Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How I Spent My Summer Non-Vacation

Well….summer happened. And I forgot to blog.

When I last wrote here, about a million years ago, I was in a bit of a state when it came to triathlon. I was still dealing with my Coeur d’Alene meltdown/ DNF, still not sure how I felt about this sport and how much it’d taken over my life, full of self-doubt, just kinda lost.

I spent the last two months working to get my triathlon mojo back. It was, without sugar coating, really hard. I won’t bore you with the details except to say there were a lot of changes that I made-- in my mindset, in my actions, in my general approach to this sport and my life as it is right now. But, spoiler alert—the mojo is back. Mission successful.

One of the things I did to help myself re-find the passion was to race frequently and in a totally new way. I’ve always approached my race schedule conservatively, doing fewer races with lots of time in between them to recover and regroup. This summer, post-CDA, was different. I raced a lot for me—three races in less than a month, including two half ironmans that were only two weeks apart. I mostly trained through these races, also something I’ve never done, and I approached them differently—with less concern about the results and more focus on the process

I meant to write about each of these races separately, but I just kept on procrastinating and before I knew it, I was just a few days before the really big races start, so I had to get this one out! So, here goes:

Race #1- Muncie 70.3

Within a couple days of the Coeur d’Alene DNF, I signed up for the Muncie 70.3, which was to take place two weeks later. The goal was to get back on the proverbial horse, to race completely by feel (no technology whatsoever), and mostly, to finish, ideally with a smile.
Traveling to glamorous places like Muncie allows one to dine at glamorous restuarants like the Cracker Barrel

I wanted so badly to go into the race completely calm and low key. Reality was, I couldn’t really pull that off. I faked it—going about my business the day before the race smiling and trying to act like I was relaxed and chill. But that was all a lie. I’m not sure I have ever been as nervous the day before, or morning of, a race as I was before Muncie. This felt like a very important turning point and a test as to whether I could get my season back on track.

But lo and behold, nerves and fears aside, once the gun went off, I knew what to do.

The swim was hot- wetsuit legal, but I declare shenanigans on that call – and within the first couple minutes I could tell I was overheating and pulled the effort way back and just cruised easily. There was a girl swimming at right about my pace and I jumped into her draft, sticking to her like glue and probably driving her completely insane as I kept (unintentionally) slapping her feet. In the end, I finished not that far off my usual time, which of course led me to the conclusion that effort in the swim is totally overrated.
Didn't buy pictures.  But here's a picture of the many caps I was given as I was leaving the race site!
The bike was flat and fast, mostly on a completely closed highway (love that). My legs presented the welcome surprise of the day by actually showing up. I was comfortable on my bike, I was happy, felt speedy…couldn’t have been more different than CDA two weeks prior. In the first 10 miles, I played a little game of leapfrog with Mindy Nicolet, the winner of our age group last year at this race, and a friend of my friend Scott, who’d clued me in that she was the one to beat. After a while of that nonsense, I threw in a surge and it stuck. I thought I was in the lead, so I spent the rest of the race keeping an eye out for Mindy at the turn-arounds and chasing down girls who had started in the earlier waves.

I got off the bike in 2:26, just seconds off my bike PR, feeling like it couldn’t have gone much better. Heading into T2 I was still fairly certain I was winning the age group. Then I saw a speedy looking girl in a Canadian national team suit with a 36 (her age) written on her leg leaving her transition spot just as I was arriving. Oh, snap. Turns out she’d been riding 30 seconds in front of me the entire bike. I’m not sure how I completely missed seeing her on three separate occasions, but apparently my reconnaissance needs work. Whoops.

On a different day, at a different time, there’d have been no question that I’d have left transition on a mission to chase down that Canadian chick . Truth was, I didn’t have my mojo back at Muncie and I wasn’t at all confident in my run. So I made no effort to chase, and instead settled into a fairly pedestrian (but still painful) pace for 13.1 miles, dilly-dally-ing through aid stations, making a Port-o-Pot stop that probably wasn’t as essential as it seemed at the time, and just trying hold on to second place in the age group.

My run wasn’t good at all, and yes, after the race, like the mature 34-year old that I am, I spent some time whining on the phone to my mom that I’d completely forgotten how to run, tears, tears, melodrama. But on that day, it was enough to hold on to second in the age group. I also ended up second overall amateur, left Muncie feeling relieved that I could still do this racing thing, but also knowing I had a ways to go.
Another picture with Jen and her much bigger trophy
I'm not short, but apparently on this day I was

Race #2- Challenge New Albany

A quick turn-around and two weeks later I headed to my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, for the inaugural Challenge New Albany (half ironman distance). When this race was announced, I was intrigued. When became a race sponsor, the decision was as good as made…. I couldn’t resist.
New Albany is fancy.  That's a high school
This race was special because it took me back to where it truly all started. I always say that I didn’t start triathlon until I was 30, but actually, I had a couple false starts with the sport years ago at the Wendy’s Sprint Triathlon in Columbus. I was 16 when I first did Wendy’s. I rode on a mountain bike, stopped in transition to put on both shorts and deodorant, vomited bile at the finish, and swore I’d never do a race that I hadn’t trained for again. Memories are short, though, so I did the race two more times in college, still just for fun and with no training or knowledge whatsoever. But, needless to say, other things took over my time during law school and triathlon became a distant memory.
18 years ago, while riding a mountain bike and getting passed by the aero masses, I distinctly recall feeling like a small child  with a propeller cap, pedaling along leisurely while eating an ice cream.  This is the closest I could find.
Challenge New Albany started in the exact body of water, Alum Creek, as Wendy’s did years ago. And race morning felt like a reunion of sorts with multiple childhood friends from my age group swimming days. My parents were there, just like they were a million years ago at this same place--- it was great.
Not a childhood friend but a TriSports and Multisport Mastery teammate-  Liz
My race started about as poorly as a race could – I took the lead and then went immediately off course, aiming for the wrong turn buoy of a narrow-ish rectangle, and not realizing my mistake until I’d already reached the buoy. So I turned completely around and backtracked, sprinting to catch back up to the pack. Eventually, I retook the lead, but on the way back in continued my directionally-challenged ways, swimming outside of buoys that were supposed to be on the inside--- not illegal but needlessly adding a whole ton of distance.

So that swim was no good.

I got a lot of practice last year shaking off bad swims, however, so I had put it behind me by the time I even got out of the water.

Then we set out on a 56 mile ride from Alum Creek to New Albany that was lovely, a bit rough, and very lonely. In the span of a little over 2 hours and 30 minutes, I saw three other riders, and that wasn’t until mile 40 (3 guys, drafting off each other, who blew by me in a little peloton).
No one in sight
But out there, I did see my parents. This was a point-to-point race, winding through (surprisingly hilly) suburbs east of Columbus on lightly traveled country roads, and somehow my parents managed to find a route and to time and execute it flawlessly so that I saw them FIVE different times in five different places. A truly amazing effort.
My father spent hours carefully plotting a spectating course and had it worked out to the minute
While my mother demonstrated her superior skills when it comes to taking action shots on an iPhone
I was riding without looking at power, but I suspected that my bike was a little pokey. When I looked at the data afterwards that was confirmed, but I still had the amateur lead when I got off the bike and started running the two-loop course around lovely New Albany Country Club. That lead didn’t last. My running mojo and fitness was just starting to come back around at this race, but it wasn’t quite there. The first four miles felt great , but then I faded, and got run down about 7 miles in by a speedy girl from Idaho.

From that point on it was a struggle and I had to start resorting to mental tricks to keep going. One thing I’ve been trying in runs lately is to break the distance down into small, manageable chunks. Even as small as—“ok, run to the mailbox. And then to the fire hydrant. And then that purple flower.” It seems to work for me. So that’s what I tried out there in New Albany, and one of my focal points became a mail truck. On Sunday. Which of course got me thinking of that Seinfeld episode when Jerry took over Newman’s mail route and delivered the mail on Sunday. That entertained me for a hot minute.

Anyway, I hung on for second place with a run that, while still needing work, was better than Muncie. More importantly, I thoroughly enjoyed racing in my hometown among old and new friends and with the support of my parents. I walked away feeling far more enthused about racing than I had in a while. Baby steps.
Mom on iPhone, again


Race #3- Naperville Sprint Triathlon

The third race of the trifecta was a (new) hometown affair, the Naperville Sprint.

I’ll admit, I cherry-picked this race. It usually has a very competitive field for a local race, but this year, the traditional female front-packers were either 1) pregnant; 2) up in Milwaukee, racing Nationals, which was going on at the same time (I have no good explanation for why I didn’t do Nationals this year other than I just didn’t feel like signing up); or 3) at the Steelhead 70.3, also going on at the same time. I knew if there was ever an opportunity for me to take the Queen of Naperville crown, this was it.

I don’t have much to say about this race other than that it was short and it hurt. For some reason, I had it in my head that you couldn’t go too hard in the swim for a sprint distance race. Turns out, that’s not the case. I started way too hard in the 400 meter swim, coming out of the water with the lead guys, but I paid for it, barely being able to lift my legs when I stood up to run, and staggering my way, completely exhausted, through the first transition.

My body was completely overtaken with lactic acid and the bike was among the weakest yet most painful half hours I’ve ever cycled. Twice, I puked on myself. Hot.

I pulled it together a little for the run, but knew by then that I had a very large lead, so I pushed but not that hard and won by something like 7 minutes. There was supposed to be a finish line tape for the winner to break, but there’d been some miscommunications so it wasn’t there when I crossed. They had me recreate the finish later, with the banner, but it didn’t look or feel real, so I didn’t bother buying the picture. I was also interviewed on camera, but I’m not sure it ever aired. Probably for the better, as the remnants of one of those two bike puke episodes was still on my chin, I noticed quite a while later, and no one told me. Thanks, guys.

But, I’m now the reigning Queen of Naperville Triathlon. Liz promptly laid down the challenge, reminding me that the crown is only good for a year and she’ll be back by then. I guess I have something to motivate me through the long dark training days this winter!

And that is the story of my three triathlons.

The Next Chapter

Now, the season is really about to start…70.3 Worlds in Mt. Tremblant, Canada are this weekend, with Kona 5 weeks later. I’m excited—really.

Can't wait to get to Mont Tremblant
I used to feel fairly frantic about these races, even as recently as a month ago trying to explain by email to my coach how incredibly important it was that I finish within the Top XXX at each of these races, how much I needed successful outcomes.

At some point, recently, that kind of thinking changed. I want to do well, to be sure, and I’ve put in the training to do my best and come race day I’ll be ready to execute. But I’ve also taken a step back and realized that even if I’m slower than last year, or place lower, or don’t have magical or even good days, it’s going to be OK and I’m going to be OK. I don’t need to finish in the Top XXX. I’d like to, sure. But if I don’t, I can still look at this year and be proud.

From a high level, I think it's fair to say this season and year has been a struggle for me in a lot of regards -- personally, athletically, professionally-- very little of which I've chronicled here. And, in all those aspects, I’ve made many misteps along the way and, at times, felt like I was just spinning and spinning and making no forward progress. But at the same time, muddling through things has taught me countless lessons, and in the end, just in time, I'm finding myself healthy, calm, actually enjoying what I'm doing, and a lot more at peace with life in general.

To be, at this point, lining up at these Championship races, feeling strong, confident, enthusiastic, and actually excited to race – that, right there, is a win, even if it doesn’t come with a trophy. Everything else is icing on the cake.

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