Don’t Stop Believing: 2014 Ironman Coeur d’Alene Race Report

I woke up in the darkness of the early morning (or perhaps late night to some), and I could hear the trees rustling as I pushed down my race day breakfast. Once daylight began to creep into the clouds, the visual confirmed the audio: the wind, a whirling bully, browbeat the trees, with branches bending over, powerless against the force.

Ironman Coeur d Alene

What that sign says…

Wind is in ample supply in Southern New Jersey, so I wasn’t particularly concerned. I’ve had my fair share of rain, wind, chop, heat and cold. With that experience comes the knowledge that weather doesn’t change a damn thing: you go out there and you do what you came here to do.

The weather would not necessitate a fundamental change to the plan: swim hard, bike strong, and run like my a$$ was on fire. I’m pretty sure that was the in-depth race strategy my coach Vince gave me.

I set a goal back in 2011 to work my way into qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona. At that time, it was an unlikely goal for a girl who had only achieved a 12:51 IM best time. But, it was my BHAG goal, and I had a two-year plan to get there. In 2013, I came just 2 slots and minutes shy of achieving the dream at both IMLP and IMLou.

Unfortunately, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

I couldn’t stop believing in my goal, and my ability to reach it. So, 2014 would have to be my year right?

In the training leading up to this day, I worked harder than I’ve ever worked. I sweat more stink than a skunk, climbed more hills than a billy goat, and ran so hard I’ve only got a few toenails left.

It was time to find out if I was fast enough. Read the rest of this entry »

Ironman Louisville Course Overview & Tips for Racing It

Ironman Louisville

Louisville is the hometown of Muhammed Ali. Float like a butterfly, sting like a be, baby!

Ironman Louisville is the last chance option for a current year Kona qualifying spot, and that drew me to the race in 2013, after narrowly missing a slot at Ironman Lake Placid just four weeks before. When I wrote my race report about my experience at IMLOU, I promised a course overview “in a few days.”

Yeah, well, that turned into a few months. You know, life and all that.

I was reminded of my delinquency while working on an athlete’s schedule who is preparing for Louisville, and then again when I received an email from another person racing Louisville this year asking, “So, about that course overview…”. Yeah, how about it, right? Thank goodness I took notes last year…

So, here goes.

Overall: I liked the race and the city a lot – plenty of friendly people and good places to eat. And, it’s the hometown of Muhammed Ali – what better place to find your inner champion? The race features a warm-water swim, a rolling bike course, and a hot run. The finish line at Fourth Street Live is everything you’d expect from an Ironman.

Want more details about the Ironman Louisville course? Okay, then read on. If you are looking for a race report about my experience, then go to “The Mission.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Life is an Adventure Made for an Adventurer

In 2010, John and I were training for our first Ironman in Lake Placid. During that training season, I was thrown off the road by a car, and it shook me. I remember being so afraid to ride my bike outside. In fact, that crash affected my cycling confidence for at least 2 years. (I’m not quick to recover from sliding across the road at almost 20 mph. Call me a sissy if you must.)

A few weeks after that crash back in 2010, John and I went for a ride in the New Hope, PA area, using a cue sheet we downloaded from MapMyRide.com. We were looking for some hills (notice the recurring theme in my blog?), and we had heard from friends that area was perfect for finding them.

The ride that day was hard, and the course itself was way too technical for my budding cycling skills – or lack thereof. (Hmmm, another theme?)

monster3

Image credit: Culture Cycles, original post: http://www.culturecycles.com/2011/01/h-e-l-l-helping-everyone-live-longer/.

And, I was scared – not only of the cars (of which there were ample on various sections of the route), but also of the twisting and turning descents, with blind corners and unknown scary monsters up ahead. Okay, maybe there weren’t any actual monsters, but I had plenty of scary monsters in my head.

As we were headed down one particularly narrow and twisting stretch of descent, I started singing to myself as a way to keep calm.

“Life is an adventure, made for an adventurer, made just for the girl who can grow up strong and be Ironman.”

Okay, yes, I changed the lyrics from this classic Violent Femmes song. But, you have to adapt them to your circumstances, right?

As John and I continued through the ride that day, with me scared out of my mind for most of the ride, and he enjoying the adventure, I soothed myself to these lyrics from the Violent Femmes. By the end of the ride, I had almost convinced myself that it was a grand adventure. And, now, with the benefit of time, I’m convinced it was a grand adventure.

Me, scared? NEVER!

Last weekend, I was reminded of this day when John and I went to Pittsfield, Vermont for a Spec-Training adventure. Our plan was a hilly ride on Saturday, and then a hilly run on Sunday. In between the training, we would head to the Peaks Ultra to cheer on some people we knew who were running the 500 mile race. Yes, I said running, and yes, I said 500 miles – in 10 days, with 120,000 feet of climbing.

Life is an adventure, for sure. Read the rest of this entry »

(No) Room for Doubt: Lake Raystown Triathlon Race Report

Doubt is a stubborn presence. While I’ve worked hard physically, mentally and emotionally to keep my doubting voices quiet, they are persistent. I’ve learned that I need to be more persistent, more stubborn than the doubt. I have the Lake Raystown Triathlon to thank for this important reminder:

The mental work of endurance is harder than the physical work. 

lake raystown triathlon

Overview of the swim at Lake Raystown.

John and I were looking for an early season half iron race with plenty of hills, which is hard to find in the Northeast U.S. given the cool spring temps. But, the inaugural Lake Raystown Triathlon, held on May 18, 2014, seemed to meet our needs for an Ironman Couer d’Alene prep-race, featuring hills, challenge, and a new adventure.

Fierce Bits 

After finding a place for my gear in the first-come, first-served transition area, I placed my bike on the rack, and as usual, the front tire swung in mid-air, several inches from any hope of touching the ground. I put my transition bag underneath the front tire so it wouldn’t swing into someone else’s bike.

Lake Raystown triathlon

John and I getting ready in transition before the race. Just when you think you might look cool, just get a look at your butt in a wetsuit.

The other racers around me laughed. “That’s a mini-bike.”

“Yeah,” I laughed. “I’m a little bit. My bike never makes it to the ground.”

One of the women said, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” You can always count on Shakespeare, can’t you?

I smiled. I appreciated the support, but I wasn’t feeling particularly fierce. The stubborn presence of doubt was hawking over me, as much as I tried to push it away.

My mind was murky with questions and concerns about the unknowns, making it hard to focus on my race plan.

The lake was cold, just like CDA will be. How will I do in the cold water? What if I panic?

How tricky would the bike course be? The day before, other racers who had driven the bike course were buzzing with rumors and reports: lots of hills, technical turns, blazing descents with hairpin turns at the end.

Ooooh. Pinch me!

It had been a while since I felt doubts like these, and I had to work to keep the fear from overcoming my thoughts. As I set myself up in transition, I re-routed my thinking to consider the positive possibilities of a new experience. But those doubts didn’t leave me completely. Read the rest of this entry »

Post-Race Analysis: Next Time I’ll Be Bulletproof

Ironman Lake Placid

Distorted view of the ski jumps heading back into town.

The final 10k of Ironman Lake Placid 2013 haunts me.

After almost a year, I finally did the type of post-race analysis that I recommend for my athletes. Sadly, I confirmed what I had guessed to be true for the past year: if I had I stayed on the pace I ran for the first 18 miles of the marathon, I would have run from 11th place off the bike into 4th place in the final mile or two, and the Kona slot would have been mine. Instead, I finished in 6th place, and a little under 5 minutes from the glory spot.

So. Close.

But, as my father always used to say: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Over the past year, I’ve known in my gut what I’ve only recently allowed the numbers to confirm: I just missed nabbing the final Kona slot in the final hour of an 11 hour day during what is supposed to be my strength. But, until today, I had been unwilling to allow the numbers to confirm that gut feeling. Those numbers tell a hard truth. (If you want to read the race report from that day, you can find it by clicking here.)

But, it was time for me to face those numbers. A thorough post-race analysis is a key tool to continued progress.

Ironman Coeur d’Alene is a little over 6 weeks away, and playing Ostrich with my head in the sand isn’t going to help me turn around the result I’m looking for this year. I need to accept the hard truth, and run a different race this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Cycling: Holding My Own

Obligatory cow shot.

Obligatory cow shot. It was still cold in the morning, so I was bundled up. But, we were eventually able to strip down to shorts and short sleeves :)

“It’s been a while since we rode together,” John said. “You’re different.”

Pause.

“I’m impressed.”

I beamed.

Wow. That is high praise indeed.

To say that cycling has not come naturally to me would be an understatement. It’s like saying that Rinny is an okay runner, or Michael Phleps knows a little bit about swimming, or Lance Armstrong only took a few “natural” enhancements.

For the first 3 years that I raced triathlon, I never quite “got” the bike. I had (foolishly) thought that my running history would allow me to power the bike and that would be that.

Um, no.

What I have learned is that cycling has really really really improved my running. But, only cycling – and lots of it – has improved my cycling. When I decided to get really serious about truly racing triathlon – rather than just participating – I knew the focus would have to be the bike.

So, I’ve spent volumes of time on the bike since then. Long rides. Hard rides. Tempo Rides. Threshold rides. Interval rides. Skill rides. Recovery rides. Big gear rides. Mixed cadence rides. Rides I don’t even know what the _ _ _ _ rides. Rides to warm up for my rides.

I remember the early days of my triathlon experience, when John and I would try to ride “together”. We’d start out and I would quickly fall behind. I just couldn’t seem to keep up no matter what I did, no matter how hard I worked. I bonked many times. I lost all power in my legs many times. I was frustrated many times. I felt like a failure many times.

In the first year of Ironman training, John would dutifully loop around once he got out of eye-shot to make sure I was okay. After that year, we stopped even trying to ride together because there was no way he could get a decent ride in like that. He was looking to qualify for Kona at that time, and I was only holding him back.

I sucked.

But, beyond what John needed, I needed learn how to manage my own effort – and more importantly my own mind. I needed to get inside of my head to deal with the voices that always come when I’m on the bike.

I had to face them directly – and tell them to go to heck.

So, yeah, I’m not a natural by any means when it comes to cycling, but I am stubborn, and I will not quit. Ever.

Last weekend (April 12) was a special moment for me, and it made me feel so good to hear John recognize it. He’s a tough one to impress, and he always gives it to me straight. And, that’s a good thing. When he compliments me, I know he means it.

Last weekend, John, our friend Rob and I took a two hour drive to French Creek State Park, in Elverson, PA, to get on some vertical. And by “some”, I mean 4200 feet of climbing in about 58 miles. So, yeah, hilly. Read the rest of this entry »

Shifting into Beast Mode

beast-mode-offThe Intimidator half iron was a wake up call. While the race turned out fine, I never found “my gear”. You know the one that gets you to the point where you are in BEAST MODE.  During the bike especially, I found that I had limited mental will to push my edge. And my performance shows it.

That is not the way to start the season. But, it did remind me that if I wanted my body to go all-in, then I would need to go head first.

I came home from the race, and I knew it was time: X-day is here.

I’ve written about setting an x-day before and usually, I set this day about 24 weeks out from a key race. X-day is the point on the calendar when everything (or almost everything) I do is about my key A race of the season, which for 2014 is Ironman Couer d’Alene. Normally, this day comes about 24 weeks out from an Ironman. But, at the time of the Intimidator, I only had a little more than 3 months to go, and my brain still hadn’t gotten in the game.

Now, don’t get me wrong – the physical training was there. The issue is mental focus. I have no one to blame but myself. I allowed myself to be distracted too much. But I can’t do that anymore.

Last year, I poured an incredible amount of mental energy into Ironman Lake Placid. I had one track and it went directly to Ironman Lake Placid.  After missing my ultimate goal by less than 5 minutes in an 11 hour day, I wanted to get off the track. My heart hurt, and thinking about it made me too sad.

It’s hard to put everything you have into one thing and come up short. It’s hard to know that on that day, you weren’t good enough.

I had to put some mental distance between me and Ironman. Sorry, Ironman, it’s me. Not you.

And, that was the right move at that time. I hung out with friends. I went back to trail running. I read books I had been meaning to read. I did the laundry (oh, how it piles up!). I made origami bicycles. Okay, not that last one.

When it came time to re-focus and set my sights on Ironman Couer d’Alene, I found it challenging to muster the same mental energy I had going into IMLP. Sure, I trained. Sure, I worked hard, ate right, checked the boxes. But, in my head, I wasn’t in beast mode.

The weekend after the Intimidator, we wound up riding in the garage. Again. This winter clearly doesn’t understand the ways in which it has overstayed its welcome. In fact, I never invited winter in the first place.

We hooked up the computer to the TV, and one of our athletes Karl had brought over some surround sound speakers. Mmmm – loud! We started watching Ironman Kona videos – from various years – old ones, new ones, in-between ones. Natascha Badmann. Mirinida Carfrae. Paula Newby-Fraser. Karen Smyers. Women with a focus. Women with a plan to make it happen.

downloadThe sounds, the sights, the stories. I found myself there. I remembered John’s great day. I felt the tug of desire to make that famous run down Ali’i Drive.As we watched the 1995 Kona, when Karen Smyers went on for the win while Paula Newby-Fraser fought her demons just down the street from the finish line, something clicked.

I want this. 

The physical training will only get us so far. If the brain isn’t on board, we won’t have the will to push through the pain, to slay the demons, and to scream back at the voices.

It’s X-day, and my mind has shifted cleanly into BEAST MODE.

It’s Not Ideal: The Intimidator – Florida Challenge Triathlon Race Report

Huge blister and dirt on my feet - super Klassy.

Huge blister and dirt on my feet – super Klassy.

“The first race of the season is always something of a sh!t show,” I mentioned to a friend, last week, as we talked about my upcoming race at the Intimidator Florida Challenge Triathlon, held in Clermont, FL on March 22, 2014.

In the case of this race, “sh!t show” turned out to be an accurate descriptor, as a series of events joined together to make this day–and the lead up to the day–less than ideal for racing. But, if you wait for the perfect conditions, you’ll never race.

All of my racing experiences – from high school until today – have taught me that racing is a series of choices and adaptations. Some things you can train for, some things you can’t. All things you must learn from.

The first half of this post talks about my prep, and then starting with the header, “Swim Swimminey, Swim Swimminey, Swim-Swim Swim-mooo!”, you get specifics on the race itself. So, if you are just looking for the race details, pop down to that section.

Time Crunch

Like everyone, I’ve been crazy busy, and I had little time to pack, prepare and get my mental focus in order.

We had a jammed schedule: Fly out on Friday at 7:30 a.m., race on Saturday, fly home Sunday, arriving by midnight. Whew! The way my week went, I found myself packing at 5 p.m. Thursday night. And, let’s just say, when you are packing for a triathlon, you aren’t exactly traveling light. So, despite the short weekend, I still found myself with a 30 pound bag to check in, PLUS the bike box. Oh, yeah, I guess John needed to pack some stuff too.

Geez – bag hag!

bike_box

This is the type of bike box we used. Thanks Eric Shrading for the loan!

To further intensity the packing situation, I had to dig out items I hadn’t used since October. If you’ve been following the weather at all, then you know that winter launched a full frontal assault on the Northeast. Even if I wasn’t a total wimp when it comes to cold-weather riding (which I am), the inches upon inches of snow we’ve been getting have made outdoor rides pretty much impossible. Since I’ve been on the trainer, I hadn’t been worrying about vital outdoor accessories like helmets, CO2 cartridges, bike tools, and water bottle cages.

It took me about 20 minutes to remember where I last left my aero helmet. And, the search for the bike tool? Yeah, that led me on an excursion through no less than 3 large bins of gear. I had thought about purchasing a big magnet, hoping it might just fly up out of its hiding place. 

Needless to say, this was all time I was NOT spending thinking about race strategy and execution. By the time I finished all of this packing, it was 7:30 p.m., and there was a pathetic wilted piece of lettuce in the refrigerator. I ordered a pizza, and legitimized it as carb loading. Seriously though – my go-to pre-race dinner is pizza; however, I normally make it myself.

No, it was not ideal. Read the rest of this entry »

Florida Double Ironman Support Crew: Living Life in Lap Time

Florida Double Iron

Swim 4.8 miles.

Bike 224 miles.

Run 52.4 miles.

Brag for two lifetimes.

Makes you want to say, “Aw, you did a single Ironman? That’s so cute!”

I had the opportunity to indirectly experience a double iron-distance triathlon, when my husband John competed in the Florida Double Ironman (Anvil) on February 27, 2014. It took him a little over 24 hours to earn his 5th place finish, and in that time frame, I learned much about what it takes to toe the line, to make it through the day (or days) and to get to the finish line.

It looks like just my kind of sufferfest.

Serving as John’s support crew for this race was an exercise in polar opposites; It was exciting and boring, invigorating and exhausting, inspirational and monotonous. It was an experience I will never forget, and one I would happily undertake again…and again.

John has described his day in his race report (click here), so this post describes the day from a different perspective: that of the Team U-Crazy double ironman support crew.

Florida double iron

Team U-Crazy Camp along the bike course loop with my co-crew Jeanne & John (John’s parents).

While crewing for any extreme endurance event includes quite a bit of sitting around and waiting, offering support at a double ironman is significantly different from a single Ironman – and it is not an easy task. Unlike a “regular” ironman, there are no aid stations. The support crew and camp set-up IS the primary source of aid for the racer. We were responsible to keep track of his supplies: nutrition, hydration, clothing, additional bike accessories, and more. We were responsible to monitor the race stats, his condition, and his equipment.

Most importantly: We were responsible to make sure he was safe. 

For most of those 24 hours that John was racing, I was stressed to my mental limit, worrying about his energy levels, his nutrition, his sanity. Somehwere in that process, I almost lost mine when I started hallucinating from lack of sleep around 3 or 4 a.m. I thought I was in the middle of an airplane tarmac. When I snapped to, I thought, Huh. I better go talk to some humans… and make some more coffee. Read the rest of this entry »

The 9% Solution: Take the Tough Option

I sent Vince this selfie after the second time I did this 9% workout. Notice the extreme color difference between my face and my neck. Can you say: REDLINE?!

I sent Vince this selfie after the second time I did this 9% workout. Notice the extreme color difference between my face and my neck. Can you say: REDLINE?!

Last year, my coach Vince scheduled a treadmill-specific hill workout that had a series of different inclines, from 3% to 9%. As if the changing incline wasn’t enough, I did each interval at the same pace (approximately tempo effort) – without any recovery interval throughout the duration of the workout, which was typically 45 minutes.

Despite the lack of a recovery interval, it’s amazing how a 3% incline at tempo effort can feel like a recovery after a 9% interval.

The first time I did this workout, the 9% interval crushed me. And, when I say crushed, I mean smoke blowing out of my ears, eyeballs popping out of their sockets, tongue hanging at my knees, and slobber and sweat flying on innocent bystanders–or would that be by-treadmillers?

Given that cardiac arrest seemed imminent, I backed off the target pace. Yet, even as I slowed, I felt certain that 9% incline would fling me off the treadmill, and someone would happen to catch a video of it, and that would be my YouTube claim to fame.

I barely held on, not sure what I feared more: the viral YouTube fling video, or the sting of being defeated by a machine.

Even though I continued to run, I felt defeated because I couldn’t hold the pace–or was it that I thought I couldn’t?

That 9% incline became my nemesis last year as it showed up several times in the rotation.

While I definitely got better, I never quite felt that I truly defeated that 9% “hill”. Each time, I had to slow down the treadmill at some point during that interval, lest my lungs come busting out of my mouth and my eyeballs spring into the air–and, yes, lest I wind up in a huddled heap, having been heaved from the belt. Read the rest of this entry »

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