Friday, May 25, 2012

Texas to New Hampshire Drive Report

What could be more fun immediately following an Ironman than hopping in the car and driving almost 1900 miles?  Oh, that's right, just about anything.  But, well, unfortunately I had to get my car and my stuff home somehow.  Immediately after the race I had some really awesome finish line catchers who helped me over to the food area and even got me a chicken burrito and made sure I was all right.  It was very strange to finish and not know anyone anywhere nearby, but fortunately Michelle finished a couple of minutes after me so I wasn't alone for long. 

We eventually got cleaned up after lots of walking back and forth to get the bikes and bags and find the cars and jump start their car because the lights were left on and by about 8:30 or 9:00 we were back in town to try and find a celebratory meal.  Annoyingly, after an Ironman even though you'd think you'd be starving and you've been dreaming about that post-race meal for months, usually your stomach isn't really able to handle much.  After some wandering around, Michelle, Jen and I found ourselves at a nice outdoor table at Tommy Bahamas where I had half a grilled chicken sandwich and a few fries before calling it quits.  Not even a thought about dessert. 

I got back to my room a bit before midnight and didn't bother trying to go to sleep until 1:00 because I knew it would be a futile exercise.  I may or may not have fallen asleep somewhere in there, I really don't know.  I do know that when I rolled over and looked at the clock it was 5:30 and I decided to start packing up my stuff.  I definitely felt sore, but it wasn't quite the crippling post-Ironman soreness I've often experienced.  Probably because of all of those walk breaks and not running that fast.  The blisters were horrendous, however. 

I met Michelle and Jen for breakfast at their hotel where I still wasn't really feeling like eating much, which was a bit disappointing, but oh, well.  I then finally packed everything up and went to the roll down where almost no slots rolled down and certainly not close enough to my sixth in my age group and then headed over to the awards to hang out with some of my award winning teammates.  But before that all ended I decided I should hit the road and begin my long, long, long drive back home.  I wanted to get as many hours as I could stand in that first day so I wouldn't have as much left to go later. 

That first five hours in the car weren't too terrible.  I made it out of Texas and through almost all of Louisiana.  I never, ever want to drive through Louisiana again.  I drove through it last year, then to and from Galveston and then to and from The Woodlands and there is just something about that stretch through that state that is so much worse than anywhere else.  Somehow, I wasn't able to really sleep that night, either.  I expected that somewhere in the middle of my day of driving I'd be ready to fall asleep but somehow that never happened. 

I hit the road at 6am and for some reason I had decided in my head based on almost nothing at all that I was not going to stop until I made it to Pennsylvania.  I had found online a town not that far over the border that had plenty of hotels and that became my goal.  A mere 1075 miles away from where I had stayed in Louisiana.  What was I thinking?  Oh, that's right, I was thinking that it would leave a lot less for the last day, which wound up being a good thing but made that day incredibly painful. 

Mississippi passed quickly since just about nobody drives through it.  Alabama had some slower spots but once I got north of Birmingham it was like being in the middle of nowhere.  At one point for twenty miles the interstate was narrowed to one lane going both ways and traffic was not slowed at all.  I made it to Georgia and my own time zone for the first time in a very long time and fortunately was in and out of there quick since the road conditions were awful.  That must be why there was no sign welcoming me to Georgia, because they didn't want anyone to know how poorly they took care of their roads.

Then I was in Tennessee for the first time in my life.  Not that I got to see much of it.  Although they do love to point out constantly how many highway fatalities there have been this year.  Somewhere around Knoxville was where some on and off rain started.  And eventually I made it to Virginia.  Now, although in order to get to Pennsylvania I still would have to pass through both West Virginia and Maryland, those states were so short that the majority of my drive was in Virginia, which I thought was never going to end.  Somewhere down there was where I saw the cheapest gas of the trip, $3.17 a gallon as compared to the most expensive, I believe $4.26 off the Merritt Parkway. 

I wasn't really indulging on too much road food, either, simply because I wasn't that hungry.  Okay, so most of the drive that day was fueled by little powdered doughnuts, but my big "splurge" meal was a BBQ chicken sub from Subway.  I don't even like Subway very much but that was what they had there, so that was what I'd be eating.  I actually didn't even have dinner on the road because by the time I'd make it to my hotels simply lying down was way more important to me than food.  Torrential rain started hitting through the state, off and on and off and on and causing traffic to slow way down.  Like I needed that.  You could see it coming from far away, too, the menacingly dark clouds off in the distance and the occasional lightning.  I kept thinking I'd gotten through it only to be slammed with more rain and slowed down once again, wondering if I'd ever make it out of that stupid state. 

I guess the only up side was that I saw a double rainbow all the way across the sky.  And I was reminded of driving that same stretch of highway with some friends after my freshman year in college when we took a road trip to Miami and we played the cow game.  That means each side of the car is a team, and you count the cows on your side and keep adding them up and if you pass a church your cow total doubles, but if you pass a cemetery all of your cows die and you have to start over.  There were definitely a lot of cows on that stretch, and if memory serves, my team made it to over 300,000 cows before we lost them all. 

Anyway, finally I survived all the way to West Virginia, which I wasn't in for too long before spending even less time in Maryland.  And fourteen hours and forty-five minutes after I'd left that morning and having lost an hour thanks to crossing time zones, I pulled up to the hotel in Chambersburg, PA.  My whole body was shaking, and you can imagine my legs weren't feeling too great after that whole Ironman thing and having spent all day sitting up in the car.  I actually managed to prop my non-driving foot up on the dashboard, but even in spite of that and the compression socks my feet were unbelievably swollen. 

I slept fairly well that night but was up way too early thanks to the fact that the person who had been in my room last set the alarm clock for 5am and left it on and I'd forgotten to make sure that nothing was going to wake me up.  At least breakfast started at 6 and I had a real meal before getting on the road. 

450 miles to go.  It rained some more, although at least it wasn't too cold.  The traffic was more annoying and I missed the 75mph speed limits of the south but at least I was making progress.  And at least I didn't have to get out of the car in New Jersey.  Over the Tapan Zee Bridge and onto all of those annoying highways to get around New York City.  There was an incredible back-up at one point thanks to pretty much absolutely nothing.  Yes, one car pulled off the side of the road doing nothing, but just in case let's all come to a complete stop before we move on so that traffic can be backed up for a mile. 

Then my GPS took me to the Merritt Parkway because for some reason it loves that road, even though I do not.  Oddly, it doesn't love it when I'm driving south.  In the rain it's even more fun to drive on, as well as when you're really hungry and you know that you're not going to be passing anything resembling real food for miles.  But just like the rest of the trip, I got through it and then was on to interstates I knew and trusted and I also knew I was almost home.  That day was the day I thought I was going to fall asleep at the wheel.  So much so that even when I didn't need any more gas with ninety minutes to go I stopped in Massachusetts to get out of the car and actually sit down and have something to eat in an effort to wake myself up just as much as finally eat some real food. 

Luckily, that worked and got me through the rest and seven hours from when I'd left, I was home!  Walking still wasn't fun, but at least I survived.  I have to say, I don't think I'm going to be planning any more trips that require me driving hundreds and hundreds of miles by myself.  The novelty has certainly worn off.  So New Hampshire might have to get used to having me around a lot.  And, fortunately, sleep has been made up for.  And my bed is just as nice as I remember. 

So, what's next?  Well, hopefully decisions will be made over the next couple of days, but it should be fun, whatever it is.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ironman Texas Race Report

It has been a long time since I had an Ironman race that I felt sincerely satisfied with.  In fact, when I think about it, it's been just shy of three years.  Honestly it seems crazy that I've even been doing these for three years, even though I did my first in 2004, a staggering eight years ago.  Anyway, the point is, it's been a long time coming and it makes me even more excited for whatever happens next.  But let's get down to it...

I actually slept pretty well the night before the race.  I was on my hotel bed with my feet up from about noon until I got up the next morning, so that helped.  I turned out the lights at 8:30 and fell asleep pretty quick since I was so tired.  I remember waking up at about two or so and rolling back over only to be awakened by my alarm clock at 3:30 for breakfast.  Blech.  I downed the applesauce pretty quick, intermittently sprinkling my protein powder in there to get that down as well.  After quickly eating the banana and chugging my bottle of Powerbar Perform I snuggled back down into my bed after resetting my alarm for 4:30. 

I definitely did not fall back asleep before the beeping went off again.  I immediately turned the alarm off - as a side note, always make sure to turn those alarms off on race morning once you've used them because you do not want them going off the morning after the race!  I got up and used the bathroom and just kind of milled around a bit before putting on my awesome Pearl Izumi race kit - seriously, the thing is magical and I had zero chafing! - added sunscreen and some Body Glide to the important places and then headed down to the car to drive the four miles to the race site.

The race guide did a staggeringly bad job of telling us where things were.  I mean, there were vague mentions of locations, such as: "Waterway parking lot."  How exactly we were supposed to know where that was located was anyone's guess.  It might have been nice to have, say, an address or at least a cross street in there.  Same goes for transition and the mention of race morning parking just said something about garages off of Lake Robbins Drive.  There are lots of garages off that street, and I wound up parking in the first one I saw, not knowing I probably could've gotten a lot closer.  I just know that I've never done an Ironman where it was eerie how quiet the streets were and there was no line of cars waiting to get into town.  I've also never had to pay for parking at one of these things before, but $5 wasn't that terrible. 

I grabbed my bag with my swim stuff and headed down to transition, which was way too long of a walk.  I wasted no time in there, stopping only to put bottles on my bike, make sure the tires were pumped and put it in a good gear to start.  I was at my bike for a grand total of about ninety seconds before heading to double check my gear bags.  I added a banana to my run bag and then turned on my Garmin in the bike bag to the multisport mode and again, quickly hit the road.  Because now we had to walk another mile down to the swim start.  Seriously, this race was more like 142.3 or something. 

Anyway, after wondering if I might ever see the water I'd be swimming in, I finally made it down there to get body marked, eating my Powerbar on the way.  At that point there wasn't much to do aside from wait.  Oddly, I didn't see anyone else from the team even though they had to be somewhere.  Instead I just found a nice spot of grass and sat down.  To be honest, there weren't a lot of thoughts going through my head there.  In my past couple of Ironman races it's been more like, "What am I doing here?  I didn't train hard enough.  This is going to be awful."  I didn't know what to expect, but not in the bad way.  It was more just like, let's see how this goes and just do what you need to do. 

Eventually I decided it was time to put on the swim skin, asked a stranger to zip me up and headed toward the water.  Had my Powergel and made my way over to the lake.  It's strange to be starting a race that you really have no idea what you're getting into.  Most other races I do I know the course perfectly and this one was going to be a complete surprise.  I decided to start the swim on the far right so as to avoid spending the first half mile worried that I might actually die from drowning after people tried to swim over me.  Plus, with the nature of that swim course, it is impossible to get off course and you don't lose much time by swimming wide.  I stood in the 80-degree water shivering for a while before swimming up to where I thought might be a good place to start.  It was strange, I wasn't anxious or nervous or anything.  More importantly, I also wasn't thinking about how I'd rather be anywhere else but in that water. 

Suddenly, the cannon fired and we were off.  I went out pretty hard and there was the usual contact right away but it didn't take long at all for me to actually start swimming.  It also didn't take me that long to realize I was swimming way harder than I'd be able to maintain for 2.4 miles because my legs were already burning from kicking, so I tried to settle into a steady rhythm while still maintaining some decent speed.  I was wide enough outside the buoys that I hardly ever bumped into anyone, which was nice.  I was actually surprised when we hit the first turn buoy because it seemed early for that, but I got around that without much issue and started coming back in.  I remained wide right but since we would be taking a right turn into the canal eventually it might have actually made things shorter than if you directly followed the buoys.  Either way, I was still fine and not worried about contact.

The water itself was nice and warm once we got going, although murky which made it hard to see anyone around you.  I am so spoiled by the crystal clear lakes up north.  Eventually we made it to the canal, which is where everyone gets sort of funneled in together which makes things a lot tighter, though aside from two back-to-back kicks to my forehead from the same person, that also wasn't too bad.  I was more concerned that suddenly the water smelled and tasted funny, and in such a way that I had no idea what it reminded me of so I just tried not to think about it.  The water also got really rough in there because with all of those people on such a narrow channel there are waves just bouncing off of the walls and churning things up.  I could feel my legs sinking that late in the race and I missed my wetsuit a little bit, but finally we made a turn and I saw the stairs and was thrilled that it was time to get out.

I exited in 1:11, and I told myself the whole time that I was swimming well and that is my fastest non-wetsuit swim, so I was fine with it.  Would I have liked to have been faster?  Sure, but all in all it wasn't a bad start.  The first transition was pretty quick.  I grabbed my bag and went into the tent where there were a couple of dozen women mobbed around the first bunch of chairs so I ran way down to the end where I had about ten chairs to myself.  A volunteer came to help me out and put my race belt on me while I put on my shoes, and put my nutrition in my back pockets while I dealt with my helmet and glasses.  Seriously, talk about service!  I chugged down about two thirds of a bottle of sports drink to get a head start on the hydration, stopped for another five seconds to get my back and shoulders slathered in sunscreen, and ran up to get my bike.

Oh, the trusty bike.  Well, to be honest, even the trusty bike has been letting me down the past couple of years.  I was a little disappointed with my ride in Galveston in April, so with a course that wasn't as flat as that one, I didn't think I'd suddenly have an amazing ride.  I had a heart rate to target, so that's what I did.  Right away, as usual, I was passing people.  I had a few harder surges early on to get away from people and even from that early on there seemed to be some little groups forming or, my favorite, two guys blasting through - one leading and one just blatantly sucking on his wheel.  It was somewhat crowded, but not too bad.  I tried to find that line between not going too hard but also getting away from groups that were driving me nuts. 

Eventually I instead decided to let a couple of groups go, knowing that we still had, say, 90-something miles to go and I'd probably beat them all eventually.  After we made the turn onto the big highway I got passed by a little group that was all bunched up and I decided to let them go for a couple of minutes and use it as an opportunity to drink.  I was told I'd have to drink fifteen bottles.  Yes, three hundred ounces, so I had some work to do.  Probably a mere two minutes after I let that group go off in front of me I heard the crashing noises, saw the wheels in the air and the people in the back trying not to crash into anyone who was already down.  See, that is just one of the reasons why you shouldn't ride in a pack in these races!  Two people were left on the ground, one male and one female.  I honestly don't know if they finished or not.  Those of us nearby rode by and continued on.  I know that sounds awful and rude, but right across the street were a couple of police officers working an intersection, so it's not like we were leaving them alone.

After that, as you can imagine, things started to spread out a bit more.  I just spent my time drinking like crazy, taking in my gels and Powerbars and trying to make sure my heart rate stayed where it needed to.  As usual for me in these races, the more miles passed the less people there were around me.  I had a few random people ask me where I was from or tell me I was doing a good job.  I had my Garmin set to split every twenty-eight miles.  I did the first in about an hour and twelve minutes.  Wow.  Then I hit halfway in an overall time of 2:28.  Now, that is some pretty easy math to do and at the time I realized, holy crap, that is on pace for under five hours!  I knew that was a bit of a stretch, but it was still a good feeling.  And early on the course was very fast and every turn we made seemed to put the wind at our backs, which I knew wouldn't last forever. 

I didn't know what to expect but I really loved this bike course.  And that's not just because it was fast.  Sure, some of the roads were a bit rough but mostly it was just riding on some very pleasant back roads by farms and stuff.  The course had more hills than I thought but it broke things up nicely.  There were also tons of aid stations, which definitely helped.  As for getting down fifteen bottles, I completely lost count after only about four or five, so I have no clue.  I do know that I never felt dehydrated and my stomach never bothered me.  After sixty miles or so, I was more and more alone.  At mile seventy-four, I passed my first female pro.  Gradually I was passing less and less women until I got to the point where the only people I saw were men, and even then there were hardly any of them.  In fact, at one point late in the ride I got a bit concerned that I took a wrong turn or something because there was not a soul in sight in front of me. 

I knew I had slowed down and the winds had kicked up and that wasn't helping, but it also wasn't quite that demoralizing wind that makes you want to give up and throw your bike on the side of the road.  It just meant you had to use some different gears.  Finally we were approaching the end of the ride and I was definitely ready to get off.  I mean, it was fun and all, but a person can only stand being in a bike saddle for so long.  I took my feet out of my shoes and reached the dismount line before crossing into transition and handing off my bike.  I forgot how nice that was.  I glanced at my Garmin and was amazed that I had set a new Ironman bike PR.  Previously it was a 5:15 I rode in Kona in 2006.  In 2006 I was in some sort of otherworldly place fitness-wise, so it was incredible to beat that by six minutes, finishing in just over 5:09.  I hadn't set a PR in anything since about 2007, so it was certainly a good feeling.  But, well, now I still had to run a marathon.

As I ran through transition my legs felt... well, they felt like I had just bike 112 miles in a mere five hours and nine minutes.  But one thing I made sure to do all day was remain very present.  By that I just mean never getting ahead of myself or wondering how I was going to run an entire marathon, or being upset my swim split wasn't faster or whatever.  I took it all one mile at a time, so I didn't go through T2 thinking that I'd just wrecked my marathon.  I just thought about putting on my shoes and stuff and running the first mile. 

I had about a four-person team of volunteers helping me out, which made things easier.  I just threw on my shoes and socks, stuffed my gels and Clif bloks in my pockets, threw on my visor, ate the banana and was on my way.  Even after only sitting down for a minute my legs felt much better as I ran out.  Right away as I began running I saw Tim Snow.  Tim is a great spectator, even when he's racing, and fortunately this time he didn't have to yell at me to keep my eyes up or anything as I was actually running.  I don't remember the last time I set out on a run course feeling anything aside from absolute dread.  I wasn't delusional and thinking I'd somehow run a 3:40 or something either, but I also wasn't afraid that my run would take longer than my bike as has happened in my last couple of races.  And again, I just wanted to take it one mile at a time.

I'm sure I went out too hard, but amazingly, it was already kind of fun.  I was careful to seriously hydrate at the aid stations and dump lots of water on my head and use the icy cold sponges.  I have to say, the aid stations at this race were phenomenal.  The volunteers kept up with the crazy demands as there were always cups being held out.  Sometimes if you grabbed a sponge a volunteer would run behind you and wring another one out on the back of your neck.  There was plenty of ice to dump down my shirt and sometimes people with hoses.  You'd think it would be difficult to keep up on a three-loop run course, but they did an amazing job.  I really don't think they could've done any better. 

By the third aid station, I was ready to start walking those.  Not because I was exhausted and needed a break, but because I knew a huge key would be getting in enough hydration and walking through would help with that, but also in training I never ran more than thirteen miles straight so I knew my legs just weren't ready to handle the pounding of twenty-six consecutive miles.  So to avoid walking like, the last four, I just walked each aid station and it always refreshed me enough to keep going pretty well to the next one. 

It was the weirdest thing.  I actually had fun running that marathon.  I mean, sure, I was ready for it to be done when it was done, and it was certainly far from my fastest, but I never felt badly about how things were going.  And given the conditions, I was still passing lots of people.  The course also went along the canal where there were tons of spectators which also made it more fun.  The heat never bothered me, so thank you, Alabama.  My stomach never bothered me as I was able to get in all of my nutrition.  I might feel something weird in my stomach for about a minute at some point after having a gel or something on the run, but the feeling would go away as quickly as it had arrived. 

Oh, and here's some graphic triathlete detail for you: I finally peed in the race!  I was supposed to go twice on the bike, but although I sort of vaguely had to go for much of the ride, I never really went.  Then, on the run, right around mile four I just let it go.  To be honest it wasn't really a conscious decision but it meant that I was in a good spot as far as hydration went and I didn't even have to stop.  Don't worry, some sponges and water at the next aid station took care of everything. 

I had no idea how fast or slow I was running.  I purposely had my heart rate monitor display my heart rate only.  There was no reason to see more than that.  So I was clueless as to how things were going.  Was I going to run 4:10?  4:30?  I had no idea.  I knew it wouldn't be great, but the last two of these were about five and six hours respectively, so something in the four-hour range was going to make me happy. 

Due to the nature of the course having no out and backs, I almost didn't see anyone.  Amanda Kourtz and Cait passed me on the run, and Pat Wheeler passed me just before he finished and I headed out for my third run loop, but I never saw a lot of the rest of the team, including Jesse.  Of course the QT2 spectators were out in full force so they at least knew I was doing all right.  I almost couldn't believe how fast the miles were going by.  Somewhere around mile 21 I had a banana at one of the aid stations since my hands started to feel kind of... puffy, I don't know.  But that made me feel better and I just kept on going.  Okay, so my aid station walk breaks were getting longer each time, but I still knew I'd be able to make it and I wasn't giving up. 

22, 23... wow, is it really almost over?  I wonder how I'm doing?  I had my last Clif blok at mile 24 and was so glad to be done with my fueling plan.  Admittedly I took some Coke from the last two aid stations just to get me through, but I was almost done, anyway.  Once I hit the last turn-around at a short out-and-back I picked up the pace, knowing that when I reached the end this time I'd get to bypass that arrow to the second and third laps and head down that glorious lane that read, "to finish." 

I had no idea how far to the finish I had to go, I just kept trying to run hard and get there as fast as I could.  The fact that I was able to pick up the pace at all probably means I could've done the whole thing faster, but I don't really care.  Finally I thought I was there, ran down this hill at whatever full speed I could muster at that point in the race only to see I had to turn around and run back up in order to finish.  Well, that was sort of mean!  But finally I turned to run up the hill and saw the finish arch and looked up to see 10:45 on the clock.  I smiled.  Finally!  I crossed the line in 10:46 with a marathon of 4:19.  Yes, in the not-so-distant future a 4:19 marathon will be a huge disappointment.  But at the moment, I am completely happy with it. 

My finish line catchers were awesome and I got my medal and shirt and hat and they got me some food so I could just sit down.  There was nobody there but fortunately Michelle finished only a few minutes after me so I wasn't alone for long.  I called my mom and texted some people and really just felt so good to have finished the race that I was happy with.  More importantly, it gives me hope for things to come.  Honestly, two months ago when I started this whole winter journey I was in pretty rough shape.  So if in two months I can do that, just imagine what can happen in another two months.

I want to thank all of you who cheered whether in person or from afar, or those of you who posted encouraging words on my blog or through e-mails or texts or even just "liked" any of my facebook posts.  I often feel like I'm in this alone but that always makes me remember that I have a lot of people who are pulling for me.  I need to thank my coach, Jesse, who has been far more patient than I deserved over the past few years but never stopped trying to help me and bring me back.  I know he doesn't waste time with anything he knows isn't going to get anywhere, so just the fact that he was willing to continue to work with me told me I shouldn't give up just yet.  Another special thanks to my new friend Kelli who opened her home to me in Birmingham so I could train through the winter in the heat.  I don't think this race would've been possible without that. 

And of course to my family who could not attend the race because my cousin Kevin got married the night before.  And I'm sorry, Kevin, for missing the event!  My family has been very supportive and especially my mom who has just been amazing through a lot of things over the past couple of years.  And of course any other friends and teammates who ever said anything encouraging.  You know who you are. 

It has been a pretty rough couple of years for a variety of reasons.  Yes, some were out of my control but a lot of it was my own fault, but finally I've been able to pull out of it and I really can only look forward to whatever races I do next.  Now that's the big question: What races do I do next?  I'm not signed up for anything!  But one thing I've decided already is that in the not-too-distant future, people are going to have to be scared of my run again.  It's in there somewhere and I'm getting dangerously close to finding it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Night Before the Race...

How did it get here so fast?  When I woke up this morning and realized that it was my last normal morning waking up it seemed impossible.  And yet I had to get up and make my way to the Cheesecake Factory for the QT2 breakfast.  No, we did not eat cheesecake.  But one of the athletes on the team works for the corporate office apparently and had this awesome breakfast set up just for us.  Sure beat Denny's, let me tell you.  Eggs, hash browns, toast, really good pancakes, it was great.  I managed to get sufficiently full without crossing that line into feeling like I might explode.  Perfect.

Next it was time to go drop off my bags and bike.  Let me just say that the Ironman Texas athlete guide is nearly useless when it comes to information on where to go and, more importantly, where to park for everything.  First I had no idea really where to park for the expo and just wound up getting lucky stumbling upon the expo and finding someone pulling out of a spot just as I drove up.  Otherwise mostly athletes were parking quite far away and walking around trying to figure out where to go.  Then today for transition I really had no clue where it was aside from a very general location and again, no indication on where I should park.  Fortunately I found another athlete walking along with his bike who knew where he was going because he had already driven around and figured it out.

Once I got there, dropping everything off was quick and painless and I headed back to my hotel after picking up a sandwich.  Fortunately that sandwich was not from Subway.  Then began a long afternoon of doing just what I needed to do: nothing.  I ate, I took a nap that I tried not to let go on too long so I couldn't fall asleep nice and early tonight, I watched TV, mixed up my bottles and got my stuff laid out for the morning and that was pretty much it. 

It's very strange staying by myself for this race.  In some ways it's kind of nice because I like to be kind of completely in control of when I do things before the race and I'm certainly used to being by myself lately, but it's still just kind of weird.  And not that I usually have too many issues, but it is certainly going to be interesting after the race when I don't have anyone to make sure I can still, like, move and stuff.  Oh, well, at least I pre-emptively purchased some post-race treats so I won't have to go anywhere to get anything when I wake up in the middle of the night starving.  Or, more accurately, when I just decide I need more food as I lie awake completely unable to fall asleep all night long due to spending the day ingesting obscene amounts of caffeine and sugar in the form of sports nutrition products along with throbbing pain throughout my entire body that won't allow me to get comfortable.  Really, I promise it's a good feeling.

So if all goes well, by this time tomorrow night I should not only be done, but maybe even already enjoying some celebratory post-race food.  I'm not sure if I'll be able to really enjoy it given the wreck my stomach is sure to be after a long, hot race, but I am sure at that point I won't care.  I'll have 1800 miles of driving home to enjoy lots of road treats instead of my more recent drives that have involved water and protein bars.  Yes, due to the heat I am supposed to take in fifteen bottles of fluid over the course of the bike alone.  For those of you who might not fully understand what that means, that's three hundred ounces.  It will be interesting to see how that goes. 

Currently the rest of my family is at my cousin Kevin's wedding, for which I've already seen a few pictures on facebook.  It's too bad I had to miss it but hopefully tomorrow will make that and this entire excursion worth it.  It's time to see if I can finally get one of these races right.  At least I feel mentally and physically prepared.  Now all I have to do is execute the plan.  We shall see what happens...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ironman Week

Somehow my 2012 adventures in the southeast are soon to be coming to a close.  I've been gone from home for over three months and as far as things look now, while I'm definitely ready to go home, this entire experience was just what I needed to get back to where I need to be.  Jump-started with the QT2 Florida training camp where I had a few good workouts and a lot of workouts (the running ones) that reiterated just how far I had to go.  Then some random wandering around Florida, some of which was spent alone and some with friends in Clearwater and then with my friend Kim in Daytona.  Then it was off to Birmingham for a couple of months of dedicated training.

I'll say, things did not start out smoothly.  I felt slow and out of shape and overweight.  None of those were unfamiliar feelings over the past, say, two years.  But missing this time was the hopeless feeling that things weren't going to get any better, even if I did the training.  And here's a secret: if you think things aren't going to get better, they aren't.  You can do the training all you want, but if your head isn't in it and you don't think it's going to get you anywhere, well, it won't.  I'm not going to say that on every training session I felt amazing and knew that things were going to go great this year, but I also wasn't approaching everything with dread.  And every once in a while I'd finish a workout and be able to look back on it and think that it actually went really well and maybe I was finally getting somewhere.  And the more of those I had, the better things got.

I had a bit of a confidence boost in Galveston, which was nice.  A great swim for me, a solid bike and a run that, well, the overall split wasn't great, but there were some moments in there in which I actually felt pretty good, including towards the end which hasn't happened in a long time, so I considered it a good sign even if the overall pace wasn't very good.  That allowed me to return to Birmingham for the last weeks of training knowing that things had already improved dramatically and I was ready to tackle the biggest weeks of training.  It was tiring and not always easy and not every workout was great but I did keep getting better and finally started feeling much closer to my old self for the first time in a very long time.  And, more importantly, I started to look like my old self.  For me, and I'm sure for a lot of people, just looking the part inspires a lot more confidence.

So now I'm back in Texas again after having to drive through Louisiana.  If I ever make plans in my life ever again that require me to drive through the state of Louisiana, please someone stop me.  I hate that stretch of I-10 and I-12 and after crossing it on the way back home after the race, I never want to see it again!  Last year when I drove from California to Florida, this year to Galveston and back and now again here and back.  No more!  Anyway, it has been cooler here but it's supposed to get really hot for the race, of course.  I'm not too nervous about that since in my time here I have gotten to the point where I'm really cold if it's only like 75 degrees out.

Last night I went to bed thinking about how I only get two more nights to go to sleep that are not the night before the race.  I haven't done one of these since the disastrous season of 2010 where I had not one, but two hideously bad Ironman races: St. George and Lake Placid.  My two personal worsts.  It feels like far more than two years ago, but at the same time I definitely still remember the feeling of being on those start lines and knowing things weren't going to go well.  And it wasn't just because I wasn't feeling great that day, it was because I didn't feel prepared to race either mentally or physically.  I knew my training hadn't gone well because my head wasn't in it and I wasn't anywhere near as fit as I needed to be.  Even if I'd been delusional about my preparation there is no way I could've even willed myself to do much better than I did.  I've shown up at Ironman start lines feeling completely ready to go (aside from the typical nervousness) and I've shown up feeling totally ill-prepared and I think it's pretty obvious which is the preferable way to approach things.

Do I feel as ready as I've ever felt?  No, definitely not.  But do I feel more ready than I've felt in years?  Absolutely.  I know it won't be my best race.  And that's not me being negative, that is me being realistic.  While it can't be my best, it can certainly be a big step back in the right direction.  And considering how far I've come in only the past two months I can certainly do a lot more over the course of the rest of the season, and that is definitely a good feeling to have.

What happened to change things?  For one thing, I'll say I decided when my foot was broken last season to embrace my time off and really, really rest for the first time in... nine years.  I think that was exactly what I needed.  It allowed the injury itself to heal, it allowed any other little nagging aches and pains built up from years and years of training to go away and, most importantly, it allowed me that mental break from training and gave me enough time away from things to really, really want to train and race again.  It felt like starting from scratch back in the fall, but it definitely all came back quicker than I expected.

So here I am now, running paces I haven't seen in a very long time, swimming better than ever and biking strongly.  90% of the clothing I brought with me for this trip doesn't fit anymore.  I had to wear my one pair of jeans I brought yesterday and not only do I not have to unbutton them to put them on or take them off, the belt I have for them feels loose on its last notch.  I do have a couple of pairs at home that should fit, thankfully, but those were definitely tight when I got here.  And I know, I need to go shopping and I will but I think it would be better to wait until I get home.

So this race holds a lot of meaning for me.  Not just in the sense that I feel like it's my first opportunity to actually do well since about 2009, but the last time I crossed an Ironman finish line my dad was there.  He didn't see me race in Arizona in 2007 or Utah in 2010 or Hawaii in 2009, but he was in Hawaii all of the other years and watched me race in Lake Placid all seven times.  I will never forget seeing him when I came off the bike in 2006 about to take the lead.  And nobody else from my family will be here either because my cousin Kevin is getting married on Friday night.  It's definitely not going to be easy not just to not have him there to watch but to know that I can't call him after to tell him how it went.  But hopefully in some ways he'll be with me all day and I can make him proud.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Two Weeks To Go...

Somehow my trip is almost over.  I'm definitely ready to go home and am in that place where I simultaneously can't believe I've been gone for three months but also can't believe that it's already time to leave.  It will definitely be nice to get home.  One reason being that most of the clothing that I brought with me doesn't fit anymore.  That's not really a complaint but I really only have one pair of shorts that I can wear and look normal.  Not that it's not kind of fun to be able to take off the other shorts and even my jeans without unbuttoning them, but, you know, I'd like to not look ridiculous when I go to Texas and actually have to be out in public.  I at least went to Old Navy yesterday and picked up a couple of t-shirts. 

Tapering is a tough thing.  It's great to be in a position where I've been through this many times before and I know what to expect.  I tend to feel like crap during the taper up until literally maybe a couple of days before the race.  My workouts suck.  I'm tired and feel sluggish.  The shorter workouts seem more daunting than the much longer ones I'd otherwise be doing.  Basically all I want to do in between the training is sleep.  I think for a lot of people feeling like that would cause them to panic.  To me, it pretty much puts me right on track.  Even when I had my greatest race at Lake Placid on my long ride two weeks before I think I cried and I know that very much throughout I was seriously contemplating pulling over, throwing my bike in the woods to never see it again, and calling my dad to come get me.  So I fully expect tomorrow's ride to be tons of fun. 

One strange thing that has happened over my time here is that I'm actually starting to look like my old self again.  I'm hoping to maintain this finally, but between stress fractures and family issues and more stress fractures I was definitely not as close to race weight as I'd like to be.  Actually, nowhere near close.  I'm not quite there but I'm close enough that at least I finally feel like it's physically possible again.  And frankly just knowing that makes things a lot easier.  I might even almost be looking forward to this race.  It's been a few years since I approached a race that way rather than looking at it with absolute dread.  I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I think while things aren't entirely there, they are definitely moving in the right direction.