Friday, April 30, 2010

Tomorrow's the day

Tomorrow at this point I will be in the midst of running a marathon. I can't begin to tell you how unbelievable that seems to me right now. It doesn't feel like Ironman to me. Any other time I've done one of these, there has been some central location where all of the athletes are around all of the time. This is not the case here. With two transition areas, a spread out city and the fact that we are staying in a condo near neither of those, it really just doesn't feel like an Ironman town. But apparently I signed up for this thing for some reason, I've got a number, I did a whole bunch of training, so I guess I might as well go out and do this thing.

Yesterday we did the last of the workouts early in the morning, starting with the bike/run. It was chilly but nice and sunny. We wisely opted to swim in our condo pool as opposed to driving all the way down to the reservoir again to freeze just for a 20-minute swim. It is a banana-shaped pool, but it was toasty warm and we did what we needed to do. Eventually it was time to beigin a bit of the carbo-loading with a nice turkey sub. I don't know if the sub was really that good or it was just my lack of turkey subs over the last few months, but it tasted amazing.

After that, I headed down to Zion national park with Trent and Kevin. It was quite pretty, and we rode a shuttle bus down to a nice waterfall, checked out the scenery, took a few pictures and then came back to rest up before dinner. Dinner was a feast of 14 pizzas for I think 14 people. We got through most of them.

This morning we got off to a slow start this morning, not having anything to do but head down to IHOP to eat lots and lots of food. Pancakes are never a bad thing in my book. Unfortunately after that we had to deal with the logistical nightmare that is a race with two separate transition areas. First we went to drop off the bikes, which by itself is about a 15 minute drive. It was incredibly windy down there and since it has been so cold at night the water keeps getting colder, so the word now is that it's about 56 in there. Oh, boy, that's going to be tons of fun.

Next up was the drive to T2 to drop off the other bags. Not really sure why we couldn't drop both off in one spot and they could just truck them over later. I guess just to be an extra pain. Anyway, after that it was back to the expo for some teammates to get some threaded CO2 cartidges and to look and see if there was a neoprene cap to be purchased, which there wasn't. Then finally we made it over to Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches where we got some delicious (though not sure I would call them gourmet) turkey subs which they made so fast that they were ready before I had my change back from the cashier.

Then, after being out for like 3 hours for what in Lake Placid takes me 20 minutes, we were back in the condo with our feet up watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off on AMC. Snacking and being lazy, which is the opposite of what is normally going on when I'm surrounded by my triathlete friends.

While we were relaxed and thinking there was nothing left to worry about, coach Jesse and his wife, Chrissie came in to tell us they were headed to Walmart for some emergency warming supplies because the word is that apparently when we reach the top of the 4600' mountain we have to climb on our bikes it's going to be about 38 degrees. Never in my thinking about this race did I consider that at any point I might nearly freeze to death. So now I will have some gloves to worry about. I also made the mistake of watching one of the videos on in which they interviewed a seasoned pro who called the run course "The toughest course I've seen anywhere in the world."

Oh, fun. Actually, to tell you the truth, I kind of like the idea that the course is so tough and the day is going to be pretty epic. It takes the pressure off of any sort of time goals or PR's that might've otherwise been sought after. I'm pretty sure now that tomorrow is going to be far more about survival than anything else. And that, I can assure you, I know how to do. I can't go very fast right now, but I know how to hang in there.

I guess that's about all there is to say right now. Hopefully my next post will be all about how much fun I had, or at least how proud of myself I am for getting through such a tough day. Either way, I'm going to try and have some fun after the race is over. Hopefully some pictures to come as well.

And good luck to all of my teammates here racing, epecially my good friends Kevin and Trent, who are both going their first Ironman. Trent would've been happy for the rest of his life doing olympic distance tris until Kevin and I made him go longer. And Kevin had threatened to sign up for one of these things for years, even went so far as to put his name on the list in Lake Placid a few years ago back when you paid two weeks later or didn't get in, and he opted not to follow through with it. So I'm glad that he's finally out here and I'm sure they will both have great races. Their goal times are incredibly close so there's going to be a great race going on between those two!

And hopefully, the next time I write I will have crossed the finish line at my 11th Ironman. Wow.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I'm in Utah

We made it to Utah without any trouble. Actually, thanks to the continually awesome airline Southwest, our flight from Manchester to Las Vegas landed 55 minutes early. How often does that happen? Not that Southwest had much to do with what was probably just the result of some favorable winds, but it was still nice. Even nicer, Kevin, Trent and I - who are traveling together - were meeting our teammate Pat who was flying in from Providence and due to land at the exact same time. Fortunately, his flight also landed early, and Kevin and Trent actually met him in the bathroom right after we landed, so we were set to get the rental car.

Four people, four bikes, four sets of luggage and we were ready to drive up to St. George. After a rater round-about route out of Las Vegas, but eventually we found our way onto route 15 north. Pat and I missed out on what we were told was a beautiful drive, but the sleep was worth it, I think. Our condo is pretty nice and off all by itself, it's just very weird to be in a different Ironman race venue like this. I've done Lake Placid 6 times, so it's been a while since that was new to me, Hawaii 4 times, and then when I did Arizona I had been living there for a few months, so that wasn't new to me, either. Very strange.

I went to bed at about 7 last night. My body was all confused. I had gotten up at an hour so early I might have been better off not going to bed at all, then flew from east coast time to Pacific time, then drove to mountain time, so really I have no idea where I am or what time it is.

This morning I was awake pretty early as you can imagine, and eventually we made our way down to Sand Hollow State park for a little swim on the course. We drove for what seemed like forever down into the middle of nowhere, all the while wondering where the heck this water was we were supposed to be swimming in. Eventually what looked like a black mass of nothing was revealed to be a black wall that sealed in the lake.

The water was the kind of cold where you think to yourself in the first couple of minutes, "There is no way I'm going to survive swimming 2.4 miles in water this cold." My face was frozen and just about ready to give me an ice cream headache. It was, however, the first time I was wearing a brand new wetsuit, and I would like to thank the good people at Blue Seventy because my wetsuit rocks and kept my body toasty warm. If only they could come up with some sort of face shield I'd be golden. The up side is that water that cold always feels super clean because no bacteria could possibly survive.

After that I headed over to the expo, which was amazingly empty, both of people and exhibitors. I don't know if I missed a room or something, but there wasn't much going on there. The merchandise store was huge and continues to offer an astounding number of options for people looking for either a hat or visor with the word "Ironman" on it.

Currently it is about 75 degrees and windy, and the temperature is supposed to drop quite a bit tomorrow. I have to say, I'm expecting this race to achieve legendary status. I haven't been out on much of the course yet, but it is going to be a tough one. Just this morning I was second-guessing my usual stance on never, ever wanting to do Ironman Florida because it's too flat. Would that really be such a bad thing?

Ok, yeah, it probably would. But don't ask me that again on Sunday.

Monday, April 26, 2010

And tomorrow, we leave

My preparation to leave for Utah has been the complete opposite on the stress scale from my preparation to leave for California. In case you missed that one, 24 hours before I was supposed to leave for California one little dripping pipe behind the toilet turned into one rotted-through-spraying-everywhere-flooding-the-bathroom-and-flowing-down-into-the-basement pipe. The good news was that I was leaving the empty, waterlogged house to the mouse I'd seen the night before. For all I knew I'd be returning to a swamp infested with rodents. Needless to say, it was not a good way to get ready to leave for a race. I wound up packing my bike at like 6:00 that night. I honestly wanted to be in my bed with a book at that time.

Now this time, first of all I got started with the packing early for once. Most of the clothes were packed except for the things that needed to be washed, which I waited to do until after my workouts this morning. I had laid out all of the other stuff to go in the bike box, again waiting to pack the bike box until after I rode this morning. The only setback was that for some reason I woke up at 12:45 last night, and that was pretty much it for sleep. Not a great way to start off, but I decided to use it as an opportunity to get up and get to the gym to swim right at 5, then was on my bike before 6am thanks to spring daylight, and I was done with the workouts before 7am and ready to start the laundry, print the boarding passes (gotta get that A group) pack the bike and finish up with the last little things that needed to be put in the suitcase.

Trip to the bank and the grocery store and I even had time for a haircut. And now... well, that's it. I'm done. It's pretty nice, but it makes me feel like I'm forgetting something since usually I'm very much still packing at this point. Doing stuff ahead of time is pretty nice! And it has even allowed me to finally be excited about the race. I did have to feel a bit like an idiot this morning on my little 16mph super easy ride this morning when a guy on a bike passed me, breathing super hard up a hill, while I was riding my tri bike with my race wheels. I don't know, do you tell people in those cases that you don't normally ride your Zipps around town just to show off? I only wanted to make sure the shifting was working right. He did complement my bike. I didn't want to tell him I got it for free.

What else? Well, I had a lot of friends who raced in Texas yesterday and all of them did awesome, including one of the athletes I coach who took 4th in her age group with a smokin' run time. Also another friend of mine had to make a difficult decision that resulted in his first ever DNF, but as hard as it was to do, it sounds like it was the right thing to do.

Ok, so now no more pool swims before the race. One fairly strenuous bike/run and the rest is easy or just resting. I'm good at those last two. Then I just have to get through a little Ironman race and then I can get all corrupted in Vegas. My 12th Ironman start line and hopefully my 11th Ironman finish. Gotta get a good finish to make up for that annoying DNF last time.

Almost time to fly.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Less than 1 week to go

The main purpose of this blog post is that any time spent writing is time that I do not have to spend packing. Although considering my normal packing routine, the fact that I've started at all and still won't be leaving for another 38 hours means that I'm already way ahead of the game. It's not really that hard anyway. Just make a list, and make sure you put in everything from it. I'm not big on scrutinizing which clothes to bring, especially because in the past couple of years most of my clothing purchases have been workout clothes, and I'm running out of regular clothes. As a frame of reference, I just realized that the green sweatshirt I'm currently wearing was purchased when I was a teenager. The pants are from when I was on a ski trip in Colorado in 2002, before I even considered doing a triathlon. And the t-shirt I remember picking up the week before spring break in college when a friend and I decided to go shopping instead of to class. And no, I wasn't a bad student. I got an A+ in that class and really didn't need to go in order to do well in it. Hmmm... maybe it's time for a shopping spree.

So I am leaving for Utah on Tuesday morning, taking a direct flight from Manchester, NH to Las Vegas on Southwest because they are awesome and not only actually treat you like a human being, but charge a mere $50 for bikes. It'd even be free if I could ever somehow figure out a way to get my size 58 frame into some sort of bike box that does not exceed 60" in overall dimensions. Um... I think I'll be ok with the $50. I still cannot believe that I have to do an Ironman on Saturday. For six years in a row it was all about the end of July. I have to constantly remind myself what time of year it is since I'm peaking for this first of May race.

Against my better judgment, I finally looked at the course profile. There is something insane like 1600 feet of descent in the final 12 miles of the bike course. The exact opposite of Placid where it is all uphill. The run looks pretty brutal too, but I don't think the easiest of courses could save me at this point, so I'm not going to worry too much about that one. At this point I just want to go out and try and enjoy the experience. The area looks beautiful, and it will be nice to have a change of scenery.

There's not a lot left to do between now and then. I did my last 4000-yard swim on Friday, and that went pretty well. I did a nice little 4-hour ride yesterday in gorgeous weather, and it is amazing just how quickly 4-hour rides can go by after doing all of those longer ones. It was also nice to ride a particular favorite loop of mine that I hadn't done since last year. Still a hint of brown snow left on Crotched Mountain. A little run afterward and that was it. Much different Saturday than normal. Today was an easy two-hour ride, another easy run and then a little bit of packing. I'd like for the day before I leave for Utah to be much more relaxing than the day before I left for California, when I nearly flooded the house. I don't think I finished packing that night until close to 6. I seriously want to be in bed tomorrow at 6!

Hmmm.... maybe I should get back to packing. I know I don't want to, but it has to happen sometime and I'm sure I won't be interested in doing it tomorrow, either!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Getting closer every day...

I'm tapering... sort of. It's that annoying week that technically is tapering but to most people, including myself, still seems like a pretty darn full taper week. But at least I get to cross little stuff off the list. For example, this morning I completed the infamous swim set named the monster set for the last time before the race. 4900 yards and swim paddles that I won't have to see for a while. Yesterday was the last run that was more than 60 minutes, and tomorrow caps off at 60 and then there won't be any more beyond 45. If only I didn't still have to ride for 4 hours on Saturday I'd feel pretty well free and clear.

But it's so close now. I'm trying to get plenty of sleep and trying not to hurt myself. Somehow I have wound up as the only one amongst my siblings who is not currently on crutches. My older sister broke her foot a few weeks ago, and my younger brother sprained his ankle quite badly the other night in a rec basketball game. Let's home this trend of one-legged Zahr children does not reach all of us. I was on crutches once for about a day-and-a-half in college when I sprained my ankle in a basketball game. They sucked far worse than limping did, so I went with that instead.

The weather has been cooperating lately, which has made things easier. If you want some more interesting reading about New Hampshire triathletes heading to Utah, then check out written by two of my occasional training partners and fellow QT2 team members who are embarking on their first Ironman. Somehow I convinced them it would be fun. We're all traveling together, so that should be fun.

Speaking of Utah, the bib numbers are up and I will be #218 for this one. For the first time ever I am not one of the highest numbers in the race, but rather one of the lowest. If only this kind of good fortune would befall me when it involves swim waves. I actually got nervous for a minute and thought they lumped me with the pros. Thankfully, this was not the case.

So 1 week from today I'll be in Utah resting up for the big day. It all seems so strange to be doing an Ironman already, and one that has never been done before. It will certainly be interesting.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Weekend Adventures in Boston

It was a busy weekend for me, but it worked out well as I consolidated what could've been many trips into one, long weekend. It all began on Friday afternoon when I drove down in the rain/snow (yes, still snow in April - but at least I had the day off from workouts) to Fast Splits to give a threshold test to a new QT2 athlete and pick up a few items for the upcoming race.

Once the test was taken care of, I figured as long as I was in the area I might as well drive on downtown and check out the Boston Marathon expo. If you have only been to rinky-dink little tri expos and have not had the opportunity to attend a 20,000+ entrant marathon expo, I'd highly recommend it. I spent probably an hour there and thought I'd seen everything before I discovered there was an entire room I had missed. I had also picked up a number for a friend of mine so I was walking the floor with the official participant bag and being mistaken as a runner. If anyone asked I'd have to tell the truth... but, yeah, I was still going to be running a marathon in two short weeks... after all of that other crap. It was a painful smack of reality to say that out loud.

After all of that and paying $27 for parking for less than two hours, I was off to West Roxbury to hang out at the Kropelnicki house as they were nice enough to put me up for the weekend. Saturday morning came too early as we headed over to Fast Splits for the QT2 aqua bike competition, consisting of a 10K indoor bike time trial on the Central Park course followed by an 800 yard swim time trial at the MIT pool. It was a perfect day for entirely indoor workouts, as it was about 40 degrees and raining once again.

It took us a while to get set up for the time trial, and Cait, Michelle and I would be the only female competitors, so we were set up to go off in the first heat, along with Jay, who was lucky enough to ride against us. I did one of these in February and it went pretty well, so I wasn't dreading it probably as much as I should've been. When we set off, I was feeling pretty good. And ok, maybe I overestimated what kind of effort I could hold up for the entire time.

For the first five minutes or so, I was feeling strong and averaging over 300 watts. I knew in my head maybe that was a little too much, but I felt fine at that point, so decided to just keep at it. Strangely, the first issue I noticed was that I couldn't feel my forearms. I was sitting up and resting on them, and I started having a hard time holding myself up. Then it was sort of this tingly feeling that just permeated my entire body and I knew I was in trouble. Yep, maybe something south of 300 watts would've been a better start.

In short, it was a pretty rapid decline. Once or twice I stopped pedaling completely to see if maybe that would make me feel any better... and it didn't, so I knew I just had to keep on going and get it over with. I had to get into my aero bars because that was the only way I could hold myself up anymore. I finally at least stood to power over the last little "climb" but once it was over, there were several minutes of hanging over the handlebars drooling and thinking that I might actually throw up. Fortunately for everyone around me, I didn't.

At least I got to get it over with in the first heat and spent the rest of the time watching the rest of the guys suffer through their time trial. Then we packed up and headed over to MIT where an angry parking attendant chased us down and made us go find a parking spot on the street instead of the garage and forcing us into what seemed like the longest walk I've ever been on. At least I had Jay and Michelle to entertain me on the way.

Of course I wasn't entirely looking forward to the 800 time trial, either. We reluctantly got in the pool to warm up, and fortunately once again I'd be in the first timed group so we could just get it over with. It was me, Michelle, Keith and Mark. Michelle and I were sharing a lane, and over the past couple of months we've been going back and forth with one-upping each other on our 800 time trials in our own swim workouts. We never swim together, so we just had to e-mail each other for motivation. So we were expected to be close.

It was time to go. I like to start these things by holding bilateral breathing as long as I can in order to prevent me from sprinting out too fast. I was shocked when I saw I came in the first 100 under 1:20. I never swim 100's under 1:20, even when swimming them all-out. I was a bit worried that I might be in trouble at that point, but just tried to hold on. I pulled away by myself for the rest of the time, which felt good. I never felt like I was dying or slowing down too much like in the time trial, which was a nice change. In the end, I swam over 20 seconds faster than I've ever swum an 800, so I was really happy with that. I can't explain where it came from, I guess we can blame the faster pool, being so much deeper than my pool, nice, wide lanes and gutters which I'm told help.

Anyway, the hard stuff was out of the way and it was nice to be able to relax a bit. Hard efforts, but also short efforts. After some resting during the afternoon we headed out to dinner before going into Boston for a little drop-in at a drinks and desserts party - both of which are definitely off the diet for a while. Fortunately, there were fruit kabobs right next to the peanut butter balls and chocolate chip cookies. We somehow made it through part of Saturday Night Live and finally went to bed.

Sunday was long brick day, which I was not looking forward to. Which is why it was good I was still amongst teammates who had to do the same thing. The weather was once again in the 40's and dreary, and although I'm sure we could've suffered through it outdoors, we decided we were just plain done with that kind of thing and instead rode the trainers in the living room, where Jesse, Cait and Tim got to witness firsthand the lake I leave behind when I sweat on the trainer.

After three hours of that, it was time to run. It was one of those days where it actually looked kind of nice out since the sun had started to peek through the clouds, but it was still pretty chilly out there. I slogged through my run in typical fashion and was glad when it was finally over. The rest of the day was spent watching various people come and go taking care of all sorts of QT2 business.

On Monday morning I got up and went down to swim in the 20-yard, 90-degree pool at the West Roxbury YMCA, but at least I got my swim in. Not long after that I caught the commuter rail into town to catch some of the Boston Marathon. I met my friend Hannah at her place, very close to the finish line and we watched it on TV for a bit while she ran on her treadmill, then walked downtown and stumbled out of the Prudential Center onto mile 26 about 90 seconds before the first female runner came through and probably 5 minutes before the first man came through. Talk about timing! It was fun to watch, but not once did I wish I was one of them.

We watched up until about the 3-hour mark and then it was time for me to head back. Phew, long and exhausting weekend, but it was a lot of fun.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The last epic training weekend

This past weekend was the last big block before the taper was to begin. Instead of enduring it alone, several of my QT2 teammates joined me in New Hampshire at my parents' lake house, which they so generously let us use. Last weekend it was in the 80's, and just Wednesday I was a bit annoyed that the fluid in my water bottle was warm on my bike ride. Well, this is why I never become complacent with nice weather in early April (or really late April, May and sometimes most of June, for that matter) We got up on Friday morning to rain and temperatures in the lower 40's. We were scheduled to ride for seven hours. Let's just say that we were not in a big rush to hit the road.

We set off at about 8:30. It was me, teammate Mark who had driven up that morning to avoid riding the trainer at home alone for 7 hours (not sure if he later regretted that decision) and coaches Jesse, Cait, Michelle and Pat. It was one of those days where less than ten minutes in your clothes were saturated. It wasn't raining particularly hard, but it was definitely enough to get us soaked quick.

The very beginning of the ride was uneventful enough. One of my rear cages chose that morning to snap and launch, so one of my bottles spent the rest of the ride stuffed in the back of my shorts. We stayed together for the first 15 miles or so before hitting some hills and breaking up a bit. I had to stop about an hour in to tighten my aero bars, and thankfully Mark had wrenches with him. Cait and Jesse were up ahead of us doing a little out-and-back, and as I was tightening my bolts Michelle and Pat rolled up and expressed in no uncertain terms that there was no way they were going to make it 7 hours under those conditions. Pat was nearly frozen and Michelle was way out of her heart rate zone trying to keep up, so they decided to head back to the house and ride on their trainers, which fortunately they had brought with them. Cait and Jesse didn't bring theirs, so they had no choice. Mark didn't have his, but I had brought mine and I was warm enough (due to an extra layer addition literally about 30 seconds before we finally headed out the door, plus the fleece winter gloves I had opted to wear... not to mention my excessive body fat, but let's just go with the clothes thing) so Mark went back with them to ride my trainer since he was also pretty cold.

I sent them on the shortest way home and went to catch up with Jesse and Cait, who were also warm enough, so we could continue on. The route took us further north, and what had started out as being warm enough started to deteriorate to not-so-warm-enough. With the exception of my feet, which were saturated with water and not aided with the warmth of the booties I had left at home, I was still doing ok. But we found ourselves needing to stop to eat anything because fingers weren't working so well, and it was apparent that everyone was getting colder. Jesse and Cait's gloves were not nearly warm enough, and Cait didn't seem to be layered nearly enough and also had some exposed skin between her incredibly short socks and her tights. So it was decided that once we got to Lincoln - about half-an-hour later and the home of Loon Mountain - there would be a stop at the first ski shop to get some suitable apparel.

I had no idea we'd be spending so much time in Lincoln. We arrived at a big ski shop just in town and Cait and Jesse immediately went inside to check out the inventory while I went across the street to use the bathroom at a McDonalds. I never go in those anymore, with the exception of the occasional bathroom stop, but I must say that this particular one was awfully nice. It was only when I had to peel off a few of those soaked-through layers of clothes that I truly realized just how soaking wet I was. Until then I was sort of numb to it.

Upon my return to the ski shop, I walked inside to see Jesse and Cait still wandering pretty aimlessly around the store. I figured by then they'd have their new gloves all picked out and we'd be ready to go. Well, that was not the case. In fact, I'd say we were in there for at least half an hour, if not closer to 45 minutes or so. Jesse had some trouble trying on gloves because his pinkie finger wouldn't straighten, so his hand would just keep getting stuck in the glove and none of his fingers ended up where they were supposed to. Eventually we did get his whole hand in there. Cait got a nice new half-zip top to wear under her bike stuff and prevent her from freezing to death, as well as her new gloves and some long wool socks that she cut the toes off of and slipped over her shoes and tights to make it look like she was biking in her socks. Jesse made a last minute decision to purchase a new warm hat to wear under his helmet, and we were finally ready to move on.

We didn't move far though. We went about a tenth of a mile and then spent 20 minutes or so sipping on green tea - or really just enjoying holding a cup of warm fluid - at a Dunkin' Donuts just down the road. We might have wound up staying there forever if it wasn't for the fact that for whatever reason the inside of that Dunkin' Donuts didn't seem to be all that much warmer than the air outside.

After some lusting after the picture of the giant Boston creme donut advertisement behind the counter, we finally set off to climb up to the top of the Kancamagus Highway. This road goes up over the Kancamagus pass, a little over 2800' in elevation and 35 miles without a sign of civilization. It's probably about 15 miles from Lincoln to the peak before you get to descend for nearly 20 miles. At that point I think we were actually happy that we would be climbing for an hour or so for the mere fact that it would keep us warm. I was nervous about the descent both because of the rain and how much colder we'd get. Not to mention the fact that it had certainly crossed my mind that once we climbed in elevation there was a pretty solid chance it could be snowing up there.

After passing Loon Mountain and seeing some skiers who for some reason had paid money to ski on that slushy, rainy day, we passed the sign that read "No Gas Next 34 Miles" and headed upward. I'm not sure why, but for some reason this actually seemed to go by faster than you'd think. It starts as a much more gradual climb and then just gets steeper and steeper toward the top when you get to spend a considerable amount of time spinning at a very low cadence. As we went up, the snow on the side of the road became more abundant, but fortunately the rain remained as rain. At the very top it was foggy enough that I could hardly see Jesse and Cait in front of me, but fortunately found them in the mist.

Then it was time to descend. We got pretty lucky here, because this was one of the few times during the ride that it had stopped raining completely. The roads were wet, but since I wasn't wearing any glasses I very much appreciated not having to squint through rain drops pelting me in the face at 45mph. It actually got sort of bright on the way down and showed some evidence that the sun might actually exist, but that didn't last. At least I didn't feel like I was going to freeze to death. It really wasn't incredibly cold out (I know I've ridden in much worse, which is why maybe it didn't seem that bad) it was just the combination of that and being wet that made it rough.

Once we got closer to the end of the Kanc, I must say that I started to feel a little woozy, like I needed calories - bad. All that descending and the inability to get to anything without stopping made the time between feedings a lot longer than normal. Fortunately, we found a nice little store soon after reentering civilization and spent a good deal of time in there. I ate a Powerbar-and-a-half in about 45 seconds, got some Gatorade, Jesse downed some incredible amount of calories while Cait and I inspected the nutrition labels on things like Funny Bones and those orange Hostess Cupcakes.

After stopping there for so long, I found myself teeth-chattering shivering, so we really needed to get going again. Right about the minute I got warm enough I sensed something not right with my bike. Yep, flat tire. Great. I haven't flatted on a training ride in I think years. Fortunately I was able to yell just loud enough not to get left behind forever (I was the only one who knew the way home though) and for once it was actually the front tire, which is a bit easier to change. So that stop didn't take too long and we were off once again before the shivering had a chance to return.

Finally, the rest of the ride became uneventful. No more clothes shopping, no more tea, no more convenience store stops. Jesse had to stop to pee about 10 times on the side of the road, but aside from that, we just kept rolling along, cruising at a pretty good speed on the much flatter section of the route. I guess one good thing about the weather that day was that there wasn't the slightest hint of wind. Unfortunately, I mapped our route and aside from climbing to 2800', the last 20 miles were by far the hilliest of the day, but at least on the quietest roads.

The rain decided to pick up toward the end, and while up to that point I hadn't quite felt like I was going to kill someone (most likely me) if I didn't get off my bike very soon, once the rain picked up again and I stared to feel colder I felt like finally I had had enough for the day. My gloves had been removed because they were each about 20 pounds of sopping wet fleece and I found myself trying to drink a lot since I realized how little I had taken in under the conditions. Perhaps I was hydrated enough my osmosis as the rain water was absorbed through my skin.

Anyway, only 7 miles from home and we had to climb a wall of a hill that isn't quite as bad as "The Beast" in St. Croix, but is fairly close and certainly far more painful when it comes 6 hours and 40 minutes into your rain-soaked bike ride. I've climbed that hill dozens of times and I'm not sure I've ever come so close to hitting a cadence that nearly bottomed out to a level that was low enough to make me just stop moving forward and tip over. But I reached the top, and knew we were finally close.

The best part was that we timed the ride pretty well and only had to do a short out-and-back to hit the 7 hours. Somehow, mercifully, the ride was finally over. I walked into the house, dripping wet, straight to the washing machine and left most of my clothes there. Tim had arrived by then, joining us a bit late since he had to work on Friday, and you could tell he was quite amused by my appearance walking in the door at that point. I looked more like I had done a swim workout in my bike gear, then rolled around in sand before coming inside. We had been gone for nearly 9 hours with all of the stops.

So you'd think the day would've been done by then. It wasn't. We heard the trainers still going in the basement, so they weren't done yet either. But we still had to go out in the rain again and run for 30 minutes. At that point though, what's another 30 minutes? And at least I got to change out of my bike clothes. I didn't waste much time, but a few others spent some extra time grabbing handfuls of Honey Nut Cheerios just to make sure they would survive the rest. My numb feet started to feel hot after about 5 minutes of running, and somehow that run wasn't really that painful. According to my Garmin I ran 27 miles in the first 90 seconds. I can't wait to see where it thinks I ran during that time. So I finished with an average speed of less than 1 minute per mile. Perhaps I should consider getting in on the Boston Marathon. There's a lot more money in marathon than triathlon.

Finally, finally, I was done. There is a hot tub at the house, but at that point, in spite of the warmth it would give me, the thought of being wet for any more time that day seemed completely unappealing. So I took a hot but brief shower and then thoroughly enjoyed the feel of some dry clothes. We somehow managed to remain upright enough to go out to dinner, although the alternative, which would've been actually cooking something, seemed even more difficult.

So the longest day was out of the way, but we were far from done. Day two was to begin with an easy bike ride. For whatever reason, I only had to ride an hour and forty minutes while the rest of my teammates had to ride for 3 hours. Except Tim, who had his 7 hour ride to do all by himself. So first thing that morning, Jesse, Pat, Michelle, Cait and Tim set off (Mark had gone home after the ride the day before)

That morning it wasn't raining, which had made us all happy. We knew that it was pretty cold though, in the 30's. Great. I mentioned it wasn't raining, right? Well, instead, just as they got on the bikes, it started to snow. Yep, Wednesday it was like a hot summer's day and Saturday morning it was snowing. They set off and I decided not to wait too long for fear of not riding at all and went out for my shorter ride not long after they did.

It wasn't just that it was snowing. It was also really, really windy. And the snow wasn't light and fluffy. It was like little ice balls pelting me in the face. I immediately started wondering to myself which weather was worse for riding: Friday's or Saturdays. Pretty cold and pouring rain with no wind, or super windy, pretty darn cold and snowing? I still don't think I can decide. The only good thing was that my out-and-back route was a headwind literally the entire time on the way out and therefore a nice tailwind the entire way back. I averaged about 14.8mph just spinning the pedals.

Then it was time to run. Oh, great. Given the fact that the run the day before wasn't too bad, I figured this one wouldn't be either. Also, just that morning when I'd gotten up I thought to myself that my legs didn't feel so bad. Once again, I was wrong. The second I started running it was like my quads were screaming at me, "What do you think you're doing?" It was pretty awful. Jesse and Cait apparently felt the same and Jesse thinks maybe it was all of that low cadence riding.

Day over yet? Nope. Not that I had any right to care that much given that everyone else had ridden twice as long as I did, but we had to quickly change and drive over to the pool for an epic swim workout. You know, we would've done open water, but water temperatures in the lower 40's might be a bit much even for our awesome Blue Seventy suits. So we were off to Laconia, and only showed up 30 minutes late for our rented pool time. Fortunately, they didn't kick us out when our time was up and we were able to get the whole workout in. Actually, I'm not sure I would've minded if they'd kicked us out.

Anyway, it was a pretty nice pool and our 5600 or whatever it was yards went by a whole lot faster than you might expect, especially for someone so used to swimming alone. Then we were finally done for the day. 3:30 instead of 6:00 was much nicer. Apparently Tim got to ride through some serious snow on the Kanc, which included slushy roads and trucks out sanding and plowing. I think I'm glad we rode the day before.

We had bit of time to relax before going out to dinner once again, this time a bit more awake and coherent. But wait, it's not over yet! Sunday morning came quick, and then it was time for more biking to start. I don't know why, but I wasted no time getting out on my bike. Almost everyone else rode the trainers. This was by far the nicest morning of riding. It looked like it had just stopped raining when I woke up, so the roads were wet, but it had cleared up and the sun was out and there was no wind. It was only about 40 degrees out, but not being soaked, blown around or pelted by snow made it almost pleasant. It was one of those rides where I think I zoned out enough to not remember riding long sections of it.

Unfortunately, upon my return, it was time to go out and run for 2 and a half hours. The marathon course for Utah is supposed to be incredibly hilly, so Jesse requested that I choose a good, hilly route. Well, all of the routes around here are hilly, but I picked the worst one. It is actually the bike course of a local triathlon, and I'd never run on it before, but it was incredibly tough for a run. I set off to run by myself because my teammates would probably have to run on their hands in order to go as slow as I do. But the sun was out, the temperature was pleasant, and I knew that once this run was over, the worst of the training would be over.

Yep, that was a pretty darn tough run. The downhills were almost as bad as the uphills due to the pounding. In an odd twist, I seemed to have fueled well so I didn't think I was going to die at the end, so that was a nice change of pace. And really, just like that, the run was over. I couldn't have been happier.

I showered quick and went out in the car to drive the route backwards because I was more than a little concerned that my teammates might have gotten lost. Michelle returned not long after I did, having gone on a route she figured she couldn't get lost on - which she was right about. I found Cait first and rode up and she told me she wasn't going to make it. First I thought she needed fuel or something, but it was just that she had overshot the route and wasn't going to make it back to the house before the time was up. So she told me she had 30 minutes left and I told her I'd come back out and get her.

I continued on the route and never saw Tim, Jesse or Pat which got me more than a little concerned, but I had no idea where to start looking. So I figured I'd just wait and go get Cait and if there was still no sign of them then maybe I'd go out and look again. Cait wound up only being about half-a-mile shy of the house once her time was up, but we all know that having to walk the last bit at the end of a run is never fun. Fortunately, by then I saw the guys coming back too. They had taken a wrong turn and turned the route into an out-and-back rather than risk further wrong turns... and also making their route a lot hillier than it otherwise could've been since they didn't get to run the last stretch of the loop - the flattest part.

But either way, we all survived the weekend. The weather could've been better, but we got through it and there's not a whole lot left to do between now and the race that can make things better. And the last time we had one of these I was sidelined with a stress fracture, so I guess I should be glad that I didn't have to spend 20 hours on my bike over the weekend like I did before Kona. Only three weeks to go...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Less than four weeks to go...

I can't believe I am less than 4 weeks from my Ironman. Only once have I ever done an Ironman so early in the season, Ironman Arizona April 15th, 2007... and in that case, I lived and trained all winter long in warm, sunny Phoenix. This time around, my long winter training took place in cold, sometimes snowy New Hampshire. We actually didn't have too bad of a winter this year, but to me it felt like the worst one ever. So most of the time I've been used to training for my big Ironman at the end of July, since somehow I found myself doing Lake Placid six years in a row. So if that was the case, I'd be sitting here right now with over 15 weeks to go before the big race. Yeah, 3 and a half is a lot more scary.

It has also reminded me how much I hate the final 4 weeks of training. I don't know what it is, but it is usually when I can be found the most miserable. Maybe the fact that the weather is finally nice will change that, but we'll see. First of all, for some reason, it's like all I want to do is sleep. 6 months of build-up finally catches up with me and just makes me want to spend every moment not training sound asleep. Then of course there is the knowledge that we are so close, and being as light as possible is of the utmost importance, so eating is more stressful than ever.

Then there are the workouts. This weekend is the last really big weekend of training, which thankfully I will not have to get through by myself because a bunch of teammates are getting together for the weekend. After that, the taper begins. And for whatever reason, a lot of times the less training I have to do, the less I actually want to do it. Sure, I know I'll do it anyway, it's just that much more difficult mentally to get out the door. I am one of those people who responds quite well to tapering. But only at the very end of the taper. I can't tell you how many times I've gone on a fairly long bike ride two weeks out from my big race and had the worst ride of the season, only to come back a few weeks later and have a great race. I distinctly remember last year in my training for Lake Placid that it wasn't until my last real run 4 days before the race that things actually went well and suddenly I was running 30 seconds a mile faster. I guess I'll just have to hope that happens again this time around.

But hey, we've gotten some great weather lately. Saturday's long ride was finished up in temperatures near 80. I started very early in the morning and decided to ride the Kancamagus, which was kind of fun. First of all, it's kind of weird to ride by Loon Mountain when there are still people skiing. Second, the higher up I got, the more snow that was up there. An astonishing amount, in fact. It certainly made parts of that ride awfully cold, but once I got down the other side, it was toasty warm. It's only too bad that somehow I overshot that ride and wound up riding 30 minutes longer than I was supposed to. I promise I took the shortest way home I knew how, it was just too much.

Sunday was Easter, but you wouldn't know it by my day because I skipped it entirely. I stayed at my parents' lake house while the family was elsewhere having a little Easter brunch. It just didn't seem possible to fit my training day around Easter, and it's not like I could eat anything anyway. My sister later told me that my niece asked her where I was and she told her I was working, which I guess in a way is true. Don't worry, I see them all the time anyway, so it's not like I missed some twice a year opportunity.

Tomorrow I will be off to the lake house once again, this time to be joined by my teammates for one last big training weekend before the taper. Seems unbelievable, as it can't possibly be time to race just yet, but I do know I'm certainly ready for a break!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Back home

I've returned home from an all-too-short trip to California. My travel over was pretty painless as far as getting from one end of the country to the other can be. I was the first of our crew to arrive at a condo a few blocks from the ocean, less than a mile from transition but surprisingly lacking in beds for the eight of us to utilize. Teammates Mark, Michelle and Phoenix had already arrived and made reservations at a restaurant that turned out to be a horrible mistake. Fortunately I did not order the lasagna, which tasted suspiciously - though greatly more expensive than - Spaghettios with meatballs. Nor did I order the flavorless, gluten-free polenta. I've had polenta before, and it can actually taste good if you add something - anything - to flavor it a little. I ordered eggplant parmesan, which in this case was missing any type of pasta, which is kind of the whole point in going to an Italian restaurant a couple of nights before the race in the first place. At least our pre-dinner bruschetta was good, otherwise there would've hardly been any carbs at all. Needless to say, should I find myself in Oceanside in the coming years looking for my pre-race meal, it will be in the harbor at Dominic's, where I know for a fact I will get a good meal that actually comes with pasta.

Thursday night involved not a whole lot of sleep. While I was one of the few in the house fortunate enough to get an actual bed, it didn't save me from the train that seemingly went by every 15 minutes or so nearly all night long, never failing to blow the horn multiple times as it sailed through the intersection nearby. I think it stopped sometime around midnight, but definitely picked up again around 4, when I had already long since been awake. I walked down to the beach that morning when lying in my bed with my eyes closed had long-since gotten old and I still had lots of time to kill before breakfast.

Ah, pre-race breakfast. This is one of my favorite parts. Usually it is the last pleasant carb-loading experience before it starts to get old. A huge group of QT2 teammates all met at IHOP to clean house on pancakes. Oh, and toast and hash browns and eggs. Their butter pecan syrup tastes like liquified buttercream frosting, a fact I unfortunately didn't discover until my pancakes were gone. There's always next time.

The rest of the day was spent munching on pretzels, trying to sit still in the restlessness, making sure all of my stuff was ready for the next day and basically trying not to think about how unprepared I felt to be racing. I don't know what it was, I just didn't feel all there. Sometime around 6:30 that night I was about an inch away from falling asleep for good, but unfortunately it was time to force down one last meal. After being made fun of for the pillow marks across my cheek, I very slowly choked down some pasta and chicken and was ready to go to bed for the night.

My alarm went off at 4:30 and I headed downstairs to force down a whole bunch of applesauce as quickly as possible. The nice thing about this race is that there is no parking involved, just riding the bikes down to transition, so there is no need to leave 3 hours before. This is a fact I took full advantage of. Oddly, this year they did not have assigned spots on the racks, just ranges of numbers. In the morning haze of my brain I got a little mixed up and initially racked in the wrong spot, but got it together with plenty of time to spare. Our wave was 16th in line to go off, roughly 45 minutes into the start of the race, so there was a whole lot of time to kill. I don't really remember much of what I did except trying to figure out what the reasoning was behind the girl in my age group who quite openly was consuming a can of Bud Light while walking through transition in her wetsuit. Um, what?!?! I wish I'd gotten her number. If she beat me in the race, maybe I'll have to try that next time.

Somehow the time passed quickly, and for the first time ever at that race I wasn't frozen standing around in my wetsuit waiting for the gun to go off. We got to watch a lot of the other racers come through, so at least that provided a bit of entertainment, if not also a bit of jealousy that they were already finished with the swim and we had yet to start. But soon enough, it was time to get in the water. This was also not nearly as painful as I anticipated. There is no chance to warm up for this race until the wave in front of you goes off, then you just swim to the start, tread water for a minute or two, and go. I believe the water was advertised at 59, and it really didn't feel bad at all. I started right at the front of the line on the inside, and once the horn sounded, we were off, and I found myself alone and swimming for the first buoy.

I seem to have a problem with open water swimming. I think I enjoy it too much if only for the fact that I forget that I am in the middle of a race and I'm supposed to be working really hard instead of just swimming along, because my pool times and my race times do not match up at all, and certainly not in a good way. This is something that needs serious work, especially since I seem to swim my half ironmans at a speed quite a bit slower than my ironman swims. Hello, you're supposed to be racing! The water got colder as we got out more into the open ocean, and the buoys were hard to see coming back in, but it all seemed to go by pretty fast and I was out of the water in some embarrassingly slow time probably at least 5 minutes slower than I should've been. Can I blame the fact that I had to wear my 5-year old wetsuit because my newer one had a broken zipper? I doubt it.

After the incredibly long transition through the rows and rows of 2500 bikes, I was off to the bike course. Fortunately, the sun was out and it was nice and warm, as it can often be pretty cold coming out of that water early in the morning. I spent the first chunk of the bike passing lots and lots of people in the waves in front of me and got stuck behind a 71-year old man on the uphill, half-mile long no-passing zone. Yes, that always seems to be the case. I was cruising along on the back roads, trying to remember when the course got hard, which was a lot later than I remembered. There were some scary crosswinds, especially on the long, 25mph speed limit downhill. I swear I've never been so afraid of getting blown sideways off my bike - not even in Kona. Then that crosswind turned into an uphill headwind and I started having visions of the last 15 miles of Kona last year when I was just about ready to hurl my bike into the Pacific ocean and hitchhike back into town. Fortunately, the course turned, and the last 10 miles or so actually flew by.

I was off on my bike time, slow by a few minutes, but I will say that the conditions were tougher than I've ever experienced there. Still, I should've been faster than that.

Oh, then it was time to run. Or at least my own personal approximation of running as of late. Up to that point nutrition was good, no stomach issues except for the slight regurgitation of my half Powerbar early on the bike, which always happens, no aches or pains. This was my first triathlon running with my Garmin, which had worked great for the bike. The problem now was that I had totally forgotten how to switch it to run mode and follow the pacing there. I literally spent the first mile pushing buttons and trying to change screens and failed miserably before I restarted a new bike file, so as far as the Garmin is concerned, I just biked an incredibly slow 12 miles. I also couldn't get the pace to show. In part that contributed to my decision to just run a comfortable pace rather than actually trying to race, but for whatever reason, mentally I just didn't have it on the day. There was no incentive for me to make it hurt. Was it more embarrassing to actually try yet still wind up with a crappy time or just to make the decision to back off? I at least knew the second one would have me recovering faster.

So that's what I did, I just ran. The first loop was mentally taxing, but on the second I just sort of zoned out and enjoyed the scenery. It was quite warm and sunny along the beach, so it really couldn't be all bad, right? Except I couldn't seem to escape the thoughts plaguing my mind about how much faster I used to run those things, and there didn't seem to be anything I could do about it right then. At least I knew it would be over soon. And the good thing was that even running a measly 8:30 pace I was running past an astonishing number of people. It almost made me forget that I finished about 20 minutes after I should've. However, I'll take a slow race over 2008 when I was too hurt to even start, any day. And I'm also smart enough to be able to put it in perspective and know that this was not the important race. Slightly annoying? Sure, but I've just got to get over it and move forward.

After that I had a brief visit with one of my best friends from college who lives nearby and brought her husband and kids. I had gotten to spend a lot of time with them when I lived in Arizona a couple of years ago and they did too. Then we had a QT2 celebratory post-race meal and, more importantly, post-race Cold Stone Creamery. Cait puts us all to shame with her Cold Stone ordering skills. It's actually amazing considering what she orders that she limits herself to the "Love it" size as opposed to the "Gotta Have It". And congrats to Cait on her top 10 women finish. And to all of my other teammates who set PRs and had great races. You guys are amazing.

Sunday was spent lounging in the sun mostly, enjoying the near-80-degree weather and wishing I didn't have to go home the next day. We had our final meal on a roof deck overlooking the ocean, and I can't think of a more perfect way to end the trip. All things aside from the way I actually "raced" I really do enjoy going there for that event.

My trip home was as painless as can be when traveling across the country, completely on time and thanks to Southwest for always charging $50 for bikes with no variation no matter where I am. The biggest problem was that I returned home to more flooding rains. Not exactly my favorite weather pattern. But hey, no new pipes had burst, and the mouse I saw before I left had been caught. Mice prefer Jif peanut butter apparently to the natural stuff, just FYI.

Now it is time to get training again. But that has not been without its setbacks either. Yesterday morning I got up to do my swim, which didn't go great, but I figured I was still just a little off from the travel and not much sleep while I was in California. Except upon my return home I found myself so incredibly tired that I went straight back to bed and slept like a baby for two more hours. Upon awakening, I found myself barely able to lift my head off the pillow, and although I was supposed to bike and run, I found it difficult to even stand up, as well as the thought of eating anything making me feel like I wanted to throw up. I managed to stay awake for another hour or so, and then instead I just went back to sleep for yet another two-hour nap. I swear, I haven't felt that terrible in a very, very long time.

Not to get graphic, but I did eventually throw up. In the past 12 years I have only thrown up a handful of times, each of those occurring within 24 hours of completing an Ironman (not every time, but definitely a few of them) Before that, I recall a few times I threw up because I had eaten too much crap. I actually have no recollection of the last time I threw up just because I was sick. I'm thinking it was even before high school. It is NOT fun. Needless to say, those workouts never got done and eventually I just went back to sleep. This is supposed to be a pretty major training week, except thus far, we haven't come anywhere close. Fortunately I don't feel like I'm going to die today, but I'm still feeling light-headed and just "off" so hopefully this feeling will subside very, very soon!