Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eagleman 70.3 Race Report: Hot, Slow, and Successful!

I met Mirinda "Rinny" Carfrae! She's a tiny powerhouse! Photo Cred: Ryan
 Ladies and Gentlemen, I survived another half-ironman. And this time, no hospital and no IVs for me!! Given the conditions, I think that in and of itself was an awesome accomplishment...

First let me say that Ironman Eagleman 70.3 is an extremely well run race with great staff and volunteers. Now let me say that I think anyone who does that race more than once is out of their flipping mind. Holy hotness! This year was apparently a "mild" one for Eagleman, but in my book it was VERY EXTREME!!!

So as we all may recall (some more than others...), after my last half iron distance event, in relatively ideal race conditions, I ended up in a hospital bed with two liters of fluids pumping through my veins, unable to stand due to severe leg cramping.

Ryan and I are ready to roll: Those bikes make that car look good!
My family probably didn't love the idea that I was going to try again, but I have my heart set on all of this triathlete craziness, and I just had to promise not to repeat my first "tie up". I chose Eagleman because it was relatively close to home and because the course was flat. Somehow the idea of early June also seemed like a safe bet for not-too-extreme weather. It wasn't till after my race fee was paid and I was committed did I find out that Eagleman is actually well known for it's inferno-like conditions. Whoops. And the weather this year did not disappoint! Despite several beautiful, 70-73 degree days before the race, race day itself was slated to be 90 degrees in the shade. And the run course, btw, is NOT in the shade. Ever.

Anyway, my friend Ryan and I drove down to Cambridge, MD together the day before the race. Erin had a hockey tournament, so she came down Sat afternoon (with our awesome friend Matt), after her last game. I made Ryan leave kinda early because I was really excited for the pro-forum and wanted to meet Craig Alexander and Mirinda Carfrae. We packed up Ryan's car, put the bikes on the roof rack, and headed over the Bay Bridge.

Where the bridge ends...
Out for a spin
Once in Cambridge we got through packet pickup and toured the town a little on our bikes to spin out our legs. Once it was time for the pro-forum I was like a little kid. I was so freaking excited to see these legends in person. I am a serious nerd about triathlon, so I've read and seen basically everything there is to see and read about these pros. I brought two triathlete magazines with me to have signed. And suddenly there they were, milling about in the crowd, heading onstage, looking like SUPER FIT human beings. Rinny's legs are so jacked! And she's so tiny!! And Crowie looks a bit stunned most of the time, but very happy. Meredith Kessler and TJ Tollakson were also on the panel, and they both seem incredibly down to earth. They were all well-spoken and funny. After the question and answer was over, I basically sprinted to the front of the line to go onstage and made Ryan take my picture with them. They were so so nice and wished me luck at the race. Rinny and I chatted about my camera. Meredith (who went on to win the race, Rinny dropped out on the bike due to illness) was so accommodating and sweet. It was awesome. I could go on, but I wont.
Holy Crowie! Craig Alexander: Reigning Ironman World Champion
Meredith Kessler is super sweet! Photo cred, these two: Ryan
Anyway, once I got over being starstruck and ridiculous, Ryan and I headed over to transition to rack our bikes and check out the water. I was immediately excited about the swim once we got in. The water was murky but very pleasant and only slightly brackish. It was also very quiet and sighting was a piece of cake. I was hoping that the water would be warm enough on race morning that wetsuits would not be legal, because I knew that as a strong swimmer that would give me an advantage. After splashing around for a bit, Ryan and I scooped up another triathlete, Marc, and we all headed out in search of an Italian restaurant for dinner. That turned out to be more challenging than it should have been, but we got lucky and found good one on the way to my hotel.

My pre-race meal of choice: Spaghetti with red sauce and chicken. Sometimes mushrooms too. Yummm.

Ready to go...wait for 2 hours... Photo Cred: Erin

After dinner the boys dropped me at my hotel and I got my stuff all ready for race day whilst attempting to ignore the screaming children (and parents) in my adjoining room. Thank goodness for earplugs. I was in bed on time and feeling good, earplugs in place and Triathlete magazine to lull me to sleep. I didn't even notice when Erin and Matt got there. I did, however, wake up on my own a few minutes before my alarm went off at 3:30 am.

My new-this-season pre-race rituals have served me well, so I am sticking to them. Hot shower. Oatmeal with banana. Cup of coffee. Gatorade. Given the 45 minute drive to the race site, the fact that my bike was already racked and the fact that this was a half-ironman, I wasn't planning on too much warm up for this one. The longer the race, the shorter the warm up. Unfortunately, despite transition closing at 6:45, my swim wave wasn't scheduled to start until 8:20. That meant that I would be sitting around for a whiiiile and that my race was going to go into the hottest part of the day. The week before the race I was extremely diligent about my electrolyte consumption. I took Endurolytes (electrolyte pills) every day the week before, and that morning.

Erin and Matt rolled out of bed and we headed to the race site. They dropped me off at transition and went to Denny's for breakfast while I set up my stuff. I had a great transition location, really easy to find at the end of a rack, which was a blessing because the transition area was a HUGE SEA of bicycles. By the time I had everything set up I was feeling pretty good, albeit nervous. It was already getting hot by 6 am and I knew it was going to be a scorcher. The race announcers told us the swim was still wetsuit legal (75.6 degrees I think?) but that the high for the day was about 93. Yay.
My support crew are the best ever (Matt, Me and Erin)

I was happy to see some DC Tri Club friends, as well as Sara, a friend of mine from the bike shop. I was also really really glad Erin and Matt were there to cheer me on. My parents were also en route, scheduled to arrive around when I would be entering T2. Now all I had to do was stay out of trouble. Haha.

After waiting around for a while and fretting over the fact that I felt like I needed a second breakfast, my swim wave time finally arrived. I waded in with my fellow red-caps, swam around a bit, and lined up for the start. After we bobbed around like corks in our wetsuits for a few minutes, the horn blew and we were off. I felt great in the water and easily found a good pace. One thing I have yet to master is effectively drafting off of the lead swimmers, and that would have been particularly difficult given the murkiness of the water, so I just settled into my own path and forged ahead. The buoys came quickly and I really did feel great. I had been very worried about the foot and leg cramps that I have been experiencing while swimming, and I didn't have a problem until the very last buoy. A girl bumped into my left leg and suddenly my big toe and foot cramped up and I had to keep that foot flexed for the last few hundred meters of the swim. It wasn't the most efficient stroke, but it wasn't for every long either. I came out in a good position from the swim, at 35:05 and felt probably the best I have coming into transition and onto the bike.
Walkin' into the water, second from the right, not counting the girl out in front
I went into T1 ready to rock, but had another really slow transition. I swear, I'm going to practice transitions for hours on end. T1 was 2:20. Then I was off, and running out to the bike course with JoMama.

The first part of the course I was going pretty hard and I felt good. I was likely averaging over 20 mph for the first 1/4 to 1/3 of the course. Still, several girls from my age group were passing me, which made me realize that I must have come out pretty high up in the swim.

Then the headwinds hit. As I was pushing hard against them, struggling for 17 or 18 mph, I realized that I needed to be sure I didn't blow myself out in the bike. I just kept telling myself to save something for the run, because the heat was rising and I knew it would be really tough. I also kept a steady eye on the clock, making sure I fueled up every 10 minutes with my Inifinit custom formula and water. I had a pack of Stinger Chews half way through, and two Endurolyte pills. The headwind didn't really let up, but I was able to push a bit harder on the last third of the course. I had to freewheel and stretch out more frequently than I wanted to. Flat courses sound great, but it can be really hard on the body to stay in the same position for 56 miles. Hills give you a chance to shift your position and stretch out a bit, but on this course you had to do that yourself. I honestly just was not as aggressive on the bike as I normally am, but I really wanted to be careful. By the time I was coming in from the bike I was no longer in the wind and I could tell the temperature had soared. I had biked 3:03:54 which was an average of 18.3 mph. Conservative, but probably smart.
Red caps bobbing. Photo Cred: Erin

 Coming into T2 I saw both of my parents, as well as Erin and Matt. I was super psyched my support crew was there. Dad yelled something to me about the heat, but I have no idea what it was. T2 was also pretty darn slow (2:24) but I had my head in the game and felt good.

Once I started running, though, I knew it was going to be a slow afternoon. My legs just wouldn't go quickly and I was instantly overheated. I had taken my mother's advice and brought crack-and-cool "ice packs". They felt awesome for about 1 minute and then they were useless. Darn things! (As an experiment I cracked open my extra one yesterday and it stayed cold for at least half an hour. No idea if it was just too hot for them to work, or if I was too hot to feel it).  Anyway, one mile in and I was already feeling like complete crap. I could see heat rising off the pavement in waves. At the first aid station I walked, got water, got ice, and poured water all over my head and shoulders. I assessed how I felt and made a deal with myself: If I ran to every aid station, and picked up my cadence once the station is in sight, I was allowed to walk/stop and get myself cooled off at every one.
Swim exit! Photo Cred: Sara

And I stuck to that deal.

I just took the run aid station by aid station. I'm not going to lie, the first 6-7 miles were pretty darn awful. I considered what excuses I would tell my family and friends if I decided to quit. I told myself I was never doing this again. I stopped to stand in a sprinkler. I watched the rising heat blur out everything on the horizon. I swerved to run through the tiniest patch of shade.
Then I would see the next aid station and pick up my pace. A deal is a deal, after all. At each station I put ice down my top, ice in my hat, ice in my shorts even. Poured several cups of water all over. Drank gatorade and water. I had absolutely no interest in the Gus I brought with me, but I made myself choke one down around mile 4. The next mile or so after that was probably the worst I felt all day. And then suddenly the carbs kicked in and I felt like I was on cloud nine. At the aid station right before the turn around I figured out that I could scrunch up the top of a cup full of ice and carry that with me so that I had a cold hand and little drops of melted water to pour over myself until the next mile. From the turn around to about mile 9 I felt amazing. I ran faster, I talked to people, I cheered others on. Then at mile 9 I hated myself again. The last two miles were almost impossible. We could see the finish across the water front at the last mile marker, and somehow it looked so incredibly far away. The woman next to me said she would have rather swam that last mile and I totally agreed. Then I passed her. At the last bend I saw my parents and gave them both a thumbs up, yelling "I'm OK!" because even though I was totally exhausted I knew that I was a hell of a lot better than last time. I wasn't going to need an IV! Yay! Mission accomplished!!
WOOO I'M ALIVE! Photo Cred: Erin

Going down the finish chute at an Ironman event really is pretty awesome. I know it would be even more amazing at a full Ironman, but this was still great. I ran along the edge of the chute and high-fived every person and child with their hand out. Honestly I felt like I needed to suck up a little energy from each of them to convince myself to keep going. With the finishing arch in sight I put in a bit of a kick, but I didn't have much. Just before the finish line I saw that Matt and Erin had made signs for me and I hope the finish line camera caught my huge grin. My run time was 2:23:02, my second slowest half-marathon ever.

Giving Matt the thumbs up, Photo Cred: Erin
I finished in 6:06:07. That's only 2 minutes faster than I finished last year when I went to the hospital. Still, my number one goal was not to go to the hospital, and that was accomplished. My number two goal was sub-6 hours, but given the heat and course conditions, I am actually very proud of myself. On the run I told myself I wasn't doing another half, but I think I owe it to myself to try one more. The first one I had my nutrition all wrong. The second one was too hot. I want to give myself one shot in better conditions and with better nutrition. Given how fast I can swim, my bike time at my first race (significantly faster) and my ability to run a sub-2 hour half marathon, I think that on a good day I could finish a half ironman around 5:30. In a smaller race, that might even be podium territory, or at least close!

So my next half iron- distance race is in October. And when I am out on the run course telling myself "I am never ever doing this again!" maybe I'll listen.


Compare this to the pic of me in the hospital last year. Lookin' much better!
Craig Alexander won the men's race. Rinny dropped out during the bike and Meredith Kessler won the women's race. My friend Ben won the Aquavelo and my training buddy Ryan came in 8th in his age group (2nd out of the water!!).

Today, two days later, I can barely walk. But I sure am happy :)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Race prep and Ironman World Champs

I meant to start this post by telling you yet again how much trouble I have with tapering. But then I sat down to my lunch and this awesome salad I just made and now I want to talk about that!

-Large bowl of organic spring greens and baby spinach, 1 chopped orange bell pepper, healthy sprinkling of goat cheese, leftover quinoa from last night's dinner (cooked in chicken broth), raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds), a light drizzle of grapeseed oil (my coach says I need more healthy fats) and a drizzle of Newman's Own Lite Italian. I am a Salad Genius!!

Anyway! Now onto my original topic. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the week before the race is really tough for me. I go through all of the previous weeks of tough training telling myself "Just wait till race week, when you'll know you've put the work in and you can sit back and do a few easy workouts and just be ready to go" but when that week comes it is nowhere near as glorious and relaxing as it sounds during a 4 hour training session several weeks before. I've come to this race week having followed a proper taper as outlined by my coach. This means my longest ride was almost a month ago! A few weeks ago I did a huge brick, but since then they've been much shorter (albeit with faster paces) and that just feels scary.

I know, I know, I just have to put my trust in my training. Going through this whole coaching process I have worked harder and felt fitter than ever before. But sitting on my tush for a week (you know you've reached a new level of sick when hour runs and 2 hour rides feel like sitting on your tush) just makes me feel...well terrified! And rest days?!? I don't DO rest days. You trained them out of me months ago! Now I'm supposed to take 3 in as many weeks? WHAT??

So besides spending my extra down time working on my dissertation (oh yeah, that old thing!), I've been trying to mentally prepare myself, and physically prepare all of my equipment. Yesterday my bike got a good shining and I lubed up my chain. Today I took her into the shop and got race wheels installed (going with the same Zipp404s I raced in last September at the Delaware Diamondman half). I'm visualizing lightening fast transitions (HA!) and how to quickly and calmly fix a flat (which of course I'm now having nightmares about. Awesome.). I'm also visualizing how I'm going to have veins of ice water even in the 90+ degree heat on a run course with no shade. This probably will have no effect whatsoever on my actual ability to withstand heat, but it can't hurt to try, right?

Considering the nutrition/hydration disaster I got myself into for the last half, I've been spending considerable mental energy working out how I'm going to avoid the same mistake. In training I have weaned myself completely off of products containing caffeine and so far in my racing and training this season my heart has not been an issue. My coach recommended a new sports drink made by Infinit Nutrition which was custom designed based on a phone interview to be the best product for me and my training needs. I've been using this religiously in my training and have worked out what I hope is the best strategy for consumption. I'm paying special attention to my electrolyte levels in this last week before the race, hoping to avoid the swim-induced leg and foot cramps that have been plaguing me for years now.

I've been reading a lot about "topping off my glycogen stores" in this last week as well, which sounds to me a lot like pigging out. I don't know where that fine line is of eating enough to be ready and over-eating because you're not training as hard right now. Gotta work on that one.

I think I may have crossed another fine line between thinking about this enough to be ready and over-thinking everything because I'm internally freaking out. Or externally.

Hey, in other news, Mirinda Carfrae and Craig Alexander are racing Eagleman, too! I can't wait to go to the pro forum and get autographs! As you can see from my picture, I have my triathlete magazines with their faces gracing the covers, all ready for their signatures! (I KNEW there was a reason I hoard old magazines! HA, MOM! :)  ) For those of you who don't know who those two Pros are, Mirinda Carfrae was the Ironman World Champion in 2010, the year that Chrissie Wellington scratched due to illness, and she came in second last year. She holds the Kona marathon world record and runs like the wind. Craig Alexander is the reigning Ironman World Champion and is just an amazing athlete and competitor. He also just seems like a really cool dude. Yay!!

Ok, off to change the tubes out in my flat kit and then to take my newly-Zipped bike out for a 1.25 hour "easy/steady" ride. 

You'll be hearing from me again soon, the race is days away!!