Wednesday, May 25, 2016

IM 70.3 Chattanooga: Regaining mental stamina

5:12:51, 7th out of 173 in F45-49

After last year's focus on sprints and Olympics I was ready to give a 70.3 another go, my fourth time at the half-iron distance. It had been a year and a half since the last half-iron at Beach2Battleship and I wanted the particular challenge that comes from longer distances. Last year, 10k runs had started to feel long and that just had to change. I wanted to regain that mental stamina!

I also will admit also to wanting to try my first IRONMAN branded race and I must say, it did not disappoint. My friend Scott described their events as "pageantry" and coupled with the incredible support of the city of Chattanooga and fantastic weather, it made for an exceptional weekend.

I spent Saturday getting settled in and met up with a number of folks that I work with - Coach Allen Stanfield and Coach Brad Noble of Team MPI along with Team MPI athlete Amy Hunt, pro Justin Metzler along with pro Jeanni Seymour. I ran into Swim Bike Mom, Meredith Atwood and her husband James who was racing, and I also met Mirinda Carfrae after the pro panel and quickly and awkwardly introduced myself as "the Cortney who works with Timothy"! (Full photo album here)

Sunday morning I was not super excited about getting bused to the swim start and having to wait in a line for the TT start (flashbacks to the long Boston Marathon wait) but it was actually not so bad. I was probably 2/3 of the way back in the line but still got off at 7:22 am after a 7:00 am age group start. I was much more relaxed than I am at the start of a shorter race because I knew I had many hours ahead of me. It was pretty weird marching along, to the end of the ramp, and jumping in like an obedient line of little ducks, and with little fanfare. Following the cold lake swims I've done, at 72/73 degrees, the water felt warm.

Written to Coach Jim: One fun thing about this swim was actually racing through the throngs of people. It was pretty crowded (despite having an entire river) and there was a wide range of abilities. You had to be able to swim while sighting to plan a line through the back strokers, water-treaders, breast strokers, and squeeze between people, swim defensively, and keep moving aggressively forward. I had a blast, and the water temps were perfect. 

It felt good to come up the swim ramp and run again and I passed a lot of people. My swim was ranked 14th in my AG (Garmin Connect Data here). I had a smooth transition and was ready to roll! 

Written to Coach Jim: Yes, I stopped and peed in the grass. I just couldn't bring myself to pee on the bike. The bike course was congested and there were a few times I had to throttle back due to vehicular traffic, or to avoid drafting. I didn't see a whole lot of drafting going on but I read reports of it. It would not have been too hard to get away with as I probably saw refs just 5x on the course. I tried not to blow up on the bike, and I felt good through to the end! I was ready to run!! There's one very short sort of steep hill that took its toll on a few people. It was pretty funny. Flatlanders!

Coach Jim noted that the "pee break" took 78 seconds, lol, but then I hit my peak 10-minute power immediately following that ;-) Overall, I averaged 189 watts, heart rate of 154, and I stayed pretty even, front half to back half, so I am happy! (56 miles in 2:43:07, 20.60 mph, Garmin Connect Data Here)

One thing I noticed on the bike was that a lot of people would coast down a roller, rather than pedal to carry momentum into the following hill. What a waste! Keep that power delivery consistent people, up AND down the hills! 

Last year I found myself dreading the run and I'm not sure why, so this year in training I have worked hard to reprogram my brain and relearn to be happy to run. It worked, and I took off feeling awesome, but controlled. I hit the paces I wanted without much effort and I was ticking off the miles and enjoying the run, the scenic course, and the energy of the volunteers at the aid stations.

Then at mile 5, on a short but steep hill, trouble hit. I got a cramp in my inner thigh, just above my knee (sartorius or vastus medialis), that stopped me in my tracks. It felt like it could be a race-ender. But after standing and resting it for nearly 3 minutes, taking in salt and mustard, it relaxed and I continued very carefully. I could feel it with every step. I had no salt left and thankfully got a "hit" of BASE salt from Sami Winter and another athlete on the course, thank you!!! 

All I could think of to grab at the aid stations were bananas (pre-peeled was appreciated) for the potassium, plus water and ice. I held up pretty well until just before that same hill on the two-loop course, and I ended up walking/stopping for another 3.5 minutes. I noticed everyone around me walked up that hill. Somehow through it all I kept positive and didn't panic and got through the remaining miles pretty well. 

It felt SO good to run over the final bridge with the encouragement of many spectators and make the turn to the finish line. (13.1 mi in 1:52:12, pace 08:33/mi, Garmin Connect Data here). I proved to myself that I had regained the mental stamina I wanted and needed. 

Total race time: 5:12:51 (full results here)

I look forward to my next go at this distance, hopefully minus the pee stop and cramp breaks, at IM 70.3 North Carolina in October. In the meantime it'll be back to the shorter distances, with my improved longer attention span and positive running attitude!

Thank you to Coach Jim of One-on-One Endurance for guiding me through this challenging race prep. I am coming up on seven years working with him, and I know I say this a lot, but it's true - I can't imagine doing this without him. I appreciate the structure, the challenge, the accountability, the encouragement, the corrections, and the sharing!!

Thank you to my family for supporting me through it all, as I disappear with my goggles, running shoes or bike for hours at a time.

Thank you to Bryan Walsh and Solar Connexion for the continued support of my racing! If you are in the VA/WV area and are interested in residential or commercial solar energy, you won't find a more experienced or knowledgeable contractor, so get in touch!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Lucky Number 1 at Appalachian Power Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon

The pressure was on racing the Appalachian Power Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon wearing bib #1!!  It turns out I got that number from winning last year, and because the male winner did not race this year (in which case they said they'd have to pick since we can't both be #1).

I was relaxed at the start and determined just to enjoy putting in a race level effort. My swim felt capable, straight, and rhythmical (4th/73 women). I unleashed on the bike, feeling so strong, and went for it (top female bike split by nearly 2 minutes). All those power-specific rides paid off. I sought flow on the run and focused on keeping my cadence up knowing no matter the pace, that would make Coach Jim happy! Funny how that translated to a strong run (2nd best run at 21:16).

photo courtesy of Bill Huckle

photo courtesy of Bill Huckle

My mind was clear, my heart was happy. It was an overall win - my third for this race. [Results here]

Thank you Virginia Maryland Triathlon Series for a wonderful race that serves as the season kick-off for our region!

I'm grateful to Jim McGehee of One-on-One Endurance for helping me train through life's many challenges particularly thought this tough winter of loss. Even as he pushes us to achieve our best, he helps us first and foremost to keep perspective and to keep it fun!

One-on-One Endurance Crew: Kristen, Kimberley, Tanya and Daniel, me, Joe, Coach Jim
not pictured: Tim and Matt. photo courtesy of Bill Huckle

Much appreciation to Solar Connexion and Bryan Walsh for the race sponsorship and support.

Thank you competitors, friends, volunteers, spectators and Mother Nature for a great day to swim, bike, and run in such gloriousness!

Dad, this race was for you :-)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Just when you think your "training" is a "trainwreck"...

It's no secret that training has been tough this year. I have included things like "trainwreck" and "salvage operation" and "did what I could" in many of my post-activity comments.

But every day I wake up and give it my best because I know that consistency and persistence count for a lot.

Well one of the things I love about training is that just when you think it's a hopeless disaster (allow me just a bit of drama queen, thank you), the "training gods" can throw you a curve ball of great training results. Which I got this weekend, and very much needed for my confidence.

Mentally I felt strong, and had none of the negative brain chatter telling me (over and over) to quit. My mind was clear and relaxed. I got out of my own way and let my fitness and experience take over.

I'm super proud of myself for a solo 60 miles at 21.3 mph followed by a short but solid brick run. Then today I ran 12.6 miles with a negative split and positive outlook! Both days I finished feeling good and not trashed. The endurance is there, now I know the mindset I need to be successful.

This is just my PSA that if you are in a plateau, a rut, a tough spot - stick it out. The rewards come to those who persevere and push through. No, this wasn't a race. But it was a victory that was no less important.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Mental endurance and the busy brain

I have often said that my life is "balanced on the head of a pin." I make it all work, but perhaps just barely. It doesn't take much additional load to threaten that delicate balance.

Well, this year has been quite the test. The precarious balance has been challenged by the sudden loss of my father and the ensuing responsibilities of working with my sister to help my mom, including selling a house, buying a house, and planning for an interstate move. Now we have a central member of our family (our Grandfriend) fighting for his life, on day 17 in the ICU. And my best friend is going through tough times.

But, this is life. This IS life.

Through it all, I swim, bike, and run. It's an escape from the phone and computer, from decisions, and from the noise of life. I make it happen, even when I don't want to, and I bring my best to it, whatever it is on the day.

My physical fitness and physical endurance are pretty good and my bike power numbers are strong.
And thanks to the appetite-suppressing "benefit" of stress, I'm at a good race weight, lol.

The real challenge right now is mental endurance. A busy brain and heavy heart are the enemy of speed and endurance. The busy brain yells "quit" a lot. In that condition, there is little hope for resiliency if I am under-fueled, under-hydrated, or sleep deprived.

Last weekend I had a long brick that started with a strong bike, but then mid-run, I stopped and sat on a guardrail, sobbing, and wondering what I was doing. It was all I could do to finish.

In three weeks I am racing IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga. I can't do that there. This may be my biggest racing challenge yet.

Time to dial in the mental game, nutrition, and sleep. Time to quiet the brain, and let the fitness do the job.

gratuitous Saki kitty picture

Sunday, April 3, 2016

My winter of indoor training

Up until this year, I was pretty hardcore about training outside unless it was dangerous (i.e. ice, potential zombie apocalypse, etc). This summed up my attitude:

This winter things really changed. One big reason was Zwift. Rather than dreading the boring indoor trainer ride, I came to enjoy it. I'd put a movie on one screen, Zwift on the other, and I positioned the kid's music stand horizontally for my phone, mouse, and fuel. It's a great setup and often better suited to the specific workouts I needed to accomplish.

I got curious and queried Training Peaks. Since January 1, I've done 43 bike rides, and only 8 of them outside. That's crazy! Prior years it was probably the complete opposite of that.

There's been a cascade effect with my runs. Of the 53 since the beginning of the year, just 26 have been outside; 27 have been on the treadmill in my basement or in a gym. In all of 2015 I only found one treadmill run on Training Peaks, there may have been a few more, but nothing close to 27!!

All 27 swims have been inside too (haha), whether at the pool or on the Vasa Swim Ergometer. That's not something I want to take outside in Virginia quite yet!

I've softened my stance on the indoor vs outdoor decision. There are some definite upsides to indoor training. On the bike I often get a better workout especially if the goal is to hold a particular power level. I can focus more fully. On the run I can hold a prescribed pace - something that is difficult to do on the roads. I can also push the pace more, again - no distractions! I run my easy runs easier because I do a better job of keeping tabs on my heart rate.

There are time efficiencies, and fewer layers/laundry in the winter! And for the longer training sessions on weekends it has allowed me to stay home among the family even if that just means they are walking by as I'm pedaling or running.

Indoor training also takes less mental energy to initiate. Over the last five weeks, with fragile emotions and an overloaded brain, the trainer and treadmill have been a salvation. When I have debated inside or outside (clearly procrastinating), Coach Jim reminds me to go with the one that is "easier to get started." After all, starting is the hardest part. I am fortunate I've had indoor, at-home options that have allowed me to keep up my training. If I had let training totally fall apart, I think I would have too.

I'm not discounting the importance of outdoor rides for bike handling skills, and not discounting the amazing benefits of outdoor rides and runs for the spirit. I look forward to more.

So, have I gotten soft? Or smart?

I don't know, but I no longer need to prove my toughness to the weather. Only to myself.