Monday, May 20, 2013

Ironman 70.3 Florida: A Big Step Forward

Heading down to Florida for the Ironman 70.3 I was pretty excited. I was fresh off a successful race in St. George, well rested, and ready to go. The pro start list was much more competitive than I had imagined, with triathlon superstars like Mary Beth Ellis, Jo Lawn, Sarah Piampiano, and other well known Pros in attendance. However, rather than scare me, this got me a bit excited - I would get a good group to swim with, which would set me up nicely going into bike. Before I saw the start list, my goal was to podium, but after realizing that wasn't as realistic I just decided that my goal would be to stay with the girls on the bike for as long as possible. Since a goal should be quantifiable, I decided on 45km. If I could stay with the girls for that long on the bike then the race was successful. Start small, right?

I arrived in the sunshine state mid-day on Thursday. Ironman was amazing and had rented a house for some of the Pros for the race. I was the first of my house mates to arrive. The house was perfect: in a VERY quiet neighbourhood, with a big kitchen, eating area, living room and pool. I got a quick run in and unpacked my bike before the others arrived. Callum and his girlfriend, Danielle, were next too arrive. Callum was a male Pro from New Zealand. Later, and after I was asleep, Sam Betten from Australia got in. Jose, from France, arrived on Friday.

The big house

The pool

Patio by the pool

Me in the pool :)

Being in the same house with other pros, who were far less uptight than me, made the whole pre-race routine a lot less stressful. Each of them had been competing for almost a decade and were completely laid back. Their sarcasm and sense of humour was a nice break from the normal seriousness of the days that lead up to most of my races. I still made sure to eat the right foods (not sure that Callum's pre-race diet of Hershey's chocolate and coke would have worked as well for me - although it was tempting), get enough sleep and make sure I was organized, but I found I was much more relaxed than normal before a race - I owe that to my room mates. The best moment leading up to the race was seeing Rikki walk through the front door on Saturday, completely unexpected. Since I met him in 2006 he has never surprised me to that extent!

The beach and site of the swim start

Driving the bike course

Pre-race Pasta Dinner

Race day started off like any other race. The race in St George allowed me to dust away all the cobwebs that had accumulated during the off-season. I was quite at ease before the race start. I did double-back to my bike before transition closed to make sure my neighbours didn't rack their bikes on top of mine, like in St George!

Heading to transition, race morning

The swim took place in Lake Eva (water temp 82C, non-wetsuit). I love non-wetsuit swims, not just because I am a strong swimmer, but because it makes the weak swimmers weaker and they don't catch me as quickly on the bike. Plus, I love my BlueSeventy swim skin...pretty sure it has invisible buoyancy built into it! At 6:35am, the Pro women were off. I positioned myself near Nina Kraft, who was also a strong swimmer who I knew I could stay with. She was fast off the start though and a pack came between me and her. That was fine though, as it still gave me some feet to follow. Unlike in St. George, where I was leading the pack and not saving an ounce of energy, I was able to save some energy drafting off a large pack of about 6 girls. As we rounded the last buoy I gave a big kick and caught up to Nina Kraft. I stayed there until the end of the swim and exited the water in 5th position. I swam a 26:07 and crossed the first timing mat at 26:15, which is a very good time for me. I stayed on Nina's heels as we ran through a long transition to our bikes. I couldn't afford any rookie mistakes this time with the large group of girls just seconds behind me. I stripped my swimskin off, had my KASK helmet on and had mounted my P3 with no errors and still in 5th position. Small success!

The bike was pretty technical to start, with 5 turns in the first few kms, but I practiced this part of the course in the days leading up to the race, and was confident about the turns (and having new brakes, was an added confidence booster). I am happy to report that I did not get passed on the turns! A huge accomplishment for me! I will take a few moments to share some valuable advice about taking corners (most from my coach and some added tips from myself): approach the turn wide and take a straight line through the turn, coming out wide on the other side. Lean into the turn and keep your outer leg straight and the inner leg bent (knee up), with all the weight on your outer leg pressing into the pedal. It is OK to brake as you approach the turn, but not during the turn. And you can use the little bit of rest in your legs to really push hard for a few seconds coming out of the turn and regain momentum. If there is someone following you who is a bit weaker on the turns, then you might be able to drop them. At the very least, having good cornering technique will prevent you from getting dropped. Plus, good corners don't take any extra energy, so it's a good technique to master. Anyway, back to the race details! I managed 5km into the bike and was still with a big pack of about 5 girls. We were working as a group (closely followed by the race official) and taking turns at the front and dropping back, out of the draft zone, when we were passed. Last year, I would have been able to stay with the group for about 10km (if at all), before I was dropped. Staying with the group required 30s to 1 min of intermittent surges of power (to pass), then a steady hard effort to pull the group, and then a bit of a rest when passed and a base effort to keep up once outside of the draft zone. Last season, I just didn't have a high enough power at base effort to stay with the group once I was passed. Our group grew to 7 women, as we caught the 3rd girl out of the water, Dede Griesbauer, and Jo Lawn caught up to us. Unfortunately, Dede was stung by a bee and had to drop out of the race. My best wishes go to her for a speedy recovery. I was able to stay with the group for 30, 45, 60km. I definitely was doing my share of the time at the front and I was a little bit worried what that would mean for my legs at the start of the run. The last 30km was especially tough. The "zip" in the legs was gone and I barely had enough to surge and pass when it was my turn. I focused on digging deep and searched for motivation during that final third of the ride. I thought of things like "I've come this far", I sung motivational songs in my head and I thought of all the people who offered well wishes for the race - I wanted to race hard as a thank-you for their support. I guess I did a good job of finding some of that inner motivation, because somehow my legs took me back into T2 in 6th position (2:22:36), just seconds out of 3rd place. I had a really good T2 and actually started the run as 3rd female, with an awesome volunteer on her bike leading me along the run course.

The run was HOT and a lot harder than I expected. My legs were heavy and I was worried. I made it 1km, before Mandy McLane had caught up to me and passed me. Her passing me coincided with the start of the 2 big hills on the course (which I would have to complete 3 times on this looped routed). This was a double dose of discouragement. I had no idea how I would survive the run at this point. I was just settling on being satisfied with whatever the outcome of the race was, because I had achieved my goal on the bike, when, somehow I started to feel good again. At this point, I took a chance and dared to look at my pace on my running watch. To my surprise, I was actually running at a sub 4'10/km pace, which was right on target. Not so bad, I thought! I figured so long as I focused on my nutrition (Berry eLoad Gels, water & salt tablets in a little gel flask) and stayed cool with water from aid stations I might be OK. Near mile 3 though, Jo Lawn caught me. We ran together for the next few miles. This was the most fun of the run. Yes, at one aid station Jo took ALL the nutrition and I got no water ( I did the same to her at the next aid station), but I was later told "this is part of the game". Anyway, It felt good to really run with someone in a race. I even pretended to be Leanda Cave and that Jo Lawn was Mirinda Carfrae in Kona last year! :) Unfortunately, Jo managed to drop me about halfway through the second loop (need some work on being a Leanda). This was when the heat of the day really started to get to me. At each aid station I dumped water on my head, poured ice down my tritop and took in as much water as I could. I barely made it from one aid station to the next without feeling woozy. Just before the start of the last loop I managed to pass another girl on the run and this was exactly what I needed. A little achievement to lift my spirits, which got me onto the last loop and up and over the last 2 big hills of the race. But, in the last few miles, everything was a struggle. I FINALLY understand it when I read stories from Chrissie Wellington or other champions about how they had to dig deep within themselves to continue to push through the pain that would make the average athlete just give up. All my muscles were screaming at me to walk or to take a detour to the lake and just dive in to cool off. Before this race I was never able to fight what my muscles were telling me to do. If I felt bad I would do poorly - I wasn't able to fight it. But I REALLY didn't want that happen today. So I dove deep into my emotions and I used the last loop of the run as an outlet for all my frustrations in life, my fears and my stresses. This passion was just the fuel that I needed, since my muscles would provide no more. Yes, my pace slowed, but I still was able to cross the line with a run split of 1:29:33 and in 4th position (4:22:35). A new PB and way over and above my goals or expectations!

Starting the 3rd loop of the run (showing off my nutrition!)

Running to the finish, so happy I made it!

This was the hardest, but most successful race of my career. Not only because of my placing, but because I was finally able to, as my coach puts it, "push to a point of pain and suffering that the average athlete can't even imagine". This, he says, is what differentiates the Pro from the age group athlete. I have been able to do this a number of times in training, but never for as long a time as during the race.

Showing off the hardware on the podium (Left to Right: Lisa Ribes, Me, Jo Lawn, Mandy McLane, Mary Beth Ellis)

Thank you so much to all of my sponsors and supporters, who continue to be a crucial part of my success! This includes my coach, family and friends, Turner-Tomenson Wealth Management, Raymond James, WattsUp (the support from all the athletes is so awesome, thanks for all the messages of support!), Enduro Sport (awesome job installing my new brakes!), eLoad Sports Nutrition (wouldn't have survived the heat without them!), Urban Athlete, Diego Ricetto (amazing pre-race massage!), KASK helmets, Fitt1st/Outwet High Technology Clothing, Blue Seventy, Ironman staff (especially Heather Fuhr) and the race officials and directors and the volunteers (you had so much work to do on Sunday). Lastly, thank you to the girls that worked with me on the bike! You are all amazing athletes.

Housemate, Sam, post race

The 4 survivors of a TOUGH race! (Left to Right: Jose, Callum, me, Sam)

Monday, May 6, 2013

US PRO Championships Race Report

It has been 6 months since my last race. A 2 week OFF season, a 6 week week prep period and then 4 months of intense training, including 250km (65hrs) of swimming, ~ 4300km (160hrs) of biking, and 753km (60hrs) of running. I am very excited that my second season of racing as a Pro is finally here and I am very pleased with my first race of the season.

Pre-race Prep:

I arrived in St George on the Tuesday. I quickly settled in and did a short run that afternoon. I felt pretty good, considering I had been traveling for 10 hours. It was windy, but I was used to that from my training camp in early April. I would not let the wind discourage me this time. I was asleep by 7:30pm and up bright and early on Wednesday morning. The wind had actually picked up over night and the temperature had dropped. I didn't really realize how cold and windy it was until I got to Sand Hollow to do an open water swim. The water was apparently 60 degrees, but as soon as I got in the cold water immediately took my breath away and then I was toppled by a huge wave. "Come on!" I thought "Give me a break, St George!" The following 30 minutes of swimming, or should I say near drowning, in the choppy waters, left me quite demoralized. I knew that I was a strong swimmer and if I thought this was bad, all my competitors would too. That realization lifted my spirits. I knew I could tough it out. Next up, I biked the last 40km of the course and then completed an easy run. The bike involved a few race pace intervals and, to be honest, I felt AMAZING! The run was also really easy. The following day, Thursday, I did some quality swimming in the pool. I was not really that happy with my swim. My ankle was bothering me if I kicked normally and my times were slow. Later that day I headed to the lake again to swim. The wind had died down and I took Kirk's advice and just jumped in the water and started to swim hard! This worked. I wasn't cold at all, I didn't loose my breath and had a very enjoyable swim. Perhaps I just needed the earlier swim to iron out some of the cobwebs, because this time around I felt super in the water! The ankle was still a little sore though, so this remained a concern. As the day progressed I also realized that my right calf had tightened up a bit. I could feel some knots in the top part of my calf :( The rest of the day involved picking my coach up from the airport, a massage, athlete check-in and purchasing some HOT PINK compression socks and a yummy dinner of pasta. Friday started off with a brick workout with 1 - 2' of race pace intervals, with lots of rest in between. It was during this ride, that I realized that my front brakes were rubbing against my wheel! Luckily the guys at Red Rock Bikes in St George were able to fix the brakes... apparently they were full of sticky sports drink and weren't releasing properly. Later on my coach and I headed to the lake for another short swim. The swim went even better than the day before. All the training was done after this...all I had left to do was check my bike in T1, attend the pro pre race meeting and relax. Everything was going smoothly. And, as an added bonus, at the last minute my coach found a sweet road bike to rent so that he could follow me at various points during the race. Everything pre-race had gone perfectly.

I think I prefer the pool

This isn't so bad!!

Having some fun!

Staring contest? The statue won :(

Getting cozy with the statue

He liked coach better

Getting ready for a swim

Bringing the bike to T1

Time for dinner!

Race Day:

We arrived at transition with plenty of time. I set up my transition area, got in some swim tubing pulls and used the PowerBreath and headed out for a quick 10' swim warm-up. The water temperature was a little cooler than the day before, but not too cold at all. I felt pretty good warming up and my energy levels were high. I was ready to race and to race hard!

Body marking

PowerBreath warm-up

Time to go!

The swim started at 7:00am for the Pro Women. Within a fraction of a second of the horn sounding, the group of us 27 women went from calm to chaotic as we sprinted toward the first buoy. I was kicked and toppled over, before I was able to find a space of calm water. I saw what seemed like the entire group of girls speeding away in the distance. I was worried that I didn't make the pack of girls that I usually swim with (the 26:00 group). I was all alone with no feet to draft off and only a group in the distance that seemed to be getting further and further away. This discouraged me quite a bit, but I stuck to my plan and just swam as hard as I could. There was nothing I could do at this point except that. I didn't know how many people were behind me, but I could see 1 or 2 girls that were swimming beside me and so I focused on not letting them get ahead. We raced each other to the swim exit and ran to our bikes together.(I found out after that one of these girls competed in triathlon in the Olympics, so I was in good company). I was tenth out of the water in a time of 26:40 (1.9km swim + run up a ramp), and less than a minute behind Leanda Cave (cool!), with 6 girls pretty close behind. When I got to my bike in T1 everything went wrong...I couldn't get my wetsuit off, I was slow to put my flat repair kit in my back pocket (I should have had it mounted to my bike to save time) and to top everything off...someone had mounted their bike in the wrong direction so that their bike's handlebars were stuck to mine! As I tried to unstick the bikes, more girls passed me until I was all alone in transition. Finally I got the bikes apart and I tried to stay calm as I mounted my bike (very successfully, small proud moment!) and started my ride. I had lost about 40" during transition.

Exiting the swim (Photo courtesy of FinisherPix)

My arms look bigger than my legs in this shot! Love it! (Photo courtesy of FinisherPix)

Trying to stay calm after a rocky transition (Photo courtesy of FinisherPix)

I felt strong on the bike, not cold at all, for a change. I really focused on staying hydrated in the few days leading up to the race and on race morning I drank more water than usual. I have been told, and believe, being well hydrated helps with body temperature regulation. For me, that means I can stay warmer in cooler temperatures. Normally, I would have expected to be cold in 15 degree temperatures while biking in a wet trisuit, but I wasn't at all. I felt really strong on the bike...easily pushing power that would normally be hard for me. I was riding with a few other girls for awhile. I would pass them on the downhills (thank you Qrings!), but they were pretty strong on the uphills. Once we turned onto State Road 9 the pavement changed and I honestly though I got a flat. This feeling distracted me enough so that I let the other girls get out of sight. After a few minutes of worrying, I was still pedaling strong, and maintaining speed, so I put the idea of a potential flat tire out of my head. At about 50km into the ride I started feeling my power drop off a little bit. My legs were getting tired and I was no longer pedaling as consistently on the downhills. I focused on my goals, and that helped me stay strong, even though I knew I was fading a little bit. After 72km the course was mostly downhill so I decided I would treat the next 20km as 4x5km and try to maintain my power one 5km section at a time. Not only did this help, but it made the 20km fly by. Before I knew it I was cresting the hill of Snow Canyon Drive and speeding toward T2. I finished the ride in 2:37:27 in 21st (22nd fastest bike of the day). At the end of the ride it looked like my power was up about 20W from my best race last season...but we are wondering whether this is a calibration issue with my new garmin head unit, because this power number was only a few watts lower than my most recent 15K TTs...hmmm. It also looked like my front brake had been rubbing ever so slightly on the front wheel (rookie mistakes!).

FOCUS is key(Photo courtesy of FinisherPix)

Aerodynamics is also key (Photo courtesy of FinisherPix)

I should smile for these shots (Photo courtesy of FinisherPix)

I had a pretty quick T2, but fumbled with my race belt a little bit (things to practice!). Then I was off on the run course, heading uphill, and feeling OK. My coach was beside me on his bike. I had done the course before so I knew what was coming (a lot of pain), but I could see a few girls up ahead and that kept me motivated. Just before the half-way point I passed two girls. This kept me strong through the next long uphill section...I was hurting, but I could hear coach cheering for me, reminding me to keep good form, to take in my nutrition and telling me their were more girls up just up ahead. The rest of the race was a bit of a blur as I made my way toward the finish. Up a hill, down a hill, repeat. Finally I was on the last little stretch of downhill, racing towards the finish. I caught another female who looked like she was struggling and said a quick "good job, almost there" as I passed. Then I was able to pass another girl. After that I was starting to feel it: the heavy legs, a bit of stomach discomfort, the signs that my body wanted me to slow down. The finish line was only 2kms away. I saw Will from High Knees Cycling at the last aid station and he gave me a high five. This gave me a bit of an extra push that got me towards the finish line. I ran a 1:32.03 (17th fastest run of the day) and finished 17th overall in 4:40:03

Pain!(Photo courtesy of FinisherPix)

Almost there! (Photo courtesy of FinisherPix)

You can't see it, but I'm smiling (Photo courtesy of FinisherPix)

I looked around once I crossed the line and recognized the girls who had already finished: past Olympians, Ironman and 70.3 champions. It was the US Pro Championships so of course the race was stacked with champions, and it felt good to be among them. I was even happier to hear that Canadian Brent McMahon had won the men's race and other Canadians, Heather Wurtele and Trevor Wurtele, were among the top 10.

Post-Race Analysis:

I was very pleased with my race. Yes, I wish that a good race had translated to a higher overall ranking, but when I think like this I have to remember that success doesn't come overnight or even after one month or one year. There are a few people who appear to come out of nowhere and do incredibly well and win their first few races. For most of us, though, success takes time. It takes hard work and sometimes it doesn't even feel like you are making progress, because it happens so slowly. This race was a small step forward: I gained about 10 seconds in the swim, gained 2:00 - 3:00 in the bike and about 1:00 - 2:00 in the run.

Thank yous:

I would like to extend a special thank you to Turner-Tomenson Wealth Management and Raymond James Financial for their sponsorship and helping to off-set the cost of my training camps this year. Additionally, the facilities and athletes at WattsUp Cycling played a HUGE role in helping my training this winter. I may have spent 4 weeks training outdoors, but the remaining 5 months of my training was done on the CompuTrainers and rollers at WattsUp. How did I stay motivated during all that indoor riding? Well, I have the athletes and people at WattsUp to thank for that! The constant encouragement from all the athletes there was tremendous. Everyone there played a role in keeping me motivated. It feels so good to be part of the WattsUp community. Additionally, I would like to thank my RMTS, Diego Ricetto and Brad Wilson, and my Chiropractor, Bill Wells, at Urban Athlete, for keeping me healthy through all my training and fixing my rolled ankle in time for race day! Thanks to Kirk and Charity Nelson for getting me set up on better gearing and Qrings! Also, thanks to EnduroSport for keeping my bikes well tuned and like new for all the riding, eLoad Sports Nutrition for keeping me well fueled, FITT1st and Outwet High Technology clothing for keeping me comfortable, and KASK for the best helmet, ever! Thank you to my friends & family for the tweets, the emails, the phone calls, the understanding of my are the best! I would like to say a HUGE thank you to my coach. He probably spends more time focused on my training than I do training. Every detail about every workout is thoroughly thought out and has a specific goal (much like the workouts him and Pete plan for WattsUp). Every achievement I make is partly me, but also largely because of him. He even took the time to accompany on my trip to St George and I know that I wouldn't have done as well without him.