Sunday, March 16, 2014

Frozen Brain

And just like that,  more than a month has passed without me blogging. 

What has prompted my triumphant return to this space?  Travel, of course.  This time, a quick but eventful training trip to lovely Tallahassee, Florida.

My trip to Tallahassee was random and last-minute, made possible in these extremely budget-conscious days by airline miles, a great bag that often lets me escape bike fees (knock on wood), and the seemingly endless generosity of coach/friend/training-buddy-but-not-right-now-because-she's-busy-growing-a-little-baby-girl Liz, who let me tag along with her while she attended a coaching certification course in Tallahassee, and have a place to stay.
Bike in the sun and walk on sand outside without a down coat?  Sign me up.
I had two goals for this trip, neither of which was to make it a "camp," thrash myself or pack in huge training hours--  Twitter suggests that that's the trendy thing to do right now, but I spent much of February trying to dig myself out of the hole I got in last time I tried it.

Goal One:  To get outside a little and get comfortable on my new-this-winter bike before I head down to San Juan for my first 70.3 of the year.

Goal Two:  To kick off my 2014 triathlon season.  Yep, I secretly did a little tri - Tri the Rez, the first race of a three-race series in Tallahassee that I would highly, highly recommend to anyone in the area.  For someone who has dealt with far more nervousness before races, even low-key ones, than should ever be warranted, there was no better way to kick off the season than by doing a small Super Secret Sprint Tri in an area where no one knew me, and keeping my plans to do it a Super Secret from almost everyone I knew.  No pressure.  Perfect

We arrived in Tallahassee on Friday afternoon, basked a little in the glory of temperatures in the low 40s (a little deja vu to the last time I traveled to Florida, but at least it wasn't raining), hit up the Whole Foods (because it wouldn't be a trip with Liz absent a trip to Whole Foods), and then she got busy learning things while I did some night swimming in one of the very nicest pools I've ever been in.  Upon returning to the hotel, I haphazardly threw some race gear into a bag, stuffed my face with Puffins cereal, and fell right asleep, feeling not even the slightest bit nervous.  I like this pre-race approach!
A chilly night swim at FSU's amazing pool
It wasn't until Saturday morning, while on my second cup of coffee, that I realized that I should probably check the weather forecast.  I logged on....and saw current temperatures in the 30s and expected temperatures during the race in the 40s.  I quickly flashed back to the informational email the race director had sent the day before --  the water temperature was about 58 degrees.   Having once again forgotten about the fact that Florida can, indeed, be cold in the winter, I failed to bring any cold weather gear.  Somehow, it's worked out that I've never done a cold race, and I wasn't really sure how to handle this winter-like situation.
No comment.

Luckily I had easy access to the sage wisdom of my coach/ weekend roommate, who said something along the lines of "yeah, that's going to be cold.  Suck it up.  Ride really hard and you won't even notice." Alrighty then.  Game on.

The Race

I arrived at the race site early, racked my bike, observed that I was the ONLY person not wearing a proper winter hat, and hightailed it back to the warm rental car.  A bit later, I begrudgingly took my bike out for a little spin/ make sure everything works/ "warm-up," and ended up almost crying because my fingers got so numb (I cannot handle the pain of frozen fingers).  Upon arriving back, I frantically purchased gloves and arm warmers from the local bike shop guy, who had brought emergency equipment for the unprepared.  It did not escape me that I was the only person at this race who spent the past several months surviving a real winter, yet I was also, seemingly, the only one being a complete wuss about the cold.
Appropriately dressed people milling around in the small transition spot
Cold weather gear was not, incidentally, the only thing I forgot to bring to the race.  Among other forgotten items:  a visor, running shoes to wear for a warm up jog, my heart rate monitor, and perhaps most importantly, my brain. This day was a series of airhead moves and complete lack of thought. 

First, I almost missed the start.  I spent a little too long chatting with the bike shop guy, and by the time I moseyed my way down to the lake, the national anthem was playing and we were T-minus six minutes to the start of my wave.  Crap.  I frantically pulled on my wetsuit, got a friendly spectator to zip me up, choked down a gel, and hightailed my way to the small beach on which we'd start.   I never even had time to get nervous.

Right before the start, the Race Director told us that the water was a balmy FIFTY-FIVE degrees.  Ooof.  Double ooof to the fact that that was significantly warmer than the air. 


The horn sounded, we ran into the water, dove in....and I don't remember much else.  It was shockingly cold and took my breath away at first.  I know for a while, I was swimming right next to another girl.  She was wearing Swedish Goggles, thus a real swimmer (or something like that), so I was OK with that.  Otherwise, I just felt very much like I was not thinking at all.  It was a weird feeling.  I was working, but not thinking.  I'm fairly certain I was in this state because blood was diverted from my brain to keep other body parts (hands, feet, etc.) from freezing.  Thus, a condition I call "Frozen Brain."  I have absolutely no scientific basis for the belief that Frozen Brain is a thing, but it's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Lake Bradford
Because I need some sort of story to explain the first transition.  I reached the end of the swim as the first woman, with Swedish Goggle girl about 10 seconds back, raced to my spot, took what felt like 5 minutes to get my wetsuit off, put on my helmet, started to put on my new bike gloves but realized quickly that that was a difficult endeavor with wet and frozen hands, gave up, grabbed my bike, and headed on out.

I got to the mount line, started to hop on.....and realized I had completely forgotten my bike shoes.  At this time of year, I'm not skilled enough to do the pro-like start with shoes on pedal thing, so I intended to put the bike shoes on in transition and run out in them.  But, I totally forgot.  Who does that?? Someone with Frozen Brain, that's who.  It's a real thing, I'm sure of it.

Based on my power file and the race results, it turns out that by the time I'd uttered a couple choice words, handed my bike off to a very nice volunteer to hold for a minute, run back into transition against the flow of traffic (lots of confused looks on that one), grabbed my shoes, returned to the bike, put shoes on, and got going, I'd lost about 90 seconds.  [Spoiler alert:  relevant].


Once on the bike (with shoes), the Frozen Brain thing didn't resolve.  I was still on auto-pilot and racing like a big, dumb animal.  There was one thought, and one thought only:  must go faster.  (a la Jeff Goldblum in both Jurassic Park and Independence Day, a reference that likely no one other than my father will appreciate). 

I hammered my way forward, just chasing each guy I saw in front of me, not feeling much, even the cold, but observing I had switched into my two gasps in, two gasps out breathing pattern that only happens when I'm really working hard.  I had little regard for my power meter, but when I did glance down occasionally, I realized that I was putting down "blow up" watts.  Oh well. Must go faster.

That's how it went for 14 miles on mostly flat, beautifully paved roads near the Tallahassee airport.  Don't think, hammer, hammer, hammer, hammer, must go faster, until it was over and I'd done the whole ride pretty much at my threshold.  I know that's what you're technically supposed to do in sprint distance triathlons, but I've personally never been able to push myself to that extent, or even come close, while knowing there was a run ahead.  With Frozen Brain, I didn't even think about the run while riding.  Maybe I need Frozen Brain more often.


After stumbling through a transition that was way too long due to the difficulty of shoving completely frozen solid feet into shoes, I took off, as with the bike, like a bat out of hell.  While ordinarily 5Ks are a little intimidating to me and I have nothing but the utmost regard for the extended pain they can inflict, with Frozen Brain, I gave no thought to anything other than running really hard right now.  As a result, I started out way too fast, and had quite an unpleasant time after the first mile as my body finally reminded me that it simply cannot just sprint a 5K, ever, much less after biking really, really hard.

There was a bit of Brain Thaw in the second and third miles, with thoughts of "oh my God, this hurts, what kind of idiotic pacing was that?" sneaking in, but I was successfully able to push through and maintain pace pretty well, ending up with a 5K split that I was pretty proud of.

In the end, I was pretty stoked to walk away with the overall female win, by a fairly sizable amount.   I was also thrilled to kick off the 2014 season on a very positive note-- Frozen Brain and all, I raced a lot better than I anticipated for this early, especially coming off a month that, on whole, was focused a bit more on "get healthy" as opposed to "get fast" than it would have been if I hadn't been stupid and dug myself into a pretty sizable hole  (maybe another blog post).  And, I also ended up third overall, including the guys, finishing, oh, about 90 seconds behind the winner (there's the relevance of those 90 seconds lost to the shoe debacle).  Thanks, Frozen Brain!

The Rest 

After the race I took off for a nice long ride out to the Gulf of Mexico and back as the temperature climbed into the low 80s, and was absolutely impressed by the wonderful road quality and lack of traffic in Tallahassee.  Little secret-- Tallahassee's actually a really great place to train!  Great roads, some hills (so I hear, I stuck with a flat route), big trees, oodles of trails, ideal training weather for this time of year.  My long run the next day was equally pleasant and equally schizophrenic when it came to weather, with the temperature rising almost 40 degrees during the course of my two hour run. 
My turn-around point, the Gulf
During all this, Liz was off learning more about running, but we still had a little bit of time to explore the best of Tallahassee -- a hole-in-the-wall restaurant serving up huge and delicious slices of pizza, a walkable area around the Florida State House, which is beautiful and stately aside from some hideous window coverings that make it look a bit like a T.G.I.Friday's, a wildlife refuge right along the Gulf of Mexico.  The scariest and most memorable moment was walking along a little trail near the coast, turning a corner, and spotting a huge, hungry looking alligator sunning itself not far away.  I risked life and limb to get a picture.

Those awnings are red and white striped and I wonder if they serve Bloomin' Onions at the State House?
Overall, it was a fun little weekend with lots of laughs, as is always the case when I travel with Liz.  I was pleasantly surprised by what a great training location Tallahassee is, we got a taste of the spring that I'm sure we'll be getting in Chicago any day now, and I got in enough riding to feel somewhat confident that I won't just fall right over in the first few miles of the ride in San Juan.  Mission successful!

Alligator lurking in the weeds

Another alligator


  1. I'm utterly shocked to read that you're not using Twitter as a guide for what you "should" be doing . . . but, having worked with Liz myself I can get over it.

    Frozen Brain sounds awesome (other than the cold part). As a rampant mutant over thinker I like the idea of shutting thought down for all but the most basic stuff. In my best races that has in fact happened.

    CONGRATS on the AG/overall woman win! Amazing way to start your season -- can't wait to read your San Juan report -- I've been there once (thought not when it was super hot) and loved it!

    1. Wait, are you saying San Juan's going to be super hot? Shoot! :) Thanks for the congrats, and yes, I'll be trying to find a way to incorporate Frozen Brain into races that aren't so frigid!

    2. We were there in fall when it was pleasant. A friend of mine who is from there told me it gets H.O.T. Hopefully not too frightfully hot next month right? Right?? Unless you love to race in the heat. In that case may it burn like the fires of HELL (too dramatic?).