Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ironman 70.3 Vineman Race Report

I'm no Meredith Kessler...yet.

Car loaded to the hilt, I headed West with great anticipation of racing through the scenic vineyards of Sonoma County. Good thing I checked with my husband before I pulled out of the driveway because the route I had in my in my mind would have taken me to Lake Stevens…I needed to head southwest, not northwest, I guess. He reassured me that it was loaded in the navigation and all I needed to do is listen to the directions. It’s bad enough not having anyone to talk to for that long but going through southeastern Oregon at a snail pace 55mph made me think racing in Racine, 28 hours drive, may not be a bad idea. 

California bound for the second time in a season brought with it mixed emotions. I was excited to be racing Vineman, another bucket-list race, but also uncertainty and trepidation. The doubt is mostly mental uncertainty in my own racing abilities and the dread of spending 12 hours in a car just to get another lesson in “Battle for Last Place” dished up by the veteran Pros. The half IM distance races have not been kind to me this year and I really didn’t want to travel 1,400 miles by myself only to cross the finish line scratching my head wondering where I went wrong.

Race morning ushered in with a layer of fog, sorry “marine mist”, that kept air temps cool but we were promised it would burn off by mid-morning. I had learned about the California fog at Oceanside and was determined to have a different outcome. The big difference was that the water temperature was a cozy 71deg. Earlier in the week the swim was not wetsuit legal for the Pros but as race day neared the temperature dropped slightly allowing for everyone to wear wetsuits. Last year when I raced Rev 3 Portland the water temp was also in the low 70s and I learned the hard way that a wetsuit in warm water can be like swimming in a sauna, so I left mine home, not thinking I would need it. Not quite as bad as swimming in Florida but you can really overheat your body if the water temp is warm and so is the air temp. The difference with Vineman is the air temp in the morning was only supposed to be in the mid-50s which meant a swim with a wetsuit could help keep my core temp up for the first portion of the bike. Good thing TYR was there to loan me a wetsuit so I wouldn’t be the only one wearing a swim skin.

I'm no Meredith Kessler...yet...because she swims like a fish, I swim like a brick.

As the horn sounded for the start of the Pro men I looked around at the women to see if I could find someone that would be about my same swim speed that I could pace off of. I was paying attention to wetsuit brands so I could just identify the colors in the water. Once I dove into the water it didn’t make a difference anyways because the water was so green with algae you couldn’t see more than a foot in front of you. I hung with the lead pack for a long time, it felt like a couple of minutes but in reality it was probably only a couple hundred yards; curse you lead pack. I wasn’t the only one that couldn’t hold the pace Meredith was setting but as I started to fade into my pace I actually fell into a smaller pack that was working well for me…until about 400 yards from the finish I somehow beached myself on a sandbar. How I was the only one to get stuck in the sand, I don’t know but by time I jumped back into deeper water I had fallen off the “loser” pack and now found myself last in the water; curse you loser pack. I sprinted for what seemed forever only to catch back up just before the finish line. My heart sunk as I realized I was last out of the water with the clock reading 32:01 but then I remembered that the clock started with the men so my swim time was actually a 30:01! Holy crap! That’s my fasted 1.2mile swim by 3 minutes. I had a glimmer of hope that I may not be too far behind the lead pack. But last place? Thank goodness TYR sponsors me for my personality and not my “dominating” swims.  

I'm no Meredith Kessler...yet...because she ride like her hair's on fire, I ride like I'm dragging a boat anchor.

As I entered T1 there were a couple of other girls just in front of me. I had no idea how far ahead the bulk of the girls were but I had figured I was only 3-5 minutes back. My race times have been towards the back of the pack for the last couple of races so I was changing the race plan for the day. No power meter and a couple of adjustments to the bike fit were on order. I was warm from the swim and the cool air felt good as I made my way through the vineyards. This was a beautiful point-to-point bike course with no opportunity to see the leaders so I just had to assume how they were racing. Heart rate & cadence were my tools for the ride but as I rode along neither were looking good at all. I caught up to one of the gals that exited the swim just in front of me but as I passed she jumped on my draft like I was going to tow her all the way to T2. I had to put on a little bit of a surge just to shake her off my wheel and then settled into my rhythm only to watch her sail past me a couple of miles down the road tucked in the draft of one of the leading AG men.  Nothing like taking advantage of the Race Officials being busy at the front of the race. I’m not totally surprised and I’m sure they weren’t the only ones drafting during the race, I’ve seen it before at all levels. It’s just sad that people can’t be honest on the most basic of things. There was no way to keep up plus my heart rate was elevated more than it should be but my cadence was lower than where it should be. I have asthma and take an inhaler before racing which jacks my heart rate up but not this high so I backed off a little so I wouldn’t blow up. These were tell-tale sign that I’m not fully recovered from racing CDA only 3 weeks earlier and my body wasn’t ready for another hard effort. There are a lot of variables that go into determining how soon I should be able to race again and it was becoming apparent that I hadn’t played my cards right on for this one. I’m glad I didn’t spend the money to go to Rev 3 Portland a week earlier as originally planned.

I eventually found myself alone on the bike course. It’s dangerous enough leaving me to just my thoughts for more than a few minutes but I was now at an intersection that didn’t have any volunteers and no signs pointing which way to go. I drove and rode what I thought was the course prior to racing but I realized after about 10 miles that I was on the course but it wasn’t the same course I drove a couple of days earlier. In my defense, when driving the course the road names on the IM directions are different than the street signs which are different than what the locals call it. I recognize I may be a little navigationally challenged, my husband says cartodyslexic, so when I didn’t know which direction to go I just waited for the next bike to go by and follow him…potential issue averted.

I'm no Meredith Kessler...yet...because she runs like an antelope, I run like a one-legged pirate with my wooden leg filled with gold.

Not a good bike split for the day but I just couldn’t push any harder without my heart jumping out of my chest. It was the best I could for the day but I’m sure the changes I made to my bike fit aren’t quite right because my tailbone started to hurt by mile 30. I fell and broke it over the winter break but it hasn’t bothered me too much until this fit. The really sucky part is it didn’t set me up for a very successful run either. You would be amazed how much your tailbone impacts your ability to run. It was all about damage control at this point…I had passed one gal on the bike and I saw a couple on the road right in front of me so I knew there were a couple of rabbits right in front of me. Unfortunately a 1:30 - 1:32 half marathon was not a possibility for the day with the way my heart rate was and my tailbone was sending a pulsating pain down my left leg. I settled into a manageable pace for the first mile thinking things might loosen up a little the more I ran. After a couple of miles I was starting to fill a little looser and kicked the up pace. After the first 8 miles I decided to pick it up a little more since my heart rate was staying in control, the pain wasn’t going away so why not get this over faster. After running through the La Crema Winery loop I opened it up until I crossed the finished line.

Not last place but well below my capabilities. Live, learn and focus on the next race.

Next Up

Invading to Boulder in 2 weeks. I know, I’m throwing myself into the lion’s den by racing in the training grounds for many of the world’s top professional, high elevation, the cards are stacked against me. I need to go anyways to fix the fit on my bike. After that I go International, well, north of the Border for IM Canada and then in September I will ride laps around Mt. Bachelor at the Leadman 250 Bend; that 223k bike course is gonna be killer.


I’m no Meredith Kessler...yet...but give me time and I will be the best athlete I can be. I’ve raced with Meredith at 4 of my 5 races this year but she’s raced in 7 during the same time with an incredible 5 wins, a 2nd & a 3rd. She is an amazing athlete and an incredibly kind person and a true professional. I'm not trying to make Meredith appear larger than life and I really don't feel like I'm a complete failure, I just need to hit my stride. Meredith has had an incredible season andI recognize that I still have lots to learn and one of the best ways is to by trial and error…eventually it’ll all come together. She's racing her 46th Ironman in Kona this year, Canada will be my 8th, that makes me look like a rookie. Nothing beats race experience and nothing beats the support from my husband and my kids. In a couple of years I'll be racing and training with my kids. I'm not sure how my husband is going to afford having four of us racing at the same time. Planning for next year...starts now!

 “Honesty is a very expensive gift. Don’t expect it from cheap people.” – Warren Buffett. Draft legal triathlons are not common in the US and I prefer to believe that it’s called an Ironman and not Ironmen because it’s intended to be an individual effort. I’m continually amazed at the number of Triathletes, AG and Pro alike, willing to jump on the wheel of a friend, competitor or someone they might not even know, draft for miles only backing off when they hear the rumble of an Official’s Harley Davidson coming down the road. I live by the idiom “Cheaters Never Prosper” so stop jumping on my wheel thinking I’m going to drag your lazy butt along the course; I'm suffering too.

Not being well known among the top Pros has been interesting. Some are very clique’ish and sometimes remind me of road racers who judge acceptance based on the bike you ride, the brand of wetsuit, apparel or shoes you wear. Others see a new face and are very willing to go out of their way to make you feel welcome to the elite class of athletes who often share similar struggles in this demanding sport that they love. There is an interesting story I won’t publish about my request to ride the course with other riders being refused and then later being told that if I had said that I was “Pro” then I would have been welcome. If you ever want to go for a ride with me and we’re going the same direction, I won’t ever tell you no. Now, don’t expect it to be a no-drop ride if I need to hit certain paces or intensities but this doesn’t mean I won’t loop back for you on my recoveries. Also, if you ever catch me acting entitled, please punch me in the face…another story for another time.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ironman Coeur d'Alene Race Report

Ironman CDA has been one of my favorite race venues since I first raced there in 2005. It’s a beautiful venue and my family says it’s very spectator friendly with the 2-loop swim, bike & run courses and transitions centrally located in a family friendly park.

Previously I had always been trying for a Kona slot. This year would have been no different but qualification as a Pro is based off of a points system and with a lackluster start to my first year I was a wee-bit out of contention for a slot. This year was shaping up to be about personal pride and to gauge the effectiveness of my training program. I had personal time goals that were based off of what I knew I could do on this course. The bike & run courses were some unknowns since they had changed both the since I last raced here in 2010. The run had only minor changes but 80 miles of the bike were completely new. I had riden the new sections of the bike course and liked it. It wasn't going to be like racing in Florida but it wasn't as techincal as course has been in the past.

Race morning brought cloudy and cool temperatures with the threat of rain throughout the day. Most importantly, it was 3:30am and I had woken up on my own, before my alarm. The obstacle that derailed IM St. George had been eliminated. That was the most restful night of sleep I’ve had before the race. Likely because my husband took all of the stress of me getting up on time by telling me to go to sleep and he would make sure and wake me on time. Thanks, hubby, for putting my mind at ease.

I don’t have much of a game face but I did my best to put it on even though I was reeling with anticipation. I felt physically ready to tear up the course but I wasn’t sure how I would do mentally throughout the day. An Ironman is as much about your mental strength as it is about the physical aspect. The biggest decision of the day was how to dress. It was a cool morning, 50 degrees, with the threat of rain in the morning and then it was supposed to clear up and be sunny and warm. This was going to be a hand warmer and toe warmer kind of ride. I needed warm gear for the bike because the water temp was cold, warmer than Boise but only in the mid to upper 50s. I tried to find gear I could live without after the race since I would likely shed my top layer at an aide station after the first loop and the odds were high that they would not make it into the Lost & Found. I didn’t want to lose my TYR arm warmers so I fashioned a pair out of some lime green socks that I had picked up with the intention of using them for the Underwear Run the next time I made it to Kona. I had a windbreaker vest and I planned to use hand and toe warmers since riding 112 miles while you’re freezing Is no fun.

One of my favorite things about the swim at CDA is that it’s a 2-loop course which allows me to see my 1.2 mile split. I knew I needed to have a good first loop so I could get out in front of the 2,400 Age Group athletes that were starting 35 minutes after the Pro wave. As I completed my first loop I noticed it was a 31:40 which was about par for me in a cold water swim and right on track for my goal finish time. That meant that I only had 3 minutes before I would be swarmed. I needed to try to stay in front of the pack because I don’t do well swimming in large packs. I still have an uncontrollable fear of water from when I almost drowned as a child and I still freak when other people touch me while we swim. I know, odd that I would choose a profession that requires that I try to swim with the pack but this is one of my ways of working through my fears.

I made it a short distance before I could hear and feel the concussion of the canon sounding the start of the race for the rest of the field. By time I made it to the first buoy I found myself engulfed by the sea of black wetsuits as the elite amateur men and women caught up to me. I tried my best to hold the same pace as the leaders but it only worked for a couple of hundred yards and then one of them inadvertently raked my goggles down over my eyes. By time I had them back on I was being swarmed and it started to feel more like a boxing match than a swim. As I exited the water I saw the clock read 1:06:32. It was a couple of minutes off of what I thought I could do but was still a PR for me by more than 2 minutes. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in myself thinking I was the last Pro out of the water and likely 8-10 minutes behind the rest of the pack. I wish there was some kind of leader board I could look at when I came out of the swim to see exactly what I needed to make up. That could be a double edged sword though.

I purposely took a couple of extra minutes in T1 to add layers that I could shed as my body warmed. I was cold, shivering from the swim but not nearly as bad as Boise. I needed to warm myself quickly because the shivering burns needed energy. My strategy for the bike was to stay consistent and negative split the second loop. I had biked a 5:20 at this race in 2010 on a course I felt was a more difficult and technical. I planned to better that time by ~5 minutes and worst case match it. As I made my way to the first turnaround I saw Meredith and Heather and then a couple of minutes later, Kate and then the rest of the field as they all started to head back into town before heading out to ride the 40 mile out and back on Highway 95. I figured they were already a couple of miles ahead of me and riding strong but I couldn’t tell exactly how far back I was because I wasn’t sure how far back I was coming out of the water. For some reason my legs were flat. I don’t know if it was just because of the cold swim but I was hoping to shake it off quickly.  

It was different riding towards the front of the field. In years past, as an Age Grouper, I always had lots of people in front of me that I could work to pick off 1-by-1. Now, I had a lot of open road…man how boring. It’s dangerous to leave me with just my thoughts for that long. As we rode along Highway 95 we had a pretty strong headwind that seemed relentless. I then started to see the lead males on their way back into town…Lieto…O’Donnell…and then there was Heather not too far back and right on her tail was Meredith. Heather had made up the gap from the swim but Meredith wasn’t about to let her break away. I’m not very good at telling whether I’m making up or losing time so I kept my head down and pushed as hard as I thought was smart. I was still feeling sluggish so I was hoping a conservative bike would translate into a solid run. Fast forward to the last couple hundred yards coming into T2. The course is set up where you have 2-90deg turns, a right and then 50 yards to a tight left which leads you down a100 yards to the dismount line. It was set up no different than in years past. As I prepare for these turns and for a quick dismount in T2, I pull my feet from my shoes and then pedal on top. I successfully completed the first right-hand turn but as I stood to pedal and position my bike and body, I pushed down on my pedal my foot slipped off of my shoe and I came down full weight on my top tube and aero bars. I smashed my ribs into my elbow pad on my aero bars and then came inches away from crashing into the barriers that line the street. My bike was wobbling out of control and I almost endo’d over the front of my bike. I came to a stop half way between the turns and got off my bike to collect myself for a couple of minutes. My crotch hurt so bad! It knocked the wind out of me when I hit my ribs. The near crash had my adrenaline pumping but I was hurting bad. I was not about to DNF another race so I just stood humped over in the middle of the street to collect my wits enough to walk-jog my bike the rest of the 150 yards into T2. A final bike time of 5:34:59…that’s backwards of where my time should have gone. The near crash wasn’t helpful but that likely only added a couple of minutes to my overall time. I was still off by nearly 15 minutes from last time.

My feet were on fire as I entered the changing tent and as I looked down to put on my shoes I noticed that I had skinned the balls of my feet and my right ankle as I drug them across the asphalt like Fred Flinstone to prevent myself from crashing. Like running a marathon isn’t hard enough. Now I needed to go the distance without skin on the bottoms of my feet. Quitting is never an option at the beginning of any race but sometimes you have to know when to call it a day. Call me stubborn or stupid but I couldn’t bring myself to end the day like this. I mean, my kids were here to watch. The solution, Vaseline the open wounds to minimize the rubbing and suck it up for the next 3.5 hours. There wasn’t much I could do about my crotch feeling like I’d been kicked by a horse other than hope that would pass with time; preferably by time I exited T2. My ribs felt like they were broken and taking a deep breath was painful. I thought about going to the medical tent for a brief second but even if my ribs were broken they wouldn’t be able to do much. I hoped that they would loosen up within the first couple of miles. I have the absolute worst luck!

I thought I would be a little conservative on the first couple of miles just to test out my feet and loosen up my breathing, maybe add 30 seconds per mile to my pace and then adjust as needed. Out for the first loop I saw that Meredith was now well ahead of Heather even though both of them were still looking strong and there was a huge gap between Heather and Kate who was running in 3rd. As I ran in the opposite direction towards the turn around, I could already see that some of the girls were starting to fade. That made me feel a little better but I was far from feeling like Queen of the Mountain and I was mentally making plans for just completing the race. I wasn’t going to be able to run anybody down today. Self-preservation became the goal, hold my pace and try not to get passed. As I was completing the first loop I saw Meredith and then saw Heather but thought it odd that Heather no longer had a bike leading her along the course. A couple of miles later I saw Hailey Cooper-Scott had run herself into 3rd but for some reason the bike leading her said “2nd Place Female”. Odd. As I ran back out to the turnaround on my final lap my run form was compensating for my injured feet resulting in poor run efficiency and an even slower pace. I tried to focus on other things like the energy of the crowd, the beautiful scenery, I even made sure to cheer for other athletes as they passed, I did anything to help the time pass and keep my mind on other things.

I later found out that the reason why Heather no longer had a biker when I saw here on the 2nd loop was because apparently her crank fell off during the last portion of the bike and fellow Pro Christie Sym gave her bike so Heather could finish. Yep, that’s against USAT rules and resulted in a DQ. Apparently she disagreed with the Official’s ruling and said that she was going to complete the race and then challenge the ruling at the end. I guess they caught up with her at mile 20 of the run and told her to hand over her timing chip or risk a 6 month suspension. Wow! Suspension? Read Heather's account of how it all happened here.

I totally agree with the rule of not allowing help from support vehicles but I think USAT needs to redefine what “outside help” truly means. If fellow competitors are willing to stop and help with mechanical issues or even hand over their gear to assist a fellow athlete, I say let them. I remember Chrissie accepted a CO2 cartridge during the 2008 Worlds and then went on to win. How is someone giving their bike different? I think this is what makes us Triathletes different than other athletes. It’s not like road racing where you are out of luck if you’re on the wrong team as the "neutral" wheel-wagon goes by. Maybe it’s time to update the USAT rule book.
Anyways, I ended up shuffling through the run with a sluggish 3:45 for a finish time of 10:35 and 7th place but still 20 minutes off the time I had on this course 2 years ago. I was truly thinking I could go under 10 on this course. Looks like I need to make some more adjustments to my bike training if I’m getting slower instead of faster and heal up my feet so they are in good condition for my next race. I did nail my nutrition for the first time ever on a full Ironman distance race. Historically I've always had GI issues on the last 30-40 miles of the bike and then all of the run. I've learned over the years that I can't use any of the nutrition offered on the course because it tears up my guts. I started using a product called VESPA last year when I raced Wildflower. Obviously I tested it out during training rides and runs ahead of time, and I'll admit I wasn't immediately sold on the idea. I wanted something I could use so bad I stuck with it and made the recommended diet changes. Today I take it prior to the swim and I've learned how to pack it along with me for both bike and the run. It means I have to carry everything with me but I think it's a small sacrifice for something I can use. If you suffer from GI issues when you train and race, there are options out there that may work for you. If you would like some ideas, please contact me and I'd be willing to offer some suggestions of where you can start. I'm not a dietiitian or nutrutionist, this is just tribal knowledge I've gained over the years.

Next up for me…Vineman on July 15th. That race has been on my bucket list for years. I’m also contemplating trying to race Rev 3 Portland on July 8th. I raced there last year and loved the Rev 3 staff and now they have a new bike course that will be more challenging. I'll have to see how I feel in a week. Beyond that, I’m gunning for IM Canada, another bucket list race. I’m not sure about racing at Boulder next month; the entire state is burning. Maybe the Leadman Tri Epic 250 in Bend?