Thursday, May 23, 2013

Terre Haute "Thunder in the Valley"

This weekend, I traveled to among the most glamorous places I've been so far:  Terre Haute, Indiana.  I made a very, VERY last minute decision this week to go ahead and jump into a triathlon and finally get this 2013: Phase II Season underway.

Terre Haute (I stole this from the Internet.  Work with me, my writing's not good enough to survive without some pictures)
I had planned to race several weeks earlier, but I've had a bit of a rough go since Ironman New Zealand in early March.  As I've recounted in varying amounts of detail here, I went into that race slightly injured, took two weeks completely off post-race to go on a bender in Australia and heal, then started to build back into things.

Which went well for a couple weeks, until, BAM, achilles/calf pain.  We cut back significantly on the running mileage for a while as I got treatment, but things just kept getting worse and worse while I no longer felt like I was running or even jogging, but instead was hobbling through my training.  After a few weeks of that, I waved the white flag and stopped running altogether for 8 days or so.   When it no longer hurt to walk around, I eased back into things.  And I mean, seriously eased.  As in... starting with 15 minutes of EASY running at a time.  I've only been easing back in for about two weeks now.

The time off was a good call.  Once I got back into running, I finally felt like I was actually running, not just surviving. Last weekend, I did a 5ish mile run with Blaine (my "long" run, his taper run the weekend before Ironman Texas) and felt about as good as I had in months.

So for some reason that still eludes me, once I got through that run feeling like I was actually running (finally!) I started trying to find a triathlon to do the following weekend, knowing that conditioning-wise the run could be ugly but trying to convince myself that I didn't care.   Time to get back in the saddle again.

The really competitive race in the area this weekend was Galena, a hilly, beast of a course that always attracts the top Chicago talent.  Honestly, I wanted no part of it.  I'm not afraid to admit that at this point, I wanted to dodge the competition as much as possible.  With my still-healing leg, the hills weren't enticing, either.   And then, of course, that race was sold out.  Phew. 

Instead, I looked into the Terre Haute "Thunder in the Valley" Triathlon, a long-standing triathlon (this was it's 28th year!).  Chris was heading to Terre Haute, as were a couple of other people I knew from Well-Fit, and it's always nice to see some friendly faces at a race.

On Wednesday night (like as in 2.5 days before the race), after I'd gotten the medical OK from my physical therapist, I completed the online entry and quietly set about trying to get myself in the right frame of mind.  Season kick-off races are always a little nerve-wracking.  Season kick-off races when you've been injured and inconsistent and have no sense whatsoever as to whether you'll even be able to complete the run, much less in a speedy fashion....a lot nerve-wracking. 

Chris and I made the 4 hour drive to Terre Haute together, leaving on Friday afternoon for a Saturday race.  We checked out the course (nice, in a state park), then headed out to dine at the best Italian restaurant we could find in Terre Haute -- the Olive Garden-- and then checked into our $60 dollar rooms at the Quality Inn, which hadn't been updated in seemingly decades and in which my "non-smoking" room smelled distinctly like an ash tray.  Glamour, all the way.
Flash backs to high school, which is pretty much the last time I ate at the OG
Race morning came quickly.  Gotta say, it felt pretty awesome to suit up in my new kit  (seriously, go buy your goods and use my code).  We arrived at transition early, set up our gear in the free-for-all transition area (yay small races) and then just milled around a little, socializing and killing time before heading over to the lake to start.

Terre Haute's a weird distance tri--- an abbreviated Olympic distance, or something like that.  800 meter swim, 40K (24.6 mile) bike, and then a 5 mile run.  Here's the run down:

The Swim
There was an elite wave of 25 people or so, based solely on projected swim time, with the rest of the field going off in the time trial fashion.  I put myself in the elite wave and was only one of 2 or 3 girls to have opted to do so.  Being surrounded by fast dudes, I knew the start would be rough and I'd probably get pummeled a little.

And pummeled I was.  It was a really rough start, and especially after not having done any open water swimming for a really, really long time, it startled me a bit.  I'm rusty, and that initial 200 meter sprint-while-trying-not-to-get-too-beat-up really took a lot out of me and left me questioning, as always seems to happen at some point in a race, why exactly I do this sport.  But I just chugged on forward, trying to keep a good effort, and got out of the water in a pretty good position-- second female behind a younger gal, who I think is a very recent college swimmer, and within 10-20 seconds of Chris, who'd I'd been chasing throughout the whole swim.   The swim was either short or I've suddenly gotten really close to swimming at a sub-minute/ 100 meter pace.  I'm going to go with a very, very short swim, as much as I'd like to tell myself I've suddenly become world-class.

We had a long and rocky run from the lake and my achilles hurt with every step.  Bad sign.  I tried to ignore it, figuring that being barefoot wasn't helping matters, but it was in the back of my mind that I might not be able to run today.  So I committed to having a strong bike and keeping my fingers crossed for the best.

We set out on a 24.6 mile ride on country roads outside the State Park.   I had chosen a power range for the bike that I wanted to try to hit, and I immediately started watching my power and trying to get it into that range.  No dice.  My legs just weren't there, and it was taking a effort that didn't seem sustainable to hit the range.  So I backed off a bit, hoping the legs would come around.  They never really did, which surprised me since I've really been cycling a lot recently and figured the bike would be my strongest leg today.  Triathlon's unpredictable like that, I'm learning.

The course was nice, albeit a bit lonely.  There were some rollers, but nothing horrible, seemingly a head wind in both directions (but maybe that's just me).  Mostly, the bike just felt hard.  24.6 miles is long, but not that long, so you gotta go hard, and the effort level required at the Olympic distance just straight up hurts. 

Anything fun to report?  Not really.  There were some pretty flowers along the side of the road.  I puked a little in my mouth at one point.  I got sort of stuck behind a car, which was stuck behind the rider in front of me, for a stretch.  But other than that, not a lot to say.  It hurt, and I was ready to be done.

OK, season kick-off lesson?  Just because it's a last minute triathlon that you're trying not to get too worked up about...don't skip the small stuff!  Like scoping out the transition area and figuring out where the run starts.  I got into transition, which was pretty darn empty, did all the stuff you do between the bike and the run in a somewhat non-frantic fashion (see? Rusty), and then set out to run, but really, had no idea where to go.  I spun around a little confused, looking for the exit, until a volunteer kindly pointed me in the right direction.  It's not like this was a big or terribly confusing transition area, either.  That little pre-race reconnaissance really matters.  And spoiler alert...this wasn't the last time in this race that I had to ask for directions.  What a rookie.

I was nervous about the run....kind of a lot nervous.  The five miles we were to run was pretty much the longest I'd run since my downtime, and I hadn't done any fast running yet.  I knew it could be ugly.  I had a decent lead at that point, so I tried to really start the run gently in the interest of preventing a massive blow up, or worse, walking.  The leg felt fine (phew) and actually, it felt pretty good to be out there running.  This wasn't feeling anywhere near as horrible as I thought it would!

I rolled through the first four miles, flat out-and-back on a bike path, trying to build the effort with each mile.  Miles 1 and 2, I just sang to myself (not out loud, in my head, and the song was "Fifty Nifty United States" for those of you who are interested, which is pretty much my go-to I'm trying not to think about the fact that I'm doing something uncomfortable song), ran smooth, waved and shouted to Chris, over a mile ahead of me, when I saw him on the out-and-back (no response or acknowledgment, awkward, but like most people, Chris seems better able to fully focus on the task at hand than I can), and stayed pretty well dissociated.  At the turn around, I allowed myself to pick it up a bit and start chasing guys and when it got a little tougher, I started practicing my mental tricks, mantras, etc.  It's going to be a long summer of practicing mental toughness, so best to get a start on it now.

The last mile went a little XTerra-ish on us, with a run up a steep and unmowed grass hill followed by some real up-and-downs on a trail around the lake.  I didn't want to do anything stupid that'd set back the leg healing, so with the hills and uneven surface, I took the effort down and just cruised in the last mile.  Sometimes it's great and really important to finish a race feeling like you gave everything you had.  But what I'm learning is that sometimes it's important to be smart, too, and in this case, holding back a bit and not attacking hills with a somewhat sore achilles made the most sense, so I did that, and certainly crossed the line feeling like there was a good amount left in the tank.  That's OK.  For now.

I ended up as the first female in this race, which made me pretty darn happy.  This was only my second overall win, I'm still getting used to the idea of going out there and actually racing for the win in the right circumstances, and it felt pretty sweet.  I was riding back to Chicago with Chris (who was second overall in a stacked men's field), and he was pretty eager to hit the road as quickly as possible, even if it meant missing the awards ceremony.  No way, buddy, I told him.  I'm not skipping out on any awards ceremonies....this doesn't happen that often for me and I wanted to savor it!
Damn right we stayed for awards
But aside from place, I ended up very happy to get out there and get back into the rhythm of racing.  My run, which I worried so much about, actually ended up going well, much, much better than I anticipated.  I wore a Garmin but didn't look at any of my splits until after the race, and was really pleasantly surprised to be running at a pace faster than I raced at last year, despite all the inconsistencies, set-backs, and limited run training lately.  I've never been one to bounce back from injury downtime very quickly when it came to running.  But I've also never spent injury downtime busting my ass on the bike and swim, and the fitness transferred over a lot better than I expected.   Hooray for happy surprises. I truly think I'm back on track.  Relief.

Oh....the highlight of the day, without a doubt?
Yup.  It's been WAY too long and that Roast Beef hit the spot. 


  1. Congratulations on your win!!! Glad the achilles is starting to come around! But I did laugh when you said you hadn't OW swim in forever, as you probably had done it a LOT more recently than most people in the Midwest!

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