Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ironman 70.3 Steelhead: My comeback!!!

Wow, I just realized how long it has been since my last blog! I haven't posted since June. So what have I been up to? Let's see...epic training in Italy for 2 weeks, then epic training back home for 3 weeks, then...CRASH!! I fell off my bike going uphill at 0 mph and broke my elbow. On my OFF training day! Now THAT was a very hard thing to tell my coach the day he was leaving for vacation (and 1 week before my next scheduled race). It went a little like this: "ummm...Adam, I may have done something really stupid this morning..." and his response "Miranda!!!!" and so on. The result was that I missed racing Muncie Ironman 70.3 and Racine Ironman 70.3 :(

However, I think I managed to make the best of such a bad situation. Yes, I sulked for about 3 days, including 2 days OFF completely. I might have snuck in a short bike on the trainer to keep myself sane... Anyway, on day 4 the inflammation had subsided and so what did I do? Got back in the pool for 1000m of left-arm only swimming and some dolphin kick on my back. The lifeguards asked me afterwards..."What were you doing, some sort of drill?" HAHA!!! Then the next morning I showed up at Summerville pool to train with the Toronto Summer Masters group and I hopped in to just to do the warm-up. I could actually use both arms that day, although the right arm was only going through the motions and not really pulling much water. I swam close to 1400 yards only 5 days post accident. From then on everything seemed to get a bit better every day. Two weeks after my fall I had done only 1 outdoor ride (but countless rides on the computrainer) and had only just started swimming with a normal stroke, but I competed in the Toronto Tri Festival Sprint triathlon. It was a ton of fun. Lots of good people to race, a great course, amazing volunteers and organization. I was able to get my first triathlon win of the season, too, and a free round trip flight from Porter Airlines as the prize!!

The next two weeks I pushed hard in the pool to get my swim fitness back, I still stayed mostly indoors on the bike (I am sure you can understand why) and put in a big chunk of volume on the run. Soon enough I was on the road to Michigan for Steelhead Ironman 70.3, almost 3 months since I completed my last half ironman. My expectations were low...I just wanted to get a solid race in. A decent swim, hold my zone 3 power on the bike (and stay upright) and a sub-1:30 run. Whatever that meant placing-wise, I would be happy with.

I arrived in Benton Harbor, Michigan on the Thursday, after a frustrating drive that involved a rainstorm, a highway closure and construction (those signs that say "hit a worker, $7500 fine and 15+ years in jail" are very scary for me...if you knew my driving skill level you would understand why). However, as soon as I arrived at my homestay, my host's smiles and friendliness put me right at ease. I settled in comfortably to my room, unpacked my bike and began to relax. The Friday and Saturday were the usual pre-race routine. I don't stray far from this routine, ever. It involves progressively going to bed earlier and earlier each night (I was asleep at 7:45pm the night before the race) and progressively getting up earlier and earlier, eating lots of bland food full of carbs, drinking lots of water, putting my feet up when possible, hot pink compression socks, scary pro pre-race meeting, etc. etc. This was the first race I had ever attended coach, no husband, no family. It was a new experience and I hoped I was still able to perform OK without anyone there to watch over me and keep me comfortable.

Race morning was uneventful. It was the usual pre-race nerves and excitement. I set up in transition (why was I one of the only ones without electronic shifting or a bike from 2013? oh well), then headed down the beach to the swim start, then did a short swim warm-up (wow, it was wavy!). Before long the female Pros were lined up along the beach, waiting for the race to start. That's when the fun began! The horn sounded and the pro women were off, towards the first swim buoy. The fact that it was a beach start made this part a little interesting. The beach was very shallow for a very long time, which caused a mass of confusion. Each of us were attempting some sort of combination of running and dolphin diving, but the varying depth of the water and the huge waves made this difficult. I'm sure the female pros put on quite the show for the later waves to see (picture watching 13 supposed "elite triathletes" flailing on a beach). I think I actually started laughing during this beginning part of the race. I definitely got to the first bouy near the back of the pack. However, once I started swimming I caught the girls ahead of me, and the girls ahead of them. The water was incredibly wavy, but I was feeling really strong in the water. I do very well in wavy conditions, maybe because I am small and have less drag? However, what I do not to very well is sighting, and, with the very bright sun rising almost directly into my eyes, I could not see a thing. I had no idea where the next buoy was and only a vague direction of which way to go. So I panicked a bit. I stopped swimming and looked around to get my bearings. I saw a few splashes in the water about 15m ahead of me and I picked up my kick and went as hard as I could towards to splashes. Following someone's feet would be my only hope of getting through the swim and not getting lost at sea. I was lucky and caught those splashes, which later turned out to be Cait Snow and Mel McQuaid. The three of us swam together for the next 1600m. We faced the challenges of the waves, the sun and each other's flailing limbs together. I did not feel like I was at race effort during the swim (but it would have been impossible for me to swim faster to get ahead and still stay on course). So I stayed with the other girls at a very comfortable pace, glad I would have some extra energy for the bike and the run. In some ways this type of unpredictable situation is what I like about triathlon. It keeps it interesting, that's for sure, and forces you to strategize "on the spot". Although I like planning and predictable situations, I like problem solving more.

After what felt like hours (but was only 31:09), I was finally out of the water and running through transition. Transition was long and it was about 400m before I reached my bike. Cait and Mel had a slightly better position in transition than me and were at their bikes first. Although I felt transition went smooth enough, I was still on my bike after the other girls, about 500m back. I kept them within site for about 10km, but they were getting further and further away, and soon they were know longer in view. I cursed myself a little bit for letting them get away. Even though drafting isn't allowed in these races, it still makes it easier (mentally if not physically) to ride with others around with a legal distance between us. I wished I had surged in the first few kms to stay with them, because it would be too much of a gamble to do so now. I didn't want to risk burning through too much energy to catch them only to bonk later in the race. My goal, after all, was to hold a certain power and not worry about placing, so I re-focused on maintaining said power for the remainder of the ride. So I rode alone for the entire duration of the ride. If it wasn't for the cops at intersections I would have had no idea that I was doing a race. My legs were feeling OK, but didn't have the same zip that the had in my race in St. George, so I knew that hitting my goal race power would not come easy. I had done it in training the week before on tired legs though, so I knew I could do it if I pushed myself. I broke the course down into 12km sections and pictured myself on the looped Beeton Time Trial course (which is 12km, and was where I had done my race-simulation ride a week ago). Each time I completed 12km, it was like I had done one loop of the Beeton course. And I counted down...5 loops to go, 4 loops to go, etc. Soon there were 0 loops to go and I had held my target power and was approaching transition. I clocked a 2:22:58 on the ride, which I was quite pleased with.

I ran through the 400m transition zone with my bike, had a smooth second transition and was off on the run. The announcer hadn't called out anyone coming into transition right behind me so I knew I had about 2 to 3 minutes on the girl behind me. I would need that window as this would be the toughest part about the race. I had upped my volume on my run and started a bit of speed work in training to prepare, but running a solid half-marathon off the bike was not something I had experienced since Florida 70.3, about 3 months ago. I knew the other girls have been racing all summer and would have some fitness that I didn't. I started the run feeling pretty good. It was a pretty hilly course so it was hard to tell whether I was at the right pace. I think my splits ranged from 4:00/km to 4:45/km, but my heart rate was on target so I just focused on that. Like the bike, I ran most of the race alone. In the last few miles I started looking over my shoulder and could see a dot far away that was getting closer and closer with each passing minute. Chances were that it was another female pro. "OK" I thought "it's time to push a bit harder now." I reached the top of the last big hill, confirmed with Loretta (my homestay host, who was cheering on the sidelines) that it was all downhill from here, and pushed into that "uncomfortable zone". The next 2 miles felt like my legs were going to give out from under me as I dealt with the discomfort that comes at this part of the race. I got pains in my back, the side of my head, my left shoulder...Nothing serious, just what happens to me when my body is telling me to slow down. I checked my watch rounding the final aid station and timed how long between me and the person behind me (based on the cheering). I still had about a 30s gap, but I didn't want to take any chances. I pushed strong to the end and crossed the line in 4th position with a time of 1:29:31.

This race was a success for me for many reasons. Among them was the fact that I had been able to race and perform well with no family or close friends there to help and it justified that if I keep focused on my own goals (and not on finishing position) it can lead to a solid performance.

Thank you so much to the volunteers, the race director and all the Ironman staff for the race, to my sponsors and supporters, family and friends, to my homestay hosts (Mike and Loretta) who were some of the kindest people I ever met and to my coach.

Next up, Barrie Sprint Triathlon this weekend and Timberman Ironman 70.3 on August 18th!