will be enough to get some life back in my still-tired legs. I'm guessing a nice carbo-load won't hurt, either. I go to bed every night dreaming of pancakes... among other things. I mean, you know you're hungry when your pre-run granola bar is such a treat that you feel almost like you're eating a Snickers bar. I sure miss chocolate. I guess I get a bit of it in the form of chocolate Powergel, but somehow it isn't quite the same. Ok, it must be time for me to eat. Unfortunately dinner will be egg whites with spinach, tomatoes, onions and peppers. Maybe the salsa I add will make it feel more interesting than it really is...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

No more long runs, but still plenty to do

So I made it through my last long run on Sunday. It was probably the first run all week in which I didn't feel like total garbage, and the timing couldn't have been better. I mean, it's one thing to feel like crap while running for, say, 40 minutes, but it is entirely another to feel that way for an hour and 45 minutes. I mean, at the level of crappiness I was experiencing earlier in the week it would've been a wonder if I hadn't had to call someone to come pick me up. So it was encouraging to actually run feeling strong the whole time, even if my pace was at the general sucky level. And that was my last weekend of typical Ironman training before the race. I spent the rest of the day contemplating Chrissie Wellington's 8:31 finish in Roth, setting a new women's Ironman record. Wow.

Yesterday was my favorite: nothing but a recovery swim. In the winter, I don't so much enjoy the recovery swims because it involves a lot of counting laps and swimming back and forth for a really long time without stopping. However, you tell me to go and swim nice and easy in the lake for an hour and I have no problem with it. It even usually makes me feel better.

I know you haven't heard me complain about the weather in a while and there's a reason for that: there hasn't been any need to. It's actually been nice out. The rain has been gone for a while and the sun has been out. The only issue now is that it is still technically unseasonably cool out. In July we should definitely be well into the 80's, but we've been stuck in the low to mid 70's. The thing is, we were stuck in the upper 50's for so long that it almost feels like 90. All I know is, I'm not going to complain, even if it is pretty chilly first thing in the morning. It sure does make it mentally easier to get out there and train.

But what did I have to do today? Ride the trainer! Ugh, I thought I was done with that thing for a while, but coach decided that today's workout would be based on targetting a certain wattage, and that meant I needed to park myself in the basement instead of enjoying the nice weather outside. I guess it was kind of nice to get to watch an Ironman Hawaii DVD for inspiration, but I'd still rather be outside. Not to mention the fact that the trainer always makes everything harder! At least I got to run and swim outside today, which is always nice, especially in good weather.

I was asked today if I was nervous about the race. Honestly, at this point I'm not even really thinking about it. All I really think about is crossing off each day of training. Training just gets annoying at this point. I'm tired. I want to rest. I'm hungry and I want to EAT. Not more carrots and broccoli either, but REAL food. At this point there's really nothing you can do to add fitness, just maintain what you've got. So the workouts almost seem pointless. I know they're not, otherwise we'd all just lie on the couch for the last two weeks, but I still don't want to have to do any of it. It still feels like a lot even though it's half what I was doing a few weeks ago.

So all I think about is the annoying training still left to go and all of the food I want to eat but can't. My sister invited me over for quesadillas. Do you know how much I love quesadillas? Nope, no quesadillas for me. She also told me she is trying out a new chocolate chip cookie recipe. My sister has been making delicious chocolate chip cookies since she was allowed to use the oven I think, so I don't think I've been eating them almost my entire life. Nope, no cookies, either. I know, I know, boo-hoo, wah wah. But seriously, I get edgy when the race approaches and my mind tends to focus on these silly little things instead of the actual race.

I probably won't even start to think about it at all until I arrive in Lake Placid. I used to get incredibly excited to go up there, and I guess I still do because I love it, but it's also kind of weird. I mean, after 2006 when I won a few people started to recognize me. That's not really the problem, though. The problem is that I haven't been able to live up to that expectation since. So I sort of miss that anonymity. At least this year I at least look the part again, so just by seeing me people don't immediately have to wonder, "geez, what the heck happened to her?"

That of course won't save me from a poor race performance, but I honestly have no clue what will happen there anyway. I can only go out and do what I know how to do and hope that it all works out ok. I likely won't get nervous until I start thinking about the swim start, which is probably the only time where I pretty much fear for my life. Any time I think about it in the final few days before the race it makes my stomach churn. But I know from experience that usually, as soon as I am in the water waiting for the cannon to go off, I usually feel a strange sense of calm. I take the race one little bit at a time, never thinking ahead to running 26 miles at the end of the day. Any time during training when I think about running a marathon it seems near impossible. Honestly, when I break it down that way it sounds even more daunting than doing an Ironman. Like, yeah, I'm doing an Ironman a week from Sunday. But then if I think, whoa, I have to run a marathon? That's scary!

Among more randomness for the day, I can't stop thinking about food. I mean exactly what I'm going to eat when this race is over. I've started making a list and prioritizing and trying to figure out how to get it all in. I think I may have to do a lot of baking and cooking for myself in order to make it work. Among other things, today I've started a list of foods that I will NOT be eating after the race. This was prompted by my eating some baby carrots. I'd never been a huge fan of baby carrots, but I often used to dip them in hummus instead of pita chips for obvious reasons, even though pita chips are incredibly delicious. Well, I can see myself going a bit overboard with the hummus right now, something I don't need, so I was just eating the carrots just for the sake of putting something in my ever-growling tummy. It only took like 4 of them before I decided I never want to eat them again. I also don't want any more yogurt, cottage cheese, broccoli, egg whites or spinach. I'll still eat chicken, but it will be either fried or cheese covered or wrapped in a tortilla or something to that effect. I will also probably still eat fruit because it tastes good, but won't waste too much precious stomach space on it. Unless I come across a really good apple crisp, then I will eat lots and lots of apples!

Yep, this is definitely the part of the taper where I start to go the most insane! If only I didn't have to swim 5000 yards in the morning, especially in the pool, but we're so close now...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The last long ride

Lake Placid is two weeks from tomorrow, and today was the last long ride. This past week was the week I think I hate most leading up to the race. It's the week where you're sort of tapering, at least relatively speaking, but really it's still not a whole lot less from a normal week (and probably a whole lot more than most people would ever want to do) So even though sure, technically a 5-hour ride is "shorter" than your normal long ride, it still feels like a heck of a long time to be out on your bike. And at this point, after months of expending loads of mental and physical energy on the training, it can sometimes feel just as bad, if not worse than the 6-hour rides.

The good news was that today I had some company, which certainly helped. The even better news was that there was no chance of getting rained on, and it actually felt like summer. I set off a bit later than normal as I would be meeting Jesse and Chrissie and taking them on a bit of a tour of some of my favorite places to ride. Chrissie's parents have a house over on Newfound Lake, not to far from my parents' house on Squam, so we rode towards each other until we met up about 30 minutes or so into our ride. We rode around Squam and got in some good hills before setting off a bit north towards Waterville Valley before it was time to turn back around and go our separate ways. It worked out quite nicely... or at least I think it did. I haven't heard back yet as to whether or not their ride ended in the time allotted, but at least mine did!

Then, like always, it was time to run. Another not-so-good thing about all of this unseasonably cold weather we've been having (for like 6 weeks now) is that when it finally does manage to warm up, even just a little, it can feel a whole lot hotter than it really is. We were struggling to hit 60 for a while, so suddenly being in the 70's, maybe even briefly flirting with 80, practically feels like Kona at noon. I am hoping that I can blame that on what was yet another crappy run. That, and the fact that I was once again desperately thirsty when I finished. After drinking an exceptional amount of water, I took off my shoes, walked down to the lake and jumped right in. I can't beging to describe how good that felt. It's also pretty sad that it is July 11th and that was actually the first time this summer that I have gone in the lake not because I had a workout, but just because I wanted to. That's ridiculous.

So the last real long ride is done, and tomorrow I have a long-ish run, but hopefully that won't go too badly, and then I'm really almost there. But with two weeks to go and months and months of training under my belt, another annoyance that seems to happen is some equipment failure. Nothing tragic, just, you know, annoying. For a while I was having some issues with my shifting and was in desperate need of some new cables, but my old bike shop, who used to take good care of me, suddenly has become staffed with all new people who are far less likely to help me out and seem to think that leaving my bike there for a week will give them enough time to get the job done. I have never understood that, because of course the work they have to do might take an hour or so, but for some reason your bike has to sit there in their back room on a hanger for 6 days so you can't ride it. Instead, I called a shop up near my parents place where my dad has been many times, and they seemed more than willing to help me out. So after a trip to Rhino Bike Works, I am happy to report that my bike issues are no longer issues.

The other thing is that my heart rate monitor seems to have stopped working properly. This is another thing that seems to notoriously happen to me right before the race. Although for it to happen weeks before in this case is a step in the right direction. In the past I've had others that decided two days before to start telling me my heart rate was always 220, and a replacement battery did nothing to fix the situation. At least two of my Ironmans have had be buying replacements right there at the expo in an emergency situation.

My latest started being somewhat finicky over our training weekend in Vermont, mostly on my long run. In the days following it seemed to mostly work fine. It even made it through my race last weekend with no issues. Then this past week it might work for some workouts, not for others. It would work fine on the bike but not on the run. But it would always tease me by working just long enough for me to decide I didn't have to do anything about it. That is, until yesterday, when I decided something definitely had to be done. Unless I really can ride at a heart rate of 85 at 20mph and run a decent pace at a heart rate of 106. I know being aerobically efficient is a good thing, but I don't think I've become that aerobically efficient. So this afternoon I had to drag myself to the hardware store instead of continuing drifting in and out of sleep in the post-workout stupor to pick up a new battery. I sincerely hope that this fixes the problem, but we will find out tomorrow. Let's hope that is the end of the equipment issues.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

2 weeks to arrival...

It is now a short two weeks until I return to Lake Placid. That just seems impossible, even if the race is actually a week later this year. I'm definitely thankful for that extra week, because I think I'm going to need it! The training at this point always gets more and more mentally difficult to get in, especially when the weather is still unreasonably uninviting for July. I've had to wear arm warmers on the bike, I'm still always fighting chop if I choose to swim in the lake and more often than not I return from outdoor workouts with soaking wet shoes. I have a small air conditioner that I can put in my bedroom window if needed, and it is still just sitting in the basement. I'm not sure it ever even made it up all of last summer, either. Why do we keep getting cheated out of summer? My down comforter is even still on my bed, and the other night I kept the window closed so I wouldn't get too cold. Today the sun has finally returned, although it is only in the 60's. It's not October here. JULY. And now my biggest worry is that on July 26th in upstate New York it will suddenly be over 90 degrees out, which might completely melt me before I can even get halfway through the marathon. But anyway...

Training has been going ok. I've felt fairly sluggish and tired, with that muscle-burning feeling in all of my extremeties whenever I try to do anything resembling fast. My diet currently consists of very few things, namely: fruits, vegetables, egg whites, chicken cottage cheese and yogurt. So I've also been hungry, and consequently spend a LOT of time fantasizing about the things I'm going to eat once I cross the finish line. Also thinking about the glorious pancakes and other bread-type products I'll get to eat before the race to help with the carbo-loading. It's amazing how the simplest things like toast can make you salivate in anticipation.

In the days following the race, the foods I am going to do my best to get in, in no particular order: ice cream, nachos, brownies, cookies, Doritos, Sun Chips, tortilla chips, dark chocolate peanut butter (it exists and it is amazing) guacamole, and generally any baked goods, anything fried, smothered in cheese or composed mainly of sugar. We have a much more extensive list, but it is much too thorough to include here. And if in that week following the race any of you have any tasty treats in the house, the kind that you don't want to have lying around because you don't want to eat them all, send them to me. I will eat them all! Before I leave for Lake Placid, I will finish off any egg whites in the house and not eat them again for as long as possible. Of course, if all goes well, I will be back to eating them after a mere week of indulgence, but in the end it will be worth it. The good news is that after months of deprivation, I am finally almost back to a normal weight. Close enough that my official "skinny shorts" fit with ease. Good news for sure, but the next couple of weeks are still going to be tough. Tough, but tolerable.

It's sort of amazing to think about where I am now as compared to this time last year. First,
I'm probably at least 15 pounds lighter, if not more. I tended to avoid the scale for all of 2008 for obvious reasons. (it got a whole lot worse than that, as since November I've now lost about 35 pounds - a fact I'm not necessarily that proud of, because I never should've put on that much weight in the first place!) Nothing hurts. No injuries. My training has been uninterrupted since a slight knee issue in April. Last year I barely started running again at the beginning of May after 7 weeks off, and I just didn't have time to get it all in. My mental state was, well, not good. I knew I wasn't going to be able to race well. You just can't do that after not getting in the proper training. In short, I was a mess. I never thought I'd be back to where I am now, certainly not just within one year, but here I am. I'm not positive that it will turn out exactly the way it should, but I'm in a much better position at least to try....

Oh, I had to edit to add something I forgot that I want after the race: I want my birthday cake! Yes, I finally turned 30. Yes, you missed it. No use trying to do anything about it now, it was over two weeks ago. Needless to say, there was no birthday cake. It has been postponed, and darn it, I'll buy it for myself if I have to, but there will be cake! And perhaps a second, congratulatory cake, just to get in a couple of different kinds of cake...

Monday, July 6, 2009

4th of July - some rain, a race, and finally some SUN!

When last I left you, I was suffering under endlessly cloudy skies. It didn't get better right away, it actually got worse. Thursday was more rainy than it had been so far, and although I thought I might've found a window of opportunity in which the rain might not be so bad, I was reminded of why I never trust weather.com radars while I pedaled through the torrential downpour. I was somewhat spared on my run, but it didn't make me feel a whole lot better. The temperature didn't even reach 60 that day. At least I found a brief period of time in which the lake actually calmed down so I didn't have to worry about drowning while fighting whitecaps on my swim.

Friday actually wasn't so bad. The sun wasn't out, but I don't think it was raining. I got in a little 45-minute bike ride - a nice, short one since I was racing the next day - and didn't finish completely soaked. As a result of all of this wet riding, my cycling shoes have somehow become caked in sand on the inside, obviously from loads of road grime being kicked up by my wheels and the water washing it from my legs down to my feet. Because it finally wasn't raining, I wanted nothing more than to spend the remainder of the day lounging in the sun with my family at the lake, like other 4th of July weekend people might do. Instead, I had to hit the road and head back to Vermont, this time Killington, for a little race.

So off I went, along the exact same rural route I had ridden back on the week before. At least I didn't need mapquest again for this trip. The drive was fairly painless, broken up by one brief stop at a country store in Vermont to pick up a turkey sandwich on a nice bulky roll that would serve as my pre-race dinner. It's way to close to Lake Placid to be gorging on pasta, however delicious it might have been. Luckily, I am fairly certain I could live exclusively on turkey sandwiches if needed, so I found it a suitable compromise.

I arrived at the base of Killington at about 4:30 after riding a final stretch of road that was part of my 7-hour ride the week before. The clouds had moved in, of course, and it was starting to rain. My first stop was at race registration. There were two races: a sprint of about a third of a mile swim, a 15-mile bike and 4-mile run, and an "international" distance, in which we did exactly twice as much. The race offered 250 free entries to athletes who had either won a triathlon outright in the past 12 months, or won their age group. Thankfully, within the last 12 months, in spite of my incredibly out-of-form state, I managed to find a race small enough last September that I could actually win. And just to make sure, I added in the fact that I had won Lake Placid in 2006. I don't often play that card, but in this case, it would save me $165 - a fairly outrageous sum considering the distance and scope of the event - so it seemed worth a mention. Also against this race I felt was that it happened to fall on the 4th of July. I realize that triathletes often make little vacations around travel to races, but enough of these summer weekends are taken up by events without taking a holiday weekend away from time with say, family and some often-neglected non-triathlete friends rather than going to yet another race.

These are the key reasons for which I believe there were so few people signed up to participate. When I went in to get my packet, I had to check the list of names for my number (always easy, alphabetically I'm typically the last name on the list) There were two sheets of paper with names printed in a rather large font, the second page filled only about halfway. I already knew of two pre-registered athletes who would not be participating. Needless to say, it was going to be a small field.

I headed back in the other direction to the bed and breakfast where I would be rooming with my teammates Tim and Cait Snow and Brian Hughes. We all agreed that we wished we were staying there longer, since it was just a charming, adorable place. It made me want to go spend a ski weekend there next January. Unfortunately we would not be able to partake in the breakfast. We spent the evening drooling over shows on the Food Network, watching how they make Sun Chips and guacamole-flavored tortilla chips, among other things, while we ate our sandwiches. The Food Network for the athlete trying to get to race weight is pretty much the equivalent of porn. Only three more weeks...

I slept fairly well, although spent some time awake in the middle of the night listening to the trees rustling in the breeze and hoping that race day wouldn't be incredibly windy. I wanted to stay in bed all morning and then just head downstairs to the lounge and eat breakfast there, as I'm finding it more and more difficult to get psyched up for these random little races that don't really mean anything to me with the big one looming ever closer. But I followed the pre-race plan as usual, downing my jar of applesauce, banana, protein shake and sports drink (I miss my bagels or english muffins with peanut butter) and getting my stuff together to head to the race. At least given the race's unusually late start time of 8:30, I didn't even have to get up until 6. Had I not needed to eat, I could've probably slept until 7 and still had plenty of time.

I drove up the road maybe two miles to the base lodge parking lot that served as the transition area. Keeping in tradition with the weather as of late, it started to rain. Sure, why should it start being nice out now? It's only July. It was also cold, but really I'd take the 40's right now if it just meant the clouds might go away for a bit. I walked my bike over to the bike rack - yes, singular, just one bike rack - and set up my little transition area. At least given the incredibly low number of participants I had plenty of space in which to lay out my stuff. And hey, there were even flushing toilets and of course no lines at all! The wind picked up, which I think just added to the atmosphere of being at a ski area, and I reluctantly put on my wetsuit and went to watch the start of the sprint race, 30 minutes before the rest of us would start.

The swim took place in a small pond at the base of the mountain, apparently the source of the snowmaking for the winter months. It was clean and cool - about 69 as reported, and one woman from Texas even wore a neoprene cap - and basically a pretty neat little swim venue. We would swim clockwise in almost a circle around the pond and under a bridge suspended overhead. The sprint would go around once, and the rest of us twice. The competitors in the sprint lined up in the water for their start, and this was basically the complete opposite of what you might see in, say, Lake Placid. I counted 28 heads bobbing up and down in the water, probably less people than might do a typically well-attended training swim elsewhere, but today it was the entire race field. And with very little fanfare, their race began. We watched the swimmers navigate the course, one in particular far ahead of everyone else. One by one they headed off on their bikes, and it is amazing how much time some people can take to swim such a short course, but before we knew it, they were all gone and it was time for the rest of us to get in the water.

According to the final results, 30 of us finished the race. Even just getting in the water it seemed like far less, especially when you're used to much larger throngs of people, and that's just in one wave out of several. It was kind of nice to be fairly certain that I wouldn't get kicked in the head, or at least the odds were that I shouldn't. It was a little windy and of course still incredibly cloudy when we got in the water, but at least the rain had stopped. That didn't seem to stop me from shivering uncontrollably as I waited impatiently for 8:30. But finally we lined up and it was time to go. Our little race had begun.

Other than my own teammates, I had no clue about the athletic abilities of the rest of the people in the race. It came as a bit of a surprise to me to see what looked to be quite a few people shooting off to the front right away. For some reason my goggles had chosen that day to start filling with water on the left side, which they had never done before. I wound up stopping twice before realizing that it was because the strap behind my head was sitting far too low and causing it to pull the goggles down from my left eye, so once I got that under control I was able to swim with clear vision for the remainder of the way. I really liked that swim for some reason. I wasn't getting pushed or shoved or coming up on slow swimmers doing the breast-stroke kick at my head from the waves in front of me. The water was clean and once we got started it felt like the perfect temperature. It was easy to sight and I just felt smooth and almost fast. At times I actually had to try and make myself work harder because I think I got carried away with just enjoying it. I finished the first loop quickly enough, and before I knew it I was approaching the stairs to exit the water, still with no flailing arms or wandering feet aimed for my head.

I headed for my bike, which had remained upright during a few determined gusts of wind that had managed to knock my helmet and gels to the ground on the opposite side of the bike rack. So after nearly falling over a couple of times from the post-swim dizziness, it didn't help me any to have to bend under the rack to retrieve these very-necessary items. I definitely need work on my T1 skills. Either way, I was off on the bike.

I didn't really need to see the bike course profile online to tell me what I already knew from riding much of the course a week prior. It was basically 15 miles of riding downhil, followed by 15 miles of riding uphill - the worst of which was to come in the final two miles. The rain had mercifully stopped, but the roads were still wet. I was far more interested in finishing this particular race in one piece than I was in setting land-speed records, so I was fairly cautious on that first, steep descent. For a minute I thought maybe I'd just let it go and see how fast I could make it, but right away there happened to be one other cyclist and two ill-timed cars that we seemed to have been catching up to, so I eased up a bit. Also, there was a nice batch of particularly rough pavement almost immediately that made me wonder if I had gotten a flat tire for probably the next half-mile. My concern was only heightened when very soon after I spotted Cait on the opposite side of the road, someone trying to help her with something on her bike. I really hoped that it was just something mechanical and she hadn't fallen, but luckily from my vantage point she looked physically ok. I hoped I'd see her out there sometime later, nobody ever wants to have to drop out due to a mechanical issue. Or any other reason, for that matter.

Anyway, after one final, extremely cautious right turn onto Vermont route 4, I stopped trying to go slower and enjoyed the easy ride downhill. Actually, it wound up being flatter than I anticipated. I tried to keep track of my speed and the distance, but my bike computer doesn't seem to like the sensor magnet on my race wheel, so basically I was flying blind. Unless of course I actually was flying downhill at 8mph, but after probably 15 frustrating miles, I gave up and just turned the stupid thing off. The great part about a race that small is that you certainly don't have to worry about maneuvering around too many people or any drafting. Every single person was completely by themselves. The road flattened out after the initial descent and I actually had to work. The roads actually seemed to be dry in spots as we got further and further away from the mountain and I think the sun may have even peeked out for a bit.

I reached the turn in about 34 minutes, which is pretty speedy for 15 miles. But then again, I knew what I was in for on the return trip. After riding back on the flat parts for a bit, and facing another head wind that I swear was blowing in the opposite direction on the way back, it was time to start climbing. Not long before that I was relieved to see Cait riding in the opposite direction, obviously back in the race. She seemed to be just fine now, and I knew for sure she'd catch me on the run. The climb back wasn't too bad for a while, you just kind of keep on going. It got increasingly more difficult once we turned back onto Killington road for the final 3-and-a-half mile stretch back to T2. I finally had to stand up and hammer out the last little bit before pulling in. It took me close to an hour to ride the second half. Yikes.

Bike racked, helmet off, racing flats on (why I bother with light-weight shoes when I'm such an insanely slow runner, I don't really know, but I have them so I might as well use them) and off I went for the run. The run started back the way the bike course came, with a mile-and-a-half of nothing but downhill. Somehow I still managed to run that first mile slow, even though it didn't feel like it. Once we turned off onto the side roads the real fun began. I ran up... and up, and up and up and up. It was a dirt road at a steepness you rarely encounter anywhere but this close to a ski area. I slowed to nearly a crawl since hill-running is certainly not my forte, and silently wondered how I was going to survive the reportedly treacherously-hilly marathon course that is Ironman Utah in 10 short months.

After another mile of uphill, my concern drifted more towards wondering if I was even still on the run course. I hadn't seen a soul since the first half-mile when I was quickly passed by several people who disappeared faster than I could even finish wondering why I still can't seem to run at anything resembling a decent pace. The road curved around through driveways to complexes of condos and I tried my best to stay on what looked like the main road, but given that it was all dirt and nothing seemed marked, I really wasn't sure anymore. Just when I started to consider how embarrassing it might be to get lost, I rounded a corner and came upon an aid station. I was far more relieved to just know that I was on the right track than I was for the opportunity for some fluids. At that point a gentle rain had started to fall and I certainly didn't feel like I was losing a ton of sweat compared to normal.

The road went back down for a bit, and then of course went even more steeply back up, so I got to go really slow again. I rounded the corner to start my second lap, at least relieved to know that the first had gone by quickly in spite of the slowness, but still not looking forward to having to climb those hills a second time. Almost immediately, it started to pour. I'm talking Lake Placid 2008 pouring rain. Except in this case it only lasted for 5 minutes instead of 14 hours. As I started climbing the mountain once again, going even slower this time, Cait caught me. I knew she would eventually, I just didn't expect it to be so soon. I realize she's fast, but I guess I just didn't realize how slow I was comparatively. She was gone in an instant. As I continued to climb, the rain had stopped and the sun even seemed to be near coming out again. I've never seen the weather shift so much in such a short span of time, and I suddenly felt like my head was going to explode in the relative heat. My legs seemed a lot worse off this time around, and with nobody left behind me that I could see, the incentive to push on and make my legs burn any more than they already did just wasn't there.

I rounded the corner towards the turn for the finish and went off to run over the bridge we had swum under. It was actually quite a cool little end to a race. And before I knew it, I was done. Just under 3 hours, second female, obviously behind Cait and ahead of the mere 5 other women in the race. I was immensely glad to be finished, collected my bottle of water and commemorative zipper-pull, and turned in my timing chip. It didn't take long for Cait to ask, "So, you want to go run?" I looked at her for a minute, and she seemed to know exactly what I was thinking. "Well, maybe not want to..." For the QT2 team, the day almost never ends when you cross the race finish line. So we went to change our shoes and wait out another downpour before heading out for a little more running.

Cait, Tim, and Chris Casey, another teammate, headed off to run the course again. I had zero interest in running those hills again, and had zero chance of keeping up anyway unless there were wheels involved, so I ran with Keith, yet another teammate who had raced, and we did short-ish loops on the flattest terrain we could find in the area without just running back and forth in the parking lot. The rain and wind had kicked up and I again wondered where summer might be hiding. We stopped in the middle of the run for the decidedly unceremonious awards ceremony. Since it was raining, the very few remaining racers - maybe 10 of us - stood under an awning to collect one of the many engraved medals that were on the table. There were far more medals than there were people in the race, and since the awards went 3-deep I'm pretty sure everyone would have won something had they merely stayed. I was the only one in my age group at all, but took home my medal for second overall female. I finished my run up, changed out of my drenched clothes in the car, and headed back to New Hampshire. It was a tough race, but still kind of a fun experience, as they usually tend to be.

On the drive back I experienced the epitome of scattered showers. One minute it would be raining, then not. The sun might come out, then it was pouring. This pattern remained constant for just over 90 miles. I enjoyed a post-race toasted cinnamon raisin bagel to help the recovery process, and arrived back at the lake to a small crowd of my older sister's friends and their small children, as well as a few relatives. But no time to chat, I had to go and ride my bike for another 2 hours. Miraculously, the sun was out upon my arrival back and I naively put on my sunglasses for my ride. I don't think I made it half a mile before I realized I wasn't going to need them any longer, but I stubbornly wore them for another 40 minutes at least, before the pouring rain and the thunderstorm finally convinced me that they would be much better off in my jersey pocket.

In all of the bad weather I've ridden in, this might have actually been my first real thunderstorm. It's really not much fun. Unfortunately, when it finally rolled in and I could see the lightning and hear the thunder, I was somewhat in the middle of nowhere, so finding a place to hide out wasn't really an option. I actually passed several other people during the storm, which seemed crazy to me. One other guy who looked like a real cyclist, one poor young woman on a cruiser bike who looked like she had just gone out to run some errands or something, and, most curiously, a young family, parents and two daughters who were probably in the range of 6 and 9. They seemed not to be too concerned with the weather, and just as I passed, the father bringing up the rear of the group said to his younger daughter in front of him, "You know, if you didn't ride so slow you wouldn't fall over like that." Encouraging.

The storm passed and I didn't get struck by lightning. By the time I got back to the lake the roads were nearly dry again. I was hungry and exhausted, but also had a messy bike and was a mess myself, so I had to clean the bike and then take a quick shower before I could finally eat. Everyone else had eaten earlier, but luckily there was a lot of leftover chicken that I ate without even heating it up. There was also a large bowl of salad, probably an amount that you might put on a table for a family of four, and I ate all of that as well. I tried to go to sleep, but someone was setting off fireworkds literally right outside my bedroom window, so I had no choice but to enjoy the view from my bed and hope it didn't go on too much longer. I slept soundly after that.

I slept in on Sunday, knowing I didn't have any huge workouts and exhausted from the day before. The rest of the family had dad's famous waffles while I tried to satisfy my never-ending hunger with fruit. The mots amazing thing about the day was that the sun was out. And not just kind of, or momentarily peeking through the clouds, but surrounded by blue sky. This sight hadn't been seen in these parts for at least two weeks. It was also quite windy and cool, so I was in no rush to get my workouts in. Instead, I stayed in my pajamas until after lunch and did the Sunday crossword puzzle. I eventually did venture outside to read in the sun once almost all of the other guests had gone home, still in denial that I had any workouts to do. Finally at 4:00 I headed out for my bike ride, in an actual sleeveless jersey instead of the warm ones I've been having to wear. Bank thermometers told me it was in the mid 70's, but since it had recently been so cold, I felt like it was 90. I finished my bike and run and after a shower promptly deposited myself in a chair at the end of the dock with a book, glad to be done and able to relax again.

Today began with a lovely recovery swim in the incredibly glassy waters of Squam Lake. My legs are still tired and I was very glad not to have to exert myself in any way after that. As an added bonus, the sun was out again. Two days in a row! You'd think it was summer or something...

Anyway, busy weekend and now it is just three short weeks to Lake Placid and I can't believe it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Seriously, this weather is out of hand!

You know what often gets me through miserable, cold, dreary workouts in the winter? The knowledge that when summer rolls around, I will get to experience some nice, warm-weather workouts. It is now July. I think it is currently in the upper 50's. The rain comes and goes, but the clouds won't leave and again I haven't seen the sun in several days. June was a total waste. The stats are in, and there were 4 days in which there was no precipitation, which means 26 days of rain. I am actually surprised there were in fact 4 dry days, because it seemed like a lot less. There were 3 days in which the temperature topped 80 degrees. THREE. That's supposed to be the average high temperature. We've had Novembers with better numbers than that. My father told me that in his lifetime, he doesn't ever remember another stretch so long of such unseasonable weather, and he's obviously been around a lot longer than I have. I am not sure how that knowledge is supposed to help me.

I don't usually mind training in the rain so much, but seriously, give us a break here! It is honestly almost making me want to cry because I know there is nothing I can do about it. There is only so much darkness a person can handle before they start to go completely nuts, and I think I am at my limit. Too bad, because it's supposed to be exactly the same tomorrow. Temps in the low 60's for July, clouds, rain, no sign of sun. Remember those great tan lines from wearing bike shorts? Nope, don't have those. I also have to consider which clothes are going to be warm enough to wear when I go out on my bike.

I've been spending this week at my parents lake house, thinking I could get some good training in, hang out on the boat, read in the sun, get some nice open water swims in. Instead I have found myself trapped inside, putting off my workouts in the hopes of finding a big enough window of no rain and waiting for the choppy waters of the lake to calm down so I might not have to swallow so much of it during my workout. Well, today I managed to ride for an hour before I got poured on. Although somehow it did hold out during my run. It hasn't so much been the volume of rain, just the fact that the sun never, EVER comes out. Then at about 6:00 I gave up waiting for some glassy water and went out and fought the waves and felt nauseated.

I know, just venting and nothing you can do about the weather so it's useless to dwell on it, but seriously, it's been over a month now. ENOUGH!