Friday, December 30, 2016

A year of endurance, in sport and in life


If there has been a theme for my year it's surely been endurance: "the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity." By activity I would mean...life. It's been a year chock-full of personal challenges that have rolled in one after the other, rather tsunami-like. I've left a lot of it off the blog, because frankly it's all the white noise of life. It IS life. While my particulars differ from yours, none of us are immune from the "stuff" of life that we are dealt.

I'm using this post to reflect on my year and to look ahead. My thoughts are taking form as I type this so my apologies if it's a little rambly.

This year has taught me that just when I think I can't handle any more, I discover I actually can. Does that sound like something else? Like maybe a race? 

To reach a new level as an athlete takes consistent effort, getting out of one's comfort zone, and having belief that better performance can be achieved. This year, I want to carry that mindset beyond training and into life.

Training keeps me on an even keel. Nothing beats the free therapy that comes from fresh air and sweat!! I realize more than ever how much I NEED and appreciate the reason to move, especially outside. I will never regret or apologize for a single minute or mile. I will always make room in my life to be active. 

This year taught me that you don't have to have ideal life conditions to race well (or to do some other thing well). You just have to put in the work and be able to flip the switch to clear the mind for your sessions and races. Racing has given me a much-appreciated infusion of strength and confidence to carry me into 2017 - most recently a half marathon PR last month (1:39:45) and a solid go at the annual Runabout Sports Frosty 5K on December 24 (21:39).


I did 14 races this year, winning three, landing on the overall podium at three others, and finishing top female master's at five. As someone who never called herself an athlete until her 40's, it still feels like an "out of body experience" to be decent at this stuff. For anyone who races for years on end (8 so far for me), racing is just a small part of the larger fun of it all.

I've learned you can't wait for life to be smooth or planets to align to go for your goals and be happy! I have some of my race schedule planned for 2017 including a few new races and challenges. I'll be "Du"ing my first duathlon in April. It's just a few hours away so it seemed like a good opportunity for a 5 mile bike, 33 mile bike and another 5 mile run! I'm also putting the Mountains of Misery 100-mile bike ride on my list. It's a rite of passage for most cyclists around here and it attracts masochistic cyclists (who love a steep uphill finish)! Pinehurst, if family and schedule will allow, will be a new-to-me race enjoyed with others from our swim group!

I can't close out the the year-end without the 2016 training stats
  • Swim - 314,342 yards (178 miles) 117 sessions 
  • Bike - 3043 miles, 172 hours, 150 sessions
  • Run - 933 miles, 132 hours, 173 sessions 
  • Strength - 41 sessions - not so good :-(

Swim/bike/run friends are the best. Most of my social life happens before noon on the roads and trails, and at the lake and the pool, and I wouldn't have it any other way! Thank you, friends!


Here's to a bright New Year, full of possibilities and opportunities!! 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thankfulness and Lightness at the Star City Half

Malin, Zach, Theresa, me, Julia

Yesterday I ran the Star City Half Marathon. It was a last-minute decision, but an easy decision, driven by the need to feel the energy of fellow runners and friends and to run a new route in different surroundings. I also wanted to run the half marathon that I never finished at IM 70.3 NC and end the season on a more positive note.

With just 44 unstructured off-season run miles under my belt in the last month, I wasn't exactly primed to race. (Nor had I told my coach!!) I had no expectations, and my only goal was to stay happy and relaxed for the duration. (inspired by Kelly's amazing relaxed marathon PR)

I left my house just as hints of the sun began to appear and I was suddenly filled with happiness, for the morning, and for life in general.



I arrived to a very warm welcome (Julia!) on a crisp and clear morning that was perfect for running! Off we went - the half marathoners and 10k-ers starting together. I settled in with a small group and was pleased to discover that my legs felt light and willing.

I spent a lot of time on that course thinking about how fun it is that you can run alongside perfect strangers, and with great ease share words, space, time, and effort. Imagine doing that in any other environment - just hanging off someone's shoulder in their personal space like that!

I leapfrogged a few times with my friend Dave who, when he isn't managing an IT band situation, would be far ahead. I bridged up to a group of 5 girls who were running strong and I thought I'd be pretty thrilled to hang with them and not get dropped. Then I got a burst of "flow" and moved past them. The miles ticked by and I was still in disbelief at the lightness I felt.

photo by Tyree Ellison

At mile 9 there is a short steep uphill of the sort that was my undoing at IM 70.3 Chattanooga. I took it super easy but kept running. At the top we were rewarded with an awesome sweeping downhill section where I passed another runner.

Things started to feel hard and a little lonely around mile 10 as I ran solo, but here I thought about elite runner Kate Grace (Runners World, Dec 2016) who said when she has doubts in a workout, she acknowledges it then focuses on the "but." So, I'd think, "this feels tough but I am tougher!!"

My calves began to cramp, and again, I thought "my calves are cramping, but at least it's not my quads, this I can manage!" I downed a mustard pack and tried to will relaxation to my legs! It was a hard final two miles but when I got near the finish I could not believe my eyes! I saw 1:39:__ on the timer and I gave it all I had, finishing in 1:39:45. That was a PR for me, by just 10 seconds compared to the Hokie Half from two years ago, but a PR nonetheless at age 49!!


So, it's fair to call me a sandbagger. Or one could say it's the "spirits of endurance sports" working their magic - humbling us one day, and unexpectedly rewarding us another. It's one of the things I love most. When we say "have faith in the training" it doesn't mean it will necessarily play out the way we hope or when we expect it. It means it will ultimately be worth it.

After the race, I walked back to my car, got in, and tears began to stream down my face. Life has presented some major personal challenges lately, but I can't help but feel blessed beyond measure. (thanks Janet for the timely texts :-) The things that matter most, aren't things at all, and can't be bought.

I am so incredibly thankful for running and triathlon and for the community that comes along with involvement in the sport. To everyone who cheered for me, or took time to say hello or chat, I just want to say thank you. I am thankful for each of you, and I hope my energy lifts you in the same way that yours lifts me.

Happy Thanksgiving week everyone!



Monday, October 24, 2016

IM 70.3 NC: The Race that Wasn't



Hey Finisher Pix...I didn't finish. 


I'd like to actually.

I was SO READY for this race, what was to be my fifth half-iron distance race. I felt confident and primed for all three sports and was really looking forward to seeing what I might do on the run in the cooler fall temps. 

I went to bed the night before the race relaxed and happy. When I woke up in the morning my very first thought was something is NOT right. My stomach was churning and noisy, and things were moving fore and aft. I had no appetite but forced down most of my oatmeal and some coffee, took some Tums and Immodium and figured I'd shake it off.

My get-up-and-go had gotten-up-and-left. I went through the pre-race motions quietly and efficiently, and when race officials Mark and Lee Turner stopped by I blurted out I wasn't feeling great. 

However, I was still feeling positive and confident. I reminded myself that "you don't have to feel great to race well."

I burped my way through the swim. That was a first. It's more manageable than you might think. Toward the middle of the swim, one burp went too far and I lost my oatmeal (I hope no one was behind me). I got out of the water and headed toward the wetsuit peelers, knowing my friend Malin was among them. I sat down in front of her and said, "I'm not feeling well," to which she offered appropriate supportive encouragement and I continued on in some kind of brain fog, wetsuit in hand.

I headed out with my bike and noticed my heart rate was quite a bit higher than I expected. It remained elevated for about half an hour. I had a hard time hitting my expected HIM bike power. My stomach hurt to be in aero position, and my back hurt from my neck to my hips when I sat up. I had a hard time taking in any calories. By 30 miles in I was miserable. We'd had a nasty headwind and I hoped when I turned back southward that I'd find relief, but I didn't. 

I saw later in my Garmin data that my power faded impressively. The last 80 minutes of my ride I was riding at my "easy aerobic" power levels but it was killing me! I had begun to wonder in the last third of the ride if I should bail, but I also figured the quickest route back to T2 was on my bike and under my own power. 


the face of discomfort

I did absolutely NO hurrying through T2 and took a few moments to gather my wits. I was very happy to see Malin along the Run Out and I stopped to talk to her. Stopping OR talking is totally out of character for me in a race. I asked how do I know if I should bail? She reminded me there would be more races but I decided I would try a few miles of the run.



You'd think the decision to withdraw would be simple. But unless you have maybe a broken leg or severed artery, believe me, it's not that easy!

With one Port-o-John stop and some dry heaving in the first two miles, I saw a small group of EMS folks on a corner and told them my race was over. I laid down in the grass, they covered me with a jacket, and I proceeded to cramp and wait 30 minutes for transport. They said I was dehydrated and my electrolytes were out of whack (of course) and with fluids at the medical tent I'd be OK again. They were getting annoyed by the delayed transport, but I was happy to just lay down. (As I rested and listened, I discovered they had to go get and pay for their own lunch which hardly seems fair.)

The volunteer transport driver didn't know how to get me through the race traffic to the medical tent, so she dropped me off where she could. It was closer to the hotel than to medical, so I just went to my room, showered, and got in bed. Sleep didn't come - I hurt too much. I think that transport system could use a little refinement. A medical assist could have probably helped me feel better quicker.

While it certainly sucked to not finish, I know it was the right decision. I would rather be eager to come back for the next race, as opposed to being haunted by an absolutely miserable race and miserable run all winter long. I am disappointed for myself and for Coach Jim who didn't get to see how the training would play out on race day. It's like losing the last chapter to the book, except it's not the last chapter.

Coach Jim and I talked today and after reviewing the data with him, I felt even more at peace with it. 

During my training I make sure to check in with myself and ask, "if this race doesn't happen, am I enjoying this training for training's sake?" Aside from the occasional rough session, I always answer YES. I guess this is one of the true tests of enjoying the journey, and I surely do!

Did I mention it was "Restaurant Week" in Wilmington? It's quite possible I contributed to my own demise by my food choices, but I will never really know. For me part of the fun of racing is experiencing new cities, venues, and food. And over 7 years of racing, I've done just fine to this point. Working with professional triathletes, I've seen most of them have one or more DNFs and/or DNSs for various reasons. They happen.

The race was "just a thing" that didn't happen. 

Onward!


Friday, September 30, 2016

IM 70.3 NC Training: Mostly good, plus one Pity Party


How in the WORLD is it almost October?? The last two months have flown by, in part because work has been extra busy and exciting with the Olympics, Paralympics, and now Kona - and that is all on top of the "regular" training and racing by the fortyninegroup athletes! On the homefront, our sons, now a sophomore and junior in high school, are nearly at the end of the first nine weeks of school. We have a lot going on, so I just give each day my best.

I am in the final weeks of prep for my last race of the season - IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina (aka Beach2Battleship) on October 22. I've welcomed the longer runs and rides and training has been going mainly pretty well. 

I saw a solid rise in my bike FTP in mid-September. I knew I had been feeling strong all summer, and toward the end of an 80 minute ride, a 20 minute threshold section gave me just the chance to prove it!

My swimming confidence and skill continues to improve and I am aware of and somewhat more able to control the nuances of the stroke. The best part of swimming is the people in my swim group! It's a triathlon "support group" where we can check in with each other, compare notes, and encourage one another. It's motivating -- especially since three of them race full iron distance, which puts my training into perspective.

Running is mentally the toughest for me right now, and it's where I feel the least consistent. I've had a number of track workouts that scared me, but I was able to meet all my targets, so I'm not sure why the lack of confidence.

Two weekends ago I had a pretty big blowup on an important brick. It seems to happen before EVERY half-iron I train for, this being my fifth. I let it happen.

I had a long-ish bike with two hours at race intensity, followed by an 8-mile run at race pace. The bike was no problem, but I let that run get into my head. My response to the fear was to overcompensate, to run way under the goal pace, and three miles in I fell apart. Big surprise. Then my mental game went south and all I could think about was I HATE RUNNING. It became an ugly Pity Party.



A few tears were shed (pathetic and overly dramatic, I know, but it was a mental and physical meltdown) and I could barely muster a mile at a time. When at mile six I found myself at the entrance to the swim spot, I shut the Garmin off, and hit the water. Then my sopping wet self slogged the last two miles back to the car. 

As upsetting as that session was, I learned from it and it was a wake-up call for how I need to conduct myself on race day:
  1. Don't overcook on the bike. Be disciplined and ride with appropriate power - not "just" 5 or 10 watts higher
  2. Stay on top of fueling!! 
  3. Be disciplined on the run especially in the first several miles - no faster than target pace! Run within myself. You have NO business redlining in a half marathon, at least not until the end. 
  4. Stay relaxed and positive. If the brain goes south EAT something, it's probably a fueling issue. Then suck it up and keep your head in the game!
A few days after the mental meltdown workout, I had a good commiseration session with my friend and lane-mate Kristen Chang. She just makes me laugh and see the ridiculous side of things!

I share this to point out that training is not always smooth sailing. I don't love every single moment, no one does. We all face motivation issues, doubts, and negativity, but we know to move through those times and not make too much of them. The tough days are what make us tougher! 

Runs have gone MUCH better for me since that brick. One thing I figured out is that unless my run nutrition is super easy to access, I won't use it. It needs to be front and center so I tested out a front pouch on last weekend's long run and it worked great! It was a good 13 mile out and back redemption run (photo at top) with tempo miles on the return trip that surpassed my expectations. I finished feeling great (oh, the wonders of fueling!).

So this is my new half IM race belt setup: pouch for Clif Shot Blocks plus BASE Salt, HotShot, and a mustard pack for cramp relief.


And in other news, my Garmin 910 died this week. For a long time I've had trouble with the power button and it finally got to the point where I could not turn it on at all. Disassembly confirmed the button alignment problem, and a new Garmin 920XT was ordered and received. It doesn't look any smaller, but it's lower profile and more comfortable. I'm still finding my way through the menus and things, but the transition has been relatively smooth. I kind of like the bluetooth feature that alerts me to texts and calls, so I find myself wearing it more than just for workouts.



This weekend I have my last long ride and long run and I'm looking forward to both!! Three weeks!


Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Grown-Up Decision to Back Out of ITU Worlds

my $485 outfit

I have decided not to go to ITU Age Group Worlds in Cozumel this year. I will not fill my spot on Team USA that I earned at USAT Nationals in Chicago last year.

It was not an easy decision, but it was the right one.

It's been a challenging year, and most of it not relevant to my sporty blog. So, feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you don't want the details, or read on if you do. My mom was super sick last fall and my dad passed away unexpectedly in February. Then my mother-in-law's partner of 25+ years passed away in April; he was a beloved Grandfriend to our kids and lived nearby. My mom, sister, and I sold my mom and dad's family home, managed my mom's downsizing, and moved her into her new townhouse. There were changes at my husband's job and he's now working from home. Spencer was gone to Governor's School for the month of July. The new school year brought changes, opportunities, and challenges for both kids - now a sophomore and junior in high school. 

It's the stuff of life. But on overload. It's been hard. 

Through it all I have kept up training with minimal deviations. I always wondered how I'd handle sport if life got out of control. Now I know. Getting out to swim, bike, and run is important for me to handle the stress. I'm thankful for the structure and the solitary quiet time to think and re-center. Much to my surprise, I've raced OK too. 

The truth is, I procrastinated on committing to Cozumel. As an early planner, that was really odd for me. I paid the registration fee in March ($485 - includes the Team parade clothes), and I'd had a primo hotel room booked since January, but I had no flight booked. I didn't order a new uniform. After my dad died, I just kind of knew this was not the year for it.

To get to Cozumel was going to take two flight segments, a bus or taxi, and a ferry. Doing that with a bike box did not sound like fun. Shipping the bike both ways was going to be about $800 and take longer than a domestic shipment, and I was too late to get a rental tri bike. On top of it all, I would be racing at the top of my age group. I just couldn't justify the expense when weighed against my motivation level.

So I made the grown-up decision to pull the plug. I'm at peace with it, but after I made the decision I realized that three of our pro athletes from the fortyninegroup are going to be there - Summer Cook, Rudy Von Berg, and Joe Maloy. I'm more disappointed that I won't see them than I am about missing my own race!

This was the right decision for my own sense of balance and for what the kids and family need. But it still kind of sucks!!

I'm doing a local race next weekend and will focus on a solid training block for IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina on October 22.

As I have often told others - the sport will always be there for us! It's OK to step out of a race, or a season, or a few seasons.

Fortunately Team USA will be there for me again next year in Rotterdam.

Highlights from Chicago's ITU Worlds: