Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, and for once the weather was great. Last year I remember returning from Florida on that weekend, from a week of record-setting rainfall for Florida - even more than they get in hurricanes - and coming home to sort of average weather and some cloudy days. That was before it was fairly chilly and rained all but four days in the entire month of June. And I'm sure I was wearing a sweatshirt on the 4th of July, after having spent some time foolishly riding my bike not only in the rain, but the lightning. Hey, I was in the middle of nowhere and it was either keep riding or what, stand in the woods near the tall trees? It seemed like either option was equally risky, so I picked the one that got the workout done quicker.

It seems that this year we are getting payback for the terrible summer that never was in 2009. And it's great. We had a couple of days last week that were pretty much what you'd refer to as "stifling." On Wednesday I hit the pool for a tough workout first thing in the morning after not sleeping much due to intense heat and humidity. Then I came home and almost immediately headed out for a run in order to get it done before it got hot out. Well, last Wednesday, there was no such thing as before it got hot. Yeah, it was maybe 84 degrees at 8:15 in the morning instead of the mid 90's it got up to later, but still HOT. Have you ever had to actually slow down your pace during a tempo run because your heart rate was just too high? Well, that day I certainly did. My heart rate was off the charts and I was plodding along at a ridiculously slow pace, hoping nobody would see me shuffling along and especially hoping nobody realized that at the time I was supposed to be running "fast" according to my heart rate. The last 15 minutes or so my shoes were making horrible squishy noises every time they hit the pavement because they were soaked through with sweat.

Upon my arrival home I engaged in the particularly lady-like behavior of sticking my head right under the kitchen sink faucet and alternating between drinking mass quantities of water and letting the wonderful coolness run over my face. Later that afternoon I went out on a bike ride. While I'm not big on running in heat, or at least my heart rate has issues with it, I do enjoy riding when it is really hot out. Probably because I appreciate it so much given the fact that I spend a considerable amount of time throughout the year pedaling around with 10 pounds of extra layers on with numb fingers and toes and hoping my water bottles don't freeze. There's just something about being on a bike when the wind can blow as hard as it wants to and you know you won't feel cold, ever. The downside of course is that you wind up drinking 80-degree or so water, but it seems a small price to pay.

So when I went out that afternoon I enjoyed it, and especially liked riding my bike past the bank thermometer that said it was 94 degrees out. Not to be outdone, the bank thermometer around the corner from that one said it was 98. Those two are always at odds with each other, and the second one is always warmer than the first. I'm trying to figure out if the temperature really is that different within that tenth of a mile span. Bottom line though, it was HOT out.

We got a bit of a reprieve the next couple of days, but it's amazing when it can be 20 degrees colder than the day before and it's still nice and warm out. The weekend was spent at the lake with my parents and my sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, with my brother making a brief appearance. Oh, and my sister's golden retriever, Marley (just want it to be clear that they named him for Bob Marley BEFORE the book and the movie - Marley is 9 years old) who is a lot of fun to have around, especially when he wants to come swimming with you. My nephew seems to like me mostly because I am good at putting together train tracks and Legos... and possibly also because on at least two occasions over the weekend I was the distributor of Oreos. My niece likes me because I know how to make s'mores indoors.

Saturday morning I was up at 4:45 to be on my bike at 5 for my long ride. See, this is where I sometimes question my sanity. I was sound asleep when my alarm went off. I could've slept several more hours I'm sure, but for some reason I am obsessed with getting my long rides done early. My reasoning? I think mostly so that I am done early enough to... nap? Wouldn't it be easier to just stay asleep longer in the morning and not need that nap? So far I haven't been able to convince myself of that, but I do know that on the rare occasion I do choose to start later I usually spent the last two hours of my workout thinking to myself, "I could've been done already!" Oh, and riding at sunrise with no cars around isn't such a bad deal, either. It has also given me the opportunity to have some early morning run-ins with deer and moose, and on two occasions, black bears. This weekend though, just one lonely turtle.

And hey, it's nice to be done with 6+ hours of workouts before noon. It gives me the opportunity to spend the rest of the day feeling a bit more like a normal person, reading a magazine and falling asleep in the sun. It was short-lived though, as I had to head back to Manchester for a friend's wedding. One of my best friends from high school who I hadn't seen in a while, so I saw a few other high school friends which was nice. There's something so comforting about seeing friends you've literally known since you were in first or second grade. And of course it was nice to see my friend so happy and getting married, and so great how short the ceremony was. I'm not big on weddings (if I ever have one of my own, I'm going to try to keep the guest list down to, um, 10 or less I think - Wheelers, you were smart!) and when I was talking to my friend later on she said that they told the justice of the peace (who also doubled as the DJ - see how smart?) that they wanted the ceremony to start at 6:45 and be over by 6:47. No wedding party, no ceremonial cake-cutting, just here's the rings, let's have a little party.

It was also my first appearance in a dress in a few years. My mother asked me before what I was going to wear. I told her I was going to be wearing my purple dress. "Oh, you mean, your dress?" Yes, mom, that one dress I own. It seems to have worked well for a while, so why mess with it now? It will only be an issue if I get invited to a winter wedding. No, you aren't going to see pictures. Even my niece, who is only 7, knows that I am not interested in wearing dresses and it's not like it's something I walk around talking about. She was disappointed to learn that I would not be getting dressed for the wedding at the lake house before I left. She really wanted to see that.

So I was home pretty late that night and as a result yesterday I took a very different approach to my training day. I woke up probably around 7:30, wishing it was later because I surely could've used it... and then I didn't do much of anything. Not for a long, long time. I had 4 hours of workouts to do and I didn't set foot out the door until 1:00 in the afternoon. Of course, once I was out there I was mad at myself for not having done it earlier, but what could I do about it now? But yeah, I'm much more interested in morning workouts and then being able to relax during the afternoon. I made it through, of course. Later that night I suppose in honor of Memorial Day we watched my father's slides - now transferred to DVD - of when he was in Vietnam and later when he was in Antarctica. Some very interesting stuff, for sure.

Then today, which involved sleeping in and not worrying about the prospect of hours and hours of workouts to get done. Back to lying in the sun and reading and enjoying the warm weather. Except that today was a bit marred by some haze, not due to humidity or the incredible amount of pollen surging through the air and making everything yellow (if I were allergic I probably wouldn't have been able to breathe for the past several days) but due to forest fires in Canada and the smoke that has blown in. You can even smell it.

So now it's time for more training and a pseudo taper for Mooseman this weekend, where I will be doing the olympic instead of the half. I'd feel weirder about that except with all of the nervousness about the new half bike course I'm glad I won't be doing it. I wouldn't so much mind riding up the hill, I've ridden up that hill before, it's just coming down the other side because I know that when it comes to bike handling, triathletes are not exactly the best. In all fairness, sometimes it's not so much their bike handling, but their refusal to remember "ride right, pass left." Is it really so hard to stay off to the side? Apparently, yes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Summer has arrived

I don't want to get my hopes up too high, but it seems like summer is here. Pretty nice of it to show up so early considering the fact that last year it never arrived at all. I've been doing plenty of open water swimming and it hasn't been cold at all... well, depending on where in the lake I am. I can be in one spot where the water almost feels hot and then get to another spot where it's freezing, but generally it's been quite comfortable. And it resulted in what I think is probably my biggest accomplishment of the week, which was somehow managing to zip my Blue Seventy wetsuit myself thanks to my flexible shoulders. For those of you who are not aware, the Blue Seventy zips from the top down and requires that you get the zipper started behind your neck before zipping it down, which is not so easy when you can't see back there. It will be interesting to see if I can repeat it, but it did allow me to continue my unsafe tradition of swimming in the lake by myself.

I'm also working on my bad tan lines with the bike gear. I remembered that I have a wedding to go to this weekend and a sleeveless dress (first appearance of me in a dress in... 3 years maybe?) and I should probably try not to have that nasty line across my upper arm, so I'll have to work on that in the next few days. Also, I remembered that it is probably not ok to wear open toed shoes when you don't have all of your toenails, is it? I really wish it was.

I've also been informed by my father that he does not appreciate me mentioning the fact that I dropped him after 6 miles on my blog. I didn't realize he made a habit of reading it. Actually, I assured him that nobody reads it. Hi, Dad!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunshine and open water swimming

I don't know how we've hit the weather lottery, and I don't want to get too used to it because I know we've been teased like this before, but I'm definitely going to enjoy it while it's here. Wednesday of last week it was in the 50's and raining, but every day besides that has been amazing. On Friday I swam in the open waters of Squam Lake probably the earliest I ever have, not counting any teenage "swims" that involved jumping off the boat, screaming, and getting right back into the boat, just to prove I'd been in the water. Nope, this was an hour of submersion... although there was a wetsuit, a neoprene cap, gloves and neoprene booties.

For some reason the water right off the dock in front of the house is always the coldest. I thought I was in for trouble when I first got in, because it was incredibly cold. But as I got out away from the house some, it was actually fairly comfortable and I ditched the gloves. If it wasn't such a pain to do so, I'd have probably ditched the cap, too. I was reminded of how cold the water was in front of the house when I swam back into it, though.

Also on Friday I did something I haven't done in a very long time and I went on a bike ride with my dad. I just had a 2-hour Z1 ride, and he likes to ride about that amount of time a few times a week, so we started out together. When I first started riding a bike 8 years ago (you know, a real road bike and not just pedaling around on a mountain bike or something) I did almost all of my riding with my father. I remember after I signed up for my first triathlon he told me he would buy me a real road bike and we could ride together. Well, when we went to the bike shop it turned into him getting a new bike and me getting his old one, but I was ok with that. It's probably why I got fast on the bike so quick, because every time we'd go out we'd basically try and kill each other for 30-35 miles, taking turns pulling.

Somewhere along the line I decided to start riding 100+ miles on the weekends instead of 35, and Dad was definitely not interested in that, so we rarely ride together anymore, but he still goes out at least Saturdays and Sundays for 40-50 miles. But this seemed like a good opportunity to ride with him. Well, it didn't last all that long. Of course I started out in front, pulling him along. He was still there for probably 6 miles or so, but eventually I looked back and he wasn't there anymore. I glanced over my shoulder and saw him way back behind me, and I waited once, but it looked like Dad had had enough of trying to hang onto my wheel. So I guess there's a reason we don't really ride together much anymore. I try to tell him that I've been at the finish line in Lake Placid and seen 67-year old men cross the line at their first Ironman, but he doesn't seem too interested in that :)

Fortunately, he was still willing to be my kayak escort on that chilly open water swim. I managed to swim in the lake this morning as well, and the water was way warmer. I'd say we're in for the warmest ever Mooseman swim. The only downside was when I was standing by the dock before I started and a rather large bass tried to eat my feet. Fortunately, they don't have any teeth.

Another long ride this weekend, which seemed scary easy since I don't have all of that built-up fatigue from tons of training after that post-race break, and a long run yesterday and things are pretty much back to normal. I forgot how much nicer training is when the sun is out and I don't have to put on all kinds of layers.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Getting back at it

Every post-Ironman rest period must come to an end, and some sooner than others. My last break, after Kona, was 5 weeks long. I didn't really earn that one since I left off the part about running the marathon at the end of the race (as a side note, I think I forgot to mention that walking half of the Utah marathon made me really, really glad that I didn't walk the marathon in Kona on my stress fracture) In a way I sort of left out that part again. I mean, I made it 26.2 miles, but there wasn't a whole lot of running involved. The plus side to that is I wasn't nearly as beat up as I otherwise might have been had I actually run that ridiculous course that my Garmin told me had roughly 91 feet per mile of climbing. You know the benchmark my coach uses to determine if a course is "hilly"? 40 feet per mile. Yikes.

Anyway, the great thing about getting back into it right now is that at the moment, the weather is absolutely fantastic. It's tough in the fall when it's getting cold and might snow and daylight is disappearing fast. Not so this time around. The trees are green, the sun is around a lot and I've even gotten some open water swimming in. I don't think I've ever in my life considered getting into an outdoor body of water in New Hampshire this early in the season. It's nice to have that option.

Of course, as always, getting started again isn't really that fun. I mean, I do want to be out there training, it's just that suddenly everything is at least 10 times harder than before. Anytime I take even the slightest break from running it inevitably feels like an out-of-body experience when I go try it again. Fortunately it doesn't feel as bad as it did the first time, but unfortunately, I'm even slower than I was before, which is something I can't really afford to be. At least I am pretty sure that it should come back quick. Biking is similarly difficult as my heart rate skyrockets without actually going that fast, but as usual, I am not really worried about my biking. It was just nice to get out there and do a sort of long ride when it was bright and sunny and warm. I've missed going out in just a short-sleeved jersey and shorts, and it looks like the weather is going to be good enough in the near future for that to be the norm.

So after Utah, I am feeling pretty good, I'd say. The focus is coming back quick and I'm looking forward to getting past the oh-my-God-I-forgot-how-to-swim/bike/run-in-only-a-week feeling and also hoping to have a good race at the Mooseman olympic in three short weeks. I've always raced the half there, and I'm glad my switching to the shorter distance coincided with the changing of the bike course to what I'm hearing is, well, a whole lot harder. And with all this good weather maybe there won't be all of that complaining about how cold the water is. I swear, after swimming that 2.4 miles in Utah where they apparently lied about the water temperature so as not to scare us (as if telling us it was 60 would suddenly make it feel that way) I am pretty sure I can handle any swim that wasn't deemed unsafe for competitors by the race director. It actually makes me a little curious what the lowest temperature of any swim in any tri was where they actually made people do it. California 70.3 was 53 degrees I believe when I did it in 2006. I'm betting there are some unfortunate souls out there who've had to swim in colder.

Tomorrow begins another week, another attempt at feeling normal again. Plan is to swim open water in the morning. Can't tell you how much more I look forward to swimming when it is in a lake instead of in a pool!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

St. George Race Report

Well, in the post I wrote the day before the race, I hoped that I would cross the finish line at ironman #11, and I did. I also said that I know how to hang in there and survive, and that's pretty much what you can call it. Did things go exactly as planned? Definitely not. But I made it through, and that is a fact I'm proud of. Now, on to the details...

The rest of the afternoon before the race was spent sitting with our feet up, counting down to the end of the day and snacking on pretzels and such. The entire QT2 team had dinner together around 7, pasta, sauce and a bit of chicken. I know the night before an Ironman is not the best choice of nights to skip dinner, but I just couldn't take anymore food. I'd had it. Also, I'd never eaten that late the night before the race, and I decided that it was not a good time to start. I really doubt that had anything to do with my race performance, as I'm sure I had gotten enough fuel throughout the day.

After dinner, we headed back to our rooms and were in bed before the sun went down. It was probably the most restless night of sleep I've had before an Ironman in quite a while. I wasn't really nervous or thinking too much about it, I just didn't sleep well. It took me a while to fall asleep in spite of being so tired, and I think I was awake from about 2:00 on. I guess that's not so bad when the wake-up call is 3:30.

I was up and almost immediately shoving that applesauce down my throat. I'm pretty sure that at least two or three times I thought maybe I might have to throw up, which further validates my choice to skip dinner. Normally on race morning I am within walking distance of transition and not in any real rush. This time, we had to drive to the finish line and catch a bus to the start line, and the buses ran from 4:30 to 5:30. It seemed to me that an hour is a scary-short amount of time to bus 2000 athletes from one location to another, so we wisely opted to get there as early as possible. This had us in the car at 4 and at our awesome spot in the parking garage by 4:20 and on one of the first buses.

The ride from T2 to T1 seemed to take an eternity as we sat in the very back row of the school bus. At least it made airplanes seem like they had a lot of leg room. I must say, the whole time I was thinking about how I was never going to do that race again and I hadn't even started yet. I didn't like the logistics of two transitions and I missed having the race in a town with one central location where everyone is. Anyway, we made it down to the transition around 5am and found some porta-potties without lines and used them immediately. I got my tires pumped, set up my bike and then got in line for the porta-potties again.

The morning was chilly, but it didn't feel quite as cold as some of the other mornings I'd been there already. I still could've used another layer of clothes, though. I sat around with Kevin while we waited until it was time to put on the wetsuits. It's not fun when it's cold out to finally have to shed the outer layers and put on the wetsuit, but it has to happen sometime. The sun was finally coming up, and if nothing else, the sky was completely clear. Stars were replaced with blue sky, and it was getting close to time.

We ditched the dry clothes bags and I was immediately thinking about how nice it was going to be at the end of the day to get that bag back. Although I've done enough of these to know that even though it is an incredibly long day, it is always over much quicker than you'd think (except maybe for miles 18-26 on the run, and boy did I prove that one right later on!)

When there was nothing left to do, we headed down for the water and ran into Trent, who we had lost a while ago. The most exciting thing that morning was the 4-wheeler in the parking lot by the water that was oozing an incredible amount of smoke even though they had turned the key off. I thought maybe we'd all blow up before we even made it to the water, but they finally got it turned off.

The mass of athletes made their way to the chilly shoreline where I'd get to find out if the water would feel as cold or even worse than it had the few days before when we'd gone in. At that point, we didn't have much of a choice. I waded into the water and - graphic details here - immediately relieved myself, at least leaving the inside of my wetsuit toasty warm compared to the icy water. As far as water temperatures, I have heard all sorts of guesses. The warmest I think I heard was 61. I'd be amazed if it was that warm. Maybe right at the shoreline, but 61º water doesn't make my face hurt like that. My guess is maybe 57º, especially out in the open water where it felt even colder.

So I swam out toward the start line. I had been told by my coach to line up right up towards the front and in the middle. In Lake Placid, the start area is so small that there is barely enough room to even tread water while you wait for the cannon to fire, so you can only imagine what happens when everyone turns horizontal and starts trying to swim. This time, I actually wondered if I was in the right place because so few people were around. I got right up towards the front and looked around, and there just weren't a whole lot of people there. When I looked on shore, I saw why: probably half the field hadn't even gotten in the water yet. I don't know if it was because they were afraid of the cold or if they just didn't realize how close we were to the start, but nobody seemed to be in much of a rush. I heard the pros didn't get in until there were 3 minutes to go, which is very unusual. I saw one guy get into the water with a shorty wetsuit, which is no arms and no legs. I'd really like to know if he survived.

I saw Michelle and Lauren who I hadn't seen at all that morning, and we were all just about ready to go. As I swam to the start, I forced myself to put my face in the water, as that was the worst problem on my practice swim a few days before. It stung, but it didn't seem quite as bad. My hands and feet weren't too bad as we waited, and my body was nice and warm thanks to the Blue Seventy.

Without warning, the cannon fired, and it was time to start my 12th Ironman race.

My first thoughts were, "Wow, I'm actually swimming and not getting beaten up at all!" In Kona last October, it was like a wrestling match at every buoy. In Lake Placid, I think I swam nearly a mile before I wasn't worried that I was going to drown because people were swimming over me so much. This was just amazing. I don't know if it was a more wide open start area or if it was the fact that I'm pretty sure at least 30% of the field was still on the shore when the cannon went off, but it was so nice to actually be swimming an ironman swim instead of just trying not to drown.

I knew the water was cold, but it wasn't painful and at least with water that cold it sure feels nice and clean. No bacteria can survive that. We swam along the shore mostly out to the first turn buoy, roughly 1000 yards out. Things got a bit rough there, but not too bad. The biggest problem there was that we turned directly into the sun and for a while I had no clue where I was supposed to go. I just followed the flailing arms in front of me. Unfortunately, after a couple of hundred yards it became apparent that the people I'd been following took the turn too sharply, and we had to head back over a bit in the other direction to get back on course. At least from that point on I was able to follow the buoys... mostly, at least.

It was strange, with the way the swim was set up and the fact that we couldn't really see the set-up prior to race day, we had no concept of how far we'd gone or whether or not we were close to halfway or whatever. In Placid it's two loops, out-and-back so it's obvious. In Kona and Arizona it was out-and-back so it was obvious. In St. George, we got in the water in one place, swam out and around some huge rocks we couldn't see the other side of, and then got out of the water in a completely different place. I had no idea how far I'd gone at any one point, and the fact that I had no watch on didn't help much either. All I could do was put my head down and swim and try not to mix up the orange and yellow swim caps with the orange and yellow buoys.

At one point, I could've sworn the swim was never going to end. We were on a long stretch, following yellow buoy after yellow buoy and all I wanted was to finally find the red buoy that meant we were going to turn to shore, but it never came. I just kept on almost running into the person in front of me who thought it was a good idea to frog kick every time they went to sight. Do you have any idea how much one of those kicks hurts when it connects with your nose? Fortunately for me, it only grazed, but I tried to find other feet to follow.

After a while of thinking the water wasn't so bad I started to notice that I was losing feeling in my feet. Fortunately, my hands were always ok, but the feet were goners. And at some point on the endless stretch of yellow buoys, my entire body started to feel cold. That's when I knew I'd be in trouble if that swim didn't end awfully soon. Finally, the red buoy appeared, and I swam as hard as I could to get out of that frigid water. I tried to judge how well I was doing by how many people were around, but I really had no idea, so I just kept on moving.

FINALLY, I reached the boat ramp and stood on the useless, icy stumps that were my feet and ran up to get my bag. The time on the clock said 1:24. What?!?!?! Oh, wait, that must be the pro time since they started 15 minutes before us. Still, somehow I was able to do the math and figure out that meant a 1:09 for me, which is a few minutes slower than I normally go. I decided not to worry about it since with a first-time race you never know how accurate the course is, so maybe that was better than I thought it was.

I grabbed my stuff and headed for the incredibly crowded women's change tent. I had to run across the pavement with gravel on it, which I knew hurt to walk on earlier, but I couldn't feel a thing with my feet, so that turned out to be a good thing. That transition took me longer than almost any I'd ever done before since there were so many clothes. I had never worn socks before on an Ironman bike ride, but this time, I decided I would just have to. Except when I put them on I couldn't tell if my toes were all curled under since everything was numb. I also put on arm warmers and gloves, other accessories I've never added for one of these races. I swear, in all of my preparation for this race, hypothermia was never something I thought I'd have to consider. The only other time I've ever taken so long in transition was California 70.3 in '06 when I actually took the time to put on tights, a long-sleeved jersey, a skull cap and gloves.

After what seemed like forever, I headed out to grab my bike. At that point I decided I'd probably had an ok swim since there appeared to be a ton of bikes still left in transition. The sun was bright and at least I wasn't cold anymore. Now it was time for what is usually my favorite part of the race: the bike.

As you move through each part of the race, I always find it to be a series of great relief. First, when you get on the bike after swimming for so long, it's a great relief that you can now see where you're going and get to breathe whenever you want. Then, when you get off the bike and onto the run, it's a great relief that you can no longer crash or flat and all you have to do is keep moving forward because the only thing that can stop you now is you.

The bike course began with a climb up and out of the Sand Hollow Park area to where we would begin the first of two 45-ish mile loops. Much of this first 20+ mile stretch was uphill, but of course after tapering for so long it felt easy. I was trying incredibly hard to be patient at that point, because I knew I could ride a lot harder, but I also knew that there was a whole lot of racing to do. Every time people rode past me I pictured my coach's face as he would tell me, "be patient!" So that's what I kept saying to myself. Patience.

My patience wore thin as on a couple of the climbs my chain was skipping in my easiest gears. I knew I'd need those gears an awful lot for the rest of the race, so I decided to pull over and adjust the rear deraillieur so hopefully it wouldn't happen again. I didn't eliminate it completely, but I did make it better than it was, and probably only lost about 20 seconds for the stop before I was off again.

I think I was waiting for some obvious moment when we'd be finished with the first part of the course before starting the initial loops, but it never happened. I did notice at one point that we were on the run course because I'd look back and see signs for mile 5 or whatever on the side of the road and I immediately knew I'd be in trouble by then, but I still had a lot of biking to do. About 25 miles in I decided I must be on the loop.

At that point, I'm going to admit I was having a lot of fun. The course was simply gorgeous, and there's something about riding a course for the first time that makes it go by a whole lot faster. At times there was a headwind, but I think we got really lucky that it wasn't a whole lot worse than it wound up being. The road was rough for long stretches, and that sure got annoying after a while, but nothing we could do about that. Somewhere around mile 30 I got passed by Mark, who had crashed but was moving well. And right after that I wound up passing Trent who seemed to be having fun but told me he was going to explode because he had to go to the bathroom so badly. He hasn't quite mastered the art of peeing on your bike, so I told him that he should just go ahead and pull over, which I think he did soon after.

It was very early on that I noticed how sparse the field was. There were just never a whole lot of people around. At that point in the course I think I had to deal with about 30 miles of mostly uphill, so I just kept on watching my average speed dropping and worrying about what that meant. Really, I had no idea what to expect in terms of course difficulty, so for someone who usually averages at least 20mph for an Ironman bike ride, to see my speed drop into the 17's made me more than a little nervous.

I concentrated early on drinking, which has been an issue for me in the past. Since I had done my sweat test I don't think I've gotten down everything I was supposed to drink. And for those of you who have never done this, I know you think that peeing on your bike is gross, but trust me, it is necessary. My plan calls for 8 bottles, and I was told to make sure I peed twice. We were also concerned though because they decided to change the on-course drink from Gatorade Endurance to regular Gatorade, which is a different kind of sugar and had the possibility of giving me stomach issues due to being overly sweet. It also meant I had to supplement with a salt tab for every bottle I took.

I decided to try and drink plenty early so I would have a harder time falling behind later. I was pretty proud of myself for getting through the first four bottles 50 miles in. Also, my stomach was behaving quite nicely. In fact, I think it was the first time I'd ever gotten down my Powerbars in a race without losing at least a little of them. However, that excitement was overshadowed by the fact that I hit 56 miles, the halfway mark, in 3 hours and 15 minutes. My slowest Ironman bike split ever was 6:03 in my first one when I was so afraid to go too hard that I instead went way too easy. Was I really going to be on my bike for 6-and-a-half hours?

The major hills started coming, and we finally hit a switchback where we did a u-turn and just climbed this wall up a mountain. Looking to my right over the cliff I knew I'd have to stay alert or risk plunging down to where I could see the other bikers coming in the opposite direction far below. The bikes were still incredibly spread out. I was trying to figure out if I was all by myself because I was too fast or because I was too slow. It was impossible to tell because there were no out-and-backs.

I finally approached the top of the mountain, the highest point on the course at about 4600'. That was where I was supposed to be nearly frozen, but I was doing ok with the sun still shining down. It did take until about 50 miles in before I could feel my feet, though. Then the fun part: the descent! That was a lot of fun, and did wonders for my average speed. The fact of the matter is, because the course isn't an even double loop, but rather you ride the first part up from the reservoir, the second half of the ride has more than half of the descending. The scary thing was, by the time I got to the top I was averaging about 16.8mph! I needed to make up some serious time.

The descent was somewhat like Lake Placid, except it was much more wide open so there was never a point where I felt like I was nervous I might not make a turn or something, and there were never many people around. I simply tucked and let it roll and it was a blast. Once or twice there was a scary crosswind, but they were way too brief to slow me down at all. I haven't checked my max speed for the ride yet, but I'm sure it was plenty fast, and for the last 12 miles of each loop I was typically riding 35+mph with little effort. I gained 1.5mph in average speed after that last stretch.

Somehow without me noticing, I was on the second loop. Again, there was no definitive spot like there usually is in other races, I just suddenly noticed that I was riding the same road again that I had before. The wind had picked up, and I was warm enough that I took off my gloves and shoved them in my jersey. There were fewer and fewer people around me, and it was very early on that I started catching people on their first loop. I definitely felt bad for those people. This is not a course you want to do if you are not a strong biker, and the word is that they have never had so many people miss a bike cutoff before.

I kept on drinking, but I still hadn't peed. That is not a good thing. I was nervous about drinking more though for fear it would upset my stomach, which at that point felt great. I decided to just stick with the plan and hope that at some point I'd finally be hydrated enough. At least I still felt ok.

Since I had no way of seeing where I stood in the race, my usual gauge is to see how many women are biking around me. With the exception of a few I'd lapped, I realized it had been an awfully long time since I had seen any. A couple of guys with long hair, but that was it. So around mile 80 or so, it started to become clear that in spite of my relatively slow average speed, I was probably doing pretty well within the race. I wasn't getting passed at all, and still feeling pretty good. The penalty tents were always completely empty whenever I went by, and for good reason. Let me tell you, if you want to do a race where not once do you sit up and get annoyed that other people are drafting, this is definitely it.

I approached the bigger hills before the switchback and the chain skipping had returned. I tried to tolerate it, but it got to the point where I literally couldn't make a quarter-turn of the pedals without it skipping, so I was forced to pull over in the middle of the hill to adjust the deraillieur again. It meant when I started up again I had to ride sideways first, but at least I could turn the pedals and make progress. Soon after that we were back on the wall again, and the good news was that it wasn't killing me to climb it again, and I knew that once I got to the top it was almost over.

I was getting through my nutrition and using that as sort of a countdown. The thing is, my nutrition plan assumes a ride of 5:30, which meant my last Powergel was taken at 5 hours. I was on pace for maybe 6 hours if I was lucky. I probably should've taken another gel, but, well, I didn't. Anyway, I reached the top of the world again where it was much warmer this time around, and then I knew all I had to do was ride down to the finish nice and fast. I flew down that hill once again, hoping that not pedaling might freshen up my legs a bit, but that didn't seem to be the case.

I didn't know what to look for at the end, especially since we hadn't really seen T2 before as it was in a different place. We went down a nice hill and unfortunately had to ride this little bike path thing for the second time that involved a lot of sharp turns and slowing down before we turned and headed back up this hill we had just come down. This guy rode by me and said, "I thought we were done going up these hills!" You said it. That last one was sneaky. But we made a right turn and headed down towards the finish.

I always take my feet out of my bike shoes towards the end, but this time I didn't really know when the best time to do that might be. So the right one came off way too early, but it wasn't really a big deal since the rest actually was downhill. The left one came out and finally there was the end of the bike course. I knew I hit it in just over 6 hours, the second-slowest time I've ever ridden in my 12 Ironman races, but judging by the very few people I saw on the run course, I thought maybe in this case, at this race, it was probably an adequate split.

I handed my bike off to the volunteer, got my bag handed to me by a volunteer and headed for the change tent. T2 for me is much nicer than T1. There was not another soul in there and I had all of the volunteers to myself. Off with arm warmers, helmet, change the socks, put on the visor and grab the nutrition and I was out of there. I made a pit stop at the sunscreen table where I had literally 5 awesome volunteers to make sure I didn't get burned. One for each limb and one for my face. Seriously, the volunteers at this race were absolutely phenomenal. The whole town seemed so excited about the race, and as a participant, it was greatly appreciated.

Unfortunately, then it was time to run. Literally the first 3 miles of the run are uphill. My legs were not liking that, but I just tried to keep on moving forward while not pushing too much and blowing it way too early in the marathon. I tried to drink a lot at the first aid station as I still hadn't peed and my mouth was feeling foamy. I knew I wasn't moving fast, and I knew that lots of people were running by me already, but I also knew that there were already lots of people walking, and maybe if I hung on long enough, I'd be ok.

In a word, the run course was brutal. It was either up or down, never flat. In short, it is exactly like the long runs I do all the time by my parents lake house, except instead of trees and lake, there is desert and rock. I started to notice how hot it was and I made use of the sponges and dumping water on my head. I choked down my Clif Bloks without chewing because my sugar-coated teeth were screaming at me. In fact, the only times during the race when my stomach bothered me were the 30 seconds after each of the 12 Clif Bloks I swallowed when I thought I might throw up the gelatinous cubes, but fortunately never did.

I kept trying to run up and down, but eventually settled for walking some of the uphills because honestly it just seemed faster. The bad news was that each of these uphills was at least half a mile long, and that is a lot of walking. I saw some of my teammates up front doing well, Cait, Tim, Jesse, Pat and Mark. Everyone looked strong. Unfortunately, I'd prove to be the weak link.

The course is two out-and-backs of about 6.5 miles each, so lots of chances to see people. Somewhere around when I was coming back the first time and actually still running, Paula Newby-Fraser rode by as the mountain bike escort for race leader Heather Wurtele. Paula gave me a "good job" (I was actually running at the time, uphill no less) and I cheered on Heather. Of course I secretly wanted my awesome teammate Cait to win, but I was just trying to be nice. Heather was in my age group once upon a time. In fact, in 2006 she finished Kona about 10 seconds in front of me. She beats me by a lot more now. She's also one of the few women out there who is actually taller than I am.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, I guess at about mile 7. Gee, only like 19 miles to go. I tried to stay steady, walking the aid stations to drink a lot and obviously not catch up at all in that regard, running some, just trying to move forward. At some point I realized that I wasn't sweaty at all, but I couldn't figure out if it was because the air was so dry or if it was because I literally wasn't sweating. For someone who leaves a lake behind after a bike trainer ride, it is not normal that I am not sweaty. I saw Trent and Keith coming the other way pretty close to each other, both looking good. I felt somewhat responsible for putting Trent through that hell, so I was glad to see him moving along well!

Still missing at that point were Kevin, Michelle and Lauren, and I was hoping to see them soon. I saw Kevin coming back the other way as I approached the turn for the second loop, and he had a smile on his face which was definitely a good sign. He can't stand cold water, so I had been worried that the water might do him in. But the first thing he said to me was, "I swam 1:12!" He was very excited about that, since if he came in under 1:20 he was going to be happy.

As I made the turn at halfway, I still hadn't seen Michelle. I learned later that I should've been looking on the sidelines since she called it a day on the swim. The cold got to her too much. I'm happy to say she will get another chance at Lake Placid in a few months, and very happy that she hadn't crashed on the bike or done any real damage.

The second loop began with another 3 miles of uphill. I don't know exactly what happened in there, but I started walking. And soon after that, I decided that walking was as good as it was going to get for the rest of the race. I can't really pinpoint exactly what the problem was. I suppose I could blame dehydration, going too hard on the bike, who knows? I just know that I decided to walk. I also decided that I was not going to get upset about it. I'd come too far, and just finishing that brutal race would be an accomplishment. A few years ago I walked an entire loop of the Timberman course, 6.5 miles, and I actually cried during part of it. It wasn't pleasant. So this time, I just wanted to go for a 13.1 mile walk and not spend the whole time feeling sorry for myself. And it was a lot more pleasant that way.

Trent and Keith had passed me, and I was so happy to see how well Trent was doing. I saw some of my teammates nearing the finish and tried to assure them that I was fine and I'd finish eventually. The biggest problem at that point was that since I was walking, it was taking me close to 20 minutes to get to the next aid station, so by the time I got there I was incredibly thirsty and drank at least 4 cups of fluid at each one.

Kevin was next to pass me, and I was glad to see him still looking strong and actually looking happy to be there. I mean, I'm sure he'd have preferred it if he were done already, but the fact that he didn't hate every minute of it was a very good thing for him. As I approached the last turn the sun was behind clouds and the winds had picked up, and suddenly I found myself getting awfully cold again. Nothing I could do at that point, though. It also didn't feel too terrible to be walking since so many others were doing the same thing. The only problem is that I am apparently a very slow walker, since all of the other people walking were kicking my ass in that department.

Once or twice I tried to run a little bit, but it only took like 6 steps to realize what a bad idea that was. And it became apparent that I was going to have to bounce back quick after this race and redeem myself, so why beat myself up? The last one to pass me was Lauren, who was also running every time I saw her, equally amazing since she ran the Boston marathon in 3:37 just two weeks ago. Apparently she made the rest of my teammates nervous at the finish since she thought she passed me with only 4 miles to go, but it was definitely at least 5.

I was thinking a lot about how at every other one of those races I'd done I would've long since been done. Yeah, it kind of sucked, but I guess it's just something a lot of us have to experience after doing so many. And there was no way I was going to stop. I did get one of the support vehicles on the course slow down around mile 22 and ask me, "Ma'am, are you all right?" Did I really look that bad? "Yeah, I'm fine." At least he didn't take much convincing.

I also forgot to mention that more than a few men earlier on had run by me and asked, "Are you Molly?"


"Wow, nice ride!"

"Thanks, but as you can see, it came at a price!"

Yes, compliments on a good bike ride from strangers does nothing to save you in the marathon.

The miles ticked by incredibly slowly. It was getting colder, and I could feel some nasty blisters on the heels of my feet that wouldn't let me walk normally anymore. I was still choking down Clif Bloks every two miles for no apparent reason and drinking as much as humanly possible at each aid station as well as adding some chicken broth and pretzels to the mix. Somehow I actually made it to mile 24, which is a milestone because that is the last Clif Blok, and the rest is downhill. Not that it matters a whole lot when you're walking. Not long after that I felt both blisters go on the heels, which made the last bit so much more pleasant.

I guess the thing that made me feel better was that even though I was so far behind where I normally am, there were still a ton of people just heading out for their second loop. In fact, it was so late in the race that I was amazed they were letting people start their second loops at all. There were glow sticks for them, but none for me. Fortunately the sun wouldn't set until about 8:45, because in probably any other ironman race on the circuit I'd have been finishing in the dark.

Mile 25. Almost there. Just have to walk 1.2 little more miles. A half-ironman swim. No problem. 13+ hours into the race and the volunteers were still super enthusiastic, and even more so when I'd tell them I was on my last lap. That last little stretch had taken forever. I could finally hear Mike Reilly calling people in. A few people asked me to come run with them, but it just wasn't going to happen. Actually, the way the course was set up we could hear the finish line from the top of the mountain at mile 21, which was torture. But it would soon be my finish line, too.

It was dark by then, but there was plenty of light at the finish. The spectators were still in the bleachers, yelling and screaming. Somehow I picked it up to an incredibly slow jog to come across the finish line and heard my name announced. I had finished in about 13:45, 0ver two hours slower than I'd ever gone in an Ironman. My marathon time was over 6 hours. Am I still proud of finishing? Absolutely.

My finish line volunteer wrapped me in a foil blanket and pretty much hugged me while we walked, so proud of what I'd done. She asked how many that was for me, and I told her I just finished my 11th. I didn't mention how much slower it was, and I am just now realizing that I spent more time on the run course than the bike course. That is never a good thing. Very soon after that I suddenly saw Jesse and Cait and was surprised that anyone was actually still there. Of course, someone had to give me a ride back to the condo. Sorry for being so late, guys. Lauren had told Jesse that I was probably dehydrated, but we bypassed the medical tent since I didn't really feel that bad. I was just bone dry. I don't think I've ever finished a race with a dry uniform on.

I grabbed a slice of terrible pizza and choked it down just to get some real food in me, not that I was hungry in the slightest. We got my stuff and I went to change so we could drive back and I could take a much-needed shower. The warm water felt so nice I was completely torn between getting out and being dry or just staying in there forever. Eventually I made my way out and we went to Denny's for some post-race grub. I had a turkey club and some fries, and only got some of it down. I know, you'd think I'd be starving after all of that, but it takes the stomach a little while to get back to normal. I couldn't believe it when I checked my watch after we ate and realized it was almost midnight. Usually I'm done with dinner after a race at like 9. I have to remember how to finish faster. Like I said though, finishing is still a good thing.

I didn't sleep much that night, as is usually the case. In fact, since I had nothing better to do, I was up and packing my bike at 5am just to get it out of the way. Before 7 Kevin, Lauren, Michelle and I headed down to the merchandise tent to check out the finisher stuff and so Kevin could buy shirts for his kids. We made it back just in time for the much anticipated QT2 cereal party. The idea was that everyone was supposed to bring a box of cereal - preferably one loaded with sugar - and a bag of candy and we could have our own cereal buffet.

Frosted Flakes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Comb, Fruity Pebbles, Cupcake flavored Fruity Pebbles (yes, those exist) Reese's Puffs, Cinnamon Life, Apple Jacks, Golden Grahams, Frosted Mini Wheats, Cracklin' Oat Bran, Chocolate Cheerios, Cookie Crisp and probably a few others I can't quite remember. Personally, I skipped most of the candy as a cereal topping although I did eat some later, but it was a nice post-IM breakfast and a great idea by Cait.

After that, we pretty much just packed up our stuff and headed down to the awards and the Kona roll-down. Pat got a slot since he came in first in his age group, Jesse qualified but didn't need a slot. Cait got screwed out of one due to the new 5% rule even though she came in third. Of course I was nowhere close, but it never hurts to go, just in case. The awards were amazingly quiet. I swear, most of the time there are giant lines and no room at the tables, but there was plenty of room there. I don't know if everyone just got out of town or what. It was amazing though to see how much the race meant to the locals. It makes me feel kind of bad that so far almost nobody has signed up for next year as far as I can tell. I'm sure it will fill eventually though.

After all of that, we were off to Vegas for a few days. The great thing is that by crossing time zones, we made it 120 miles in like 30 minutes. After a futile attempt at finding an In&Out Burger that didn't actually exist as someone's iPhone thought it did, we instead went and checked into our room at the Mirage. I hated having to walk through smoky casinos to get to my room, but the room itself was quite nice and overlooking our awesome pool. We did finally find an IN&Out Burger that actually did exist and I had my first hamburger in three years. The last one was after IMAZ at an In&Out in Tempe. We hit up Serendipity 3 for some ice cream and unfortunately I was too tired to do much of anything at that point. Trent and Kevin went to see a show at 10 and Lauren and Michelle went out for some drinks. My swollen legs wouldn't let me be on my feet any longer.

Lauren left early the next morning and the rest of us spent some time by the pool before getting a little tired of that. Michelle left for the airport soon after, and the rest of us went off to find some lunch. We wanted a buffet, but Kevin wanted to go to the Venecian, which is apparently the only hotel in Vegas without a buffet, so we ate in their food court instead. Not long after that we crashed hard for an afternoon nap. I swear, going to Las Vegas after an Ironman is probably not the best strategy. However, you could definitely see other participants everywhere, so we were not the only ones.

For our last meal we went to the buffet at the Bellagio, where we seemed to arrive at just the right time because there was no line when we got in, but a huge one when we were leaving. The food was pretty good, although with me not being a seafood person, I probably didn't quite get my money's worth, but it was tasty anyway and I managed not to stuff myself to the point of feeling ill. We walked around a bit afterward, but my legs were so swollen from the race I could hardly stand it anymore and I simply had to go back to the room and put my feet up. It's too bad because for once I was actually awake enough to stay up, but I'd've had to have been pushed around on a stretcher or something. Besides, Vegas isn't really my thing. It was fun, but I don't gamble and I can't stand cigarette smoke, so you can imagine how out of my element I was.

So that was our Vegas vacation. The next morning we were a little late checking in for our flight because they put us in the slowest moving line I've ever been in, but we made the flight and all but one of Trent's bags made it to Manchester with us. I think he has it back by now. Now I've just been catching up on sleep and enjoying a bit of rest before it's time to get back at it again.

So that was my St. George adventure. Was it my worst race to date? Yep. But I wouldn't say it's the one I was the most disappointed in. We can always choose how we react to things, and I'm choosing not to be upset about it. I could use it as an excuse to quit the sport for good. I'm not going to. I could also use it as motivation to go out and have an incredible race next time, and I think that's the approach I'd rather take.

Only problem now is: which race? Somehow, some way, I'd like to get into Lake Placid. If anyone knows any way at this point for me to do that, please let me know. That race is like coming home for me. I was ok with missing out on it if I had a good race in St. George, but I can't just let it pass me by when there is a chance for vengeance. I will be back. I will complete a race in which I had to pee in my shoes a few times. And I will not finish in the dark again.

Congratulations to my teammates for all having great races: Jesse, another great finish. Pat, 4th amateur and on his way to Kona again. Tim and Keith, more great races. Cait for an amazing 3rd place and yet another amazing run on an obscenely hard course. Mark for a great finish on your second IM. Lauren for running her second marathon in less than 2 weeks. And of course Kevin and Trent for finishing their first 140.6. Seriously guys, any other IM you do, including Lake Placid, will be a walk in the park after that one! And thanks for being great roommates in Vegas.

And again, if anyone has any idea how to get me into Lake Placid, please let me know!