Sunday, August 19, 2007

DeGray 1/2 Ironman

DeGray Half Ironman
1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run
August 18, 2007

My mind was not into this race all week. Everytime I thought of the race, knowing how tough the course is, and knowing how unpleasant the weather would be, I just kicked myself for signing up for it again. And on top of it I just started a clinical way down in Sheridan (an hour from my house) so I was feeling really overwhelmed with life.

Compared to what the temperatures had been here in Arkansas all week (mid-100’s) we caught a huge break on Satuday morning. We were even blessed with mostly cloudy skies. I think the high was probably 95. Much more bearable than the 105 heat index we suffered through the past two years.

I got in the lake at about 6:40 to get acclimated. The women’s wave started at about 7:08am and I decided I was going for it at the start of this race – up front and in line with the buoys. Having just dealt with the mass of women 2 weeks ago in Louisianna I thought I could handle it, and I did. It was more crowded than I expected, and for longer than I expected, but I hung in there. My swimming felt really “off” like I had no technique (instead of little), and it also seemed like the course was never going to end. I attributed this to having not swum since Monday. At one point I finally managed to draft off of a woman, or at least that’s what I think I was doing by following in her “bubbles”. I guess the highlight of the swim course was seeing my friend Laura next to me. I noticed a black and pink TYR tank and thought, “That looks like Laura”. It was Laura! I was so excited to see her and wondered if she knew I was next to her. Laura and I came out of the lake at the exact same time. It was AWESOME! I was so happy about seeing her I forgot to even look at my watch. As we came up the ramp Tessa was there with camera in hand cheering us on. Then I finally remembered to look at my watch when I saw the official time clock reading “50:??”. I looked down and saw 42:30 on my watch. Wow, almost 3 minutes faster than last year. That’s big progress for an inefficient swimmer like me.

Onto the bike, the new bike (the new, faster, sleeker, Betsy!). I was excited, but nervous too because I’d only rode it for one long ride and wasn’t sure about this new fit. My breathing was better than it usually is coming out of the water. I wasn’t gasping for air. Up the initial climb I went, the first of many to come. Once I got up it I decided I’d get down in the aero position. “Ouch!” A bee was attached to my forearm! What a great way to start the ride, with a bee sting. It looked OK, and I don’t have an allergic reaction to bee’s so I figured I’d probably be OK, just annoyed. Maybe getting stung by a bee in a race is a sign of good luck? Sounds like something your grandmother would tell you. I felt great for the first half of the bike course and passed several women in the first 10 miles. Once I got to the turnaround at mile 28 I could see who was behind me. Not too many women, but the ones I saw weren’t too far back so I knew I had to keep moving. I kept racing this one guy who had the same exact bike as me except different colors until we got to the BIG hill, then he dusted me. He dusted me again on the run course. I guess he wasn’t that far ahead of me on the bike and I transitioned a lot faster than him out of T2. He was even talking about me to his friend when he passed by me on the run! I forget what I said, something like, “We’re not going to race this thing too are we?” My goal was to finish the bike in 3 hours or less. Based on that I knew I could do it even with a positive split on the second half of the course since I was way under 1.5 hours at the turnaround. When I saw 2:28 with 4 or 6 miles (can’t remember) to go I was ecstatic. I was going to be far less under 3 hours than I ever even let myself think was possible. I pulled in to the uneventful T2 not knowing exactly what my bike time was, but knew my total time was 3:33 and I was giving myself 2 hours and 15 minutes for the run. I knew I could still do sub-6 hours if I didn’t crash on the run.

Up the hill I go to start the run. I was surprised at how well my legs felt and the pace I was able to keep going up that hill. It was much better than how felt 2 years ago (I guess that’s what experience and better training does). My GPS still hadn’t kicked in, but I sort of didn’t want to know what my pace was yet. Once I got up the hill and made the first turn I turned it on. 8:30, 8:15 per mile? Can that be right? There must be interference with my signal because I can’t be running that fast? But it kept saying that as I ran down the highway. My run wasn’t feeling great, but I kept telling myself to give it time and that walking wasn’t an option. I stuck to my no walking until about the aid station at mile 5 at which point I decided I better walk just to get more fluid in me and to take some salt tablets. Both of my quads (the VMO’s in particular) and my right calf (medial head of the gastroc) were cramping up. I ran all the way up the hill (if that’s what you call it) to the highway, which just about killed me. Running up that highway was far worse. I decided I had to take a break and walked 100 yards or so. Having that GPS on and seeing 16:?? helped get me moving again. A slow jog of 11:00 was better than a walk of 16:00+. They changed the run course this year and I was a little confused, but it was actually better than the double loop in previous years. At about mile 9 or 10 I decided to put my “Frog Togs” towel on my head, under my cap. I needed to do something to break this monotony. I don’t know if it was doing that or that my legs just finally got the picture, but I started to actually “run” at about mile 9. And I didn’t stop until I got to the finish. Once I left that park I knew it was all down hill. I pushed it hard because I knew I was going to make the 5:45 time qualifier for the Halfmax regardless of where I placed in my AG. I ran as hard and strong as I could that last mile to the finish. I was just overwhelmed with emotion that I accomplished something I really didn’t believe I could. I had progressed by dropping my time almost an hour over 2 years ago. I just couldn’t believe it. I was actually fighting back the urge to cry while I was running to the finish because I was starting to gasp for air. I crossed the finish line with 5:39 on my watch. 5:40 was my official finish time. It took me a while to compose myself and get over my emotions. I was thinking, “This is what happens when you race hard with PMS.” Maybe that’s just what happens you improve your time by almost an hour over 2 years ago (my finish time in 2005 was 6:37).

The DeGray triathlon is not the greatest race as far as crowd support goes, but when you do a “home-town” race like this crowd support really doesn’t matter. Seeing so many familiar faces cheering and racing was better support than the thousands at Ironman (well, close). I was so focused on my own race that I didn’t say much when I passed by one of my friends or someone I knew on the course, but I was feeling their pain and I was pushing for them like I was pushing myself. It was awesome seeing Tessa and Randy coming out of the lake on the boat ramp. Hearing Randy tell us, “Good swim” was about the best thing anyone could ever tell me. Hearing Tessa tell me how awesome I was doing coming out of T2 gave me the extra energy I needed to push up that initial mile of the run. And then I see Randy again at the top of the hill, at the what I now call the “Lace” corner because it will always remind me of seeing Lace in 2005 yelling out to me that this race is easier than PT school will be. I didn’t really believe it her at the time, but PT school really IS harder than a ½ Ironman, and an Ironman! I also saw Tammy’s husband, Jimmy, just as I was approaching the finish. I really thought I was going to see him out there on his bike with camera in hand like I did at the LR and OKC marathons, but they don’t allow that stuff at tri’s. I just had to say how much that all meant and that my “race face” probably didn’t show it at the time.

OK, so back to the finish line because there were several people I was waiting for to finish. Once I composed myself, got some water, took some more salt tablets (because I got the worst Charley horse cramp of my life after I finished) I went over to sit at the finish with Tessa, Gary, and Laura’s family. It wasn’t too long before Tammy came cruising through. I had no doubt Tammy was going to finish this thing. If she sets her mind to something she’ll do it. Once I saw her out on the bike course, which I was looking hard to make sure I saw her and Kim, I knew she was going to do great. She’s been biking with Jimmy for quite a while and running is her thing. I remember the very first time I ran with Tammy. It was a long run on the River Trail the week after the LR marathon a few weeks after we’d moved here from Cleveland. I just showed up to join her and Rhonda because Carla told me they’d be running and that they were “fast” and I’d have no trouble running with them. They had no idea who I was and if it bothered them that I was there they didn’t show it. It was my first run ever on the river trail, and Tammy and Rhonda were training for Boston. Tammy said something about biking with Jimmy on Sunday and I assumed she meant just a little leisurely cruise around the river. No, nothing Tammy, or Randy, or Kim do is leisurely. They mean business! I saw Tammy twice on the run course and after I saw her the first time I told myself I better keep on movin’ because that girl can run and she will catch you if you don’t. Thanks Tammy for the extra push! Oh yeah, and Tammy in her first triathlon, and first ½ IM, placed first in the 45-49 AG. Way to go!

Shortly after Tammy finished another friend from our “used to be” running club, Emily, came cruising through. Emily is tough as nails. The girl signed up for the DeGray Double, meaning she did the ½ on Saturday and came back Sunday morning to do the sprint. I could barely walk this morning! And she placed 3rd in her AG in the ½! Emily is about to do her 2nd IM in FL this fall and has done at least 1, maybe 2, ultra-marathons. Anyone that can run 100 miles without sleeping earns my respect.

The 4 of us were there at the finish when Kim came through. I had absolutely no doubt that Kim was going to finish this race. I knew she had swimming concerns, but I wasn’t the least bit worried about her. She has done some shorter tri’s in the past and she is STRONG. I knew her strength and determination would get her through that swim and the rest would be just a race for her. Kim is tough on the bike and she has done enough marathons to know how to dig deep and get through the mental part of the race. She is for sure a soon to be IronWOman.

I saw Laura briefly on the bike course, and twice on the run course. I was surprised at how HAPPY she was, but very glad she was in good spirits. Due to our obnoxious school schedule this summer (2 weekends of elective class) Laura wasn’t able to do any other triathlons this year. She did 2 sprints last year so this would be her 3rd tri ever, just like it was mine 2 years ago. I had no doubt she could do it, which is what I told her the minute she started contemplating this race in March/April? The girl is young, naturally athletic and strong (not a wimpy little girl with no muscle), and very determined (4.0 student her whole life, even through PT school!). I guess I got Laura into this crazy sport when I sold her my old Trek road bike and I’m very glad she’s enjoyed the sport as much as I have. I saw Laura as I was coming down the hill to the finish and she was going up, and she still sounded happy! I was so happy when I saw her approaching the finish line. I felt like the proud mom and again had to fight back the tears. I know how much it meant to her, and I know how dedicated she was because every morning we’d show up for class and she’d ask me “What’d you do this morning?” as if it were 10am and we had all the time in the world. It was 8am lecture! I’d tell her whatever it was I did and then I’d ask her the same question to get a similar reply as mine. And then we’d talk about how crazy we are doing this stuff. Laura was 2nd in her age group. She got beat by “snorkel girl” who is a collegiate swimmer and had the best swim time overall females (something ridiculous like 27 minutes, but with a snorkel!). Now Laura and I trying to figure out how we’ll ever train for an Ironman once we’re out of PT school and working full-time!

The thank you’s:
I have to say a few thank you’s. Although Milan and the kids weren’t there physically there (I wouldn’t expect Milan to tough it out in the heat for 6-7 hours with our two kids) I know they were pulling me for me from home. Somehow I forgot to call Milan once I finished and I got a voice mail from him at 3:30 wondering if I was OK, if I survived, if I was alive. When I said goodnight to Luka Friday night and told him I wouldn’t be home in the morning because I was doing a race he said, “Can I stay home?” Then he told me, “Good luck. Win!” Since Nada had just done her own triathlon the previous weekend she could have cared less where I was going and what I was doing as long as it didn’t interfere with her watching her recording of High School Musical 2!

Gotta thank Jen for the tough training she put together for me these past 5 months and for constantly encouraging me and trying to diminish all my insecurities. I thought to myself yesterday morning, “You did 4x400 (200 max, 200 all out), you can do a 1.2 mile swim”. I hated that workout. Jen said something the other day about “when I go to Kona” and I laughed and said, “You mean when I win a lottery spot!” I really think the girl was serious about me someday qualifying. She better stop telling me about all the dolphins and sting ray that are so visible out there in those clean waters!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

River Cities, Shreveport, LA

Sportspectrum River Cities Triathlon
August 5, 2007
½ mile swim, 18.2 mile bike, 5K run

We (me and the whole family) arrived in Shreveport at the race site Saturday at noon. The lake was HOT and really dirty! No visibility whatsoever. After doing a bit of fearful swimming I headed to packet pick-up (alone) expecting a long line and wait, but I guess they got organized this year – no line at all, really fast & efficient. Most important info to report from this race is what we got in their infamous swag bag: huge, black transition bag (pyramid shape) that has all kinds of compartments for post-race wet & sandy clothes (very handy), NB running shorts, dryfit race shirt (white), cotton race shirt (black), coolmax socks, sunglasses (Oakley knock-off, nice!), water bottle, hat, gel (of course, but it wasn’t Hammer Gel, it was mango Cliff shot), Amino Vital recovery pills and gel (wish I used the stuff). The theme this year was “27-n-07” since it was the 27th year of the race. FYI – Lance Armstrong holds the pro course record of 1:07, which he did when he was about 19 years old. I love thinking that I’m swimming in the same lake that Lance did, riding on the same roads, and running on almost the same pavement that he did.

We had dinner at Macaroni Grill Saturday night, which I called ahead to get a table for 5:30pm so that we wouldn’t have to wait. We didn’t have to wait long for the table, but the food took a while. I had the usual “create your own”, penne with arrabiatta sauce, sliced chicken breast, broccoli, red peppers, and asparagus. It was tempting to have a glass of wine, but I went with a bottle of San Pelligrino with lime instead and was proud of myself for not giving in to the temptation. A large group of friends from Little Rock (we’re calling ourselves “Los Slo Pokes”, if you’re familiar with the “elite” team from Memphis, Los Locos, you’ll think that’s really funny) were having dinner at a great Mexican restaurant, but since we had the kids, and none of them did, I didn’t want to ruin the “adult” dinner. I also knew that it would be super hard for me to resist margarita’s and chips & salsa. I ate too much bread waiting for the food, and also helped the kids polish off their “kid” sundae’s after dinner, so I was pretty content when we left and could have gone straight to bed. But Milan wanted to go to the “Riverwalk” so I had to oblige because after all, he made this trip to the race all for me. So we headed down to the Louisianna Boardwalk. My friend at school (Miller) told me there were shops, but he did NOT say “Nike Outlet” because had he we might have been there before we even ate dinner! And not just Nike, but also Reebok, Adidas, Gap, and Banana Republic outlets! And they happened to be having “tax free shopping weekend!” It was just like being in Grove City! All that excitement got me going again after all those carbs I just had for dinner.

I didn’t sleep great, but did manage to get some sleep, which is better than nothing (like 2 years ago). I decided I’d get up at 5am, but was up by 4:30am. I got dressed, loaded up the van, loaded the sleeping kids into the van, and we headed to Starbucks to be there at 6am when it opened. Not surprising, there was a handful of us triathletes waiting at the door for them to open. I ate my cinnamon raisin bagel with cinnamon raisin peanut butter on it while I waited. I also chit-chatted with a woman from Dallas who asked me which Ironman I did. I guess I’m the only dork that put their “Ford Ironman Finisher” bumper sticker on their car because I have yet to see another vehicle with one. She just did IM Idaho (can’t spell Cor da’ Alene) so naturally I had to ask her how bad that swim really was. I could tell by looking at her that chances were good she was in my AG. She was thin, but taller than me, and not nearly as much MUSCLE (that’s what I call it now!).

The traffic moved pretty smoothly getting into the park. I knew there would be a huge line, just as there was two years ago, but I still had plenty of time. I got my stuff and headed to transition the minute we parked. Milan took care of dressing and feeding the kids who by this time were wide awake. Luka was not too happy about being at the race. He even made the suggestion that we should just drop mama off at the “run race” and go back to the hotel pool. He just loved the crummy hotel. I made my first stop at the porto-potty on the way to transition, and that would be a porta-potty without TP (bad). I’m guessing I was in transition by 6:30, which gave me more than an hour to set up, get marked, wait in line at the bathroom again, and make friends with the lake. It also gave me too much time to stress about the swim start.

The lake was still warm, and REALLY dark, but no “hot” spots like the day before (not yet). I swam back and forth from the first buoy at least 3 times, even had my goggles knocked off my face by some guy since you couldn’t even see your own hand in front of your face. As the race started I just got more and more nervous about the crowded wave I’d be starting with, not knowing yet that it wouldn’t be just 35-39 y/o women, but the 30-34’s would start with us too, which made 155 of us all together! No wonder there were so many pink swim caps. I kept watching the guys to try and figure out where to best position myself. I was thinking left would be safest, even though Jen said she’d go to the right and to avoid center. Once it was time for us to get in the water I saw Krissa and Holly (fast sisters from Little Rock), to the left, and that confirmed that I was starting to the left as well. I felt a bit of security starting around women I knew. I just kept telling myself, “Don’t stop, and don’t look up. Reach, grab, glide…relax!” And that’s what I did. I had no hyperventilation, no anxiety about all the women (mostly on my right side) around me. Even when I occasionally got an arm across the middle of my back feeling like I might be pulled under (I’ve learned that doesn’t happen even though it feels like it really might) I just kept going. I didn’t do much, if any sighting, until the third buoy when I had to make the first turn. I kept the buoy’s in sight on my right and tried to stay as close as possible so I didn’t add any more unnecessary distance to my swim. It wasn’t long before I came up on some gold swim caps, the men’s wave that started before the under 30 women. And it wasn’t long until some white swim caps came cruising by – the fast 40-49 women. It was crowded the WHOLE ½ mile, but my swim felt good. I felt like I was really moving, kept reminding myself to anchor and use the glide, and it felt like all the motion of the other swimmers was helping to move me in the direction I wanted to go. I thought for sure I’d get out of the water in less than 18 minutes. I thought 17:30, a 2:10 pace, was easily going to be achieved. But of course I got out to see 19:34 (or something) on my watch – damn!

I could have ran faster into T1, but there was traffic and the woman in front of me was in no hurry. I looked for the pink bandana and knew my bike was racked right after it. I was shocked to see Krissa and a woman named Bonnie from Houston I met the day before also in T1 with me. I wasn’t as slow as I thought! I kept thinking “Go, go, go, you’re in T1 with Krissa and she’s going to smoke you on the bike and run. Stay with her while you can.” Again, a lot more congestion at the bike mount line, very frustrating. By the time I got on and started riding, Krissa was gone and I could barely see Bonnie’s bathing suit. Oh well, keep pushing.

And that’s what I did for the next 53 minutes, pushed as hard as I could. I couldn’t breathe for about the first 15 minutes on the bike, but that’s what usually happens to me starting the bike, it’s like hyperventilation or something. I just can’t breathe, but I keep telling myself it will normalize and that my lungs just need time to figure out we’re biking now and not in water. I wasn’t passing many, if any, women in my AG. A couple passed me, but maybe only 2, including the girl in the green two-piece shamrock shake bathing suit (she had a big white shamrock on her butt!) that finished 6th in my AG. She looked fast, she was wearing an aero helmet, but she didn’t totally dust me when she went by. I remember thinking, “Does she really need that aero helmet or is she just trying to intimidate her competition?” And then I thought, “Maybe I should get one?” I tried to hang with her as long as I could, but eventually she went on ahead. It seemed like I had a little race going with a couple of 46 y/o women instead. We kept taking turns passing each other. Toward the end of the course there was some woman who I thought was in my AG (her age washed off) that was trying to get by me, but I wasn’t going to let it happen. We got to T2 about the same time, at which point I decided the run was going to decide who was going to win. The bike course was a bit hillier than I remember. I remembered it being “flat”, but that’s not true. It has the numerous little hills that are just annoying, but not hard enough to slow you down too much. It’s a fast course none the less.

I was out of T2 fast, but I felt like crap. Oh yeah, I saw Milan as I got out of the lake and then again at T2, but no sign of the kids. I figured they were OK and probably building sand castles and Milan was just making sure I didn’t drown or crash my bike. It was really great to see him in T2, especially since it’s rare that he’s at one of my races (Wisconsin was the exception). I had a bit of motivation there seeing him and with the music playing, but that quickly ended as I exited T2. My right ear felt really weird, like it was filled with something, like a fish maybe? It felt like my ear needed to pop, so I tried “yawning”, but that didn’t do anything. I tried shaking my head to the side, but nothing, no sloshing water. I don’t know what all that pressure was. My stomach also felt strange like maybe I drank too much water. I drank my Accelerade (about 16oz) and maybe 12 oz of water, along with one Accel gel on the bike. I had another gel thinking I would eat it right before the end of the bike, but with all that racing I didn’t have a chance. I just felt awful running out of T2 and never did feel like eating that gel. And so there was that thought of, “You should stop and walk, it will make you feel better.” But the smarter side of my brain said, “No! You cannot walk, it will not make you feel better, it will make you feel defeated and the rest of this entire run will be miserable!” So I just kept on running (or trying to), and I ran right behind the little Hispanic woman I was racing at the end of the bike course. I figured I’d just stay on her heels until I got myself together, hoping that I would get myself together once my body realized it was time to run. I got a bit of a surge after mile 1 and passed her. Those ice cold towels they hand out on the course are such a treat, and the shaded, mostly flat course is wonderful. I did have the negative thought that DeGray was just going to SUCK in two weeks. There would be ice cold towels, but little shade and little flatness to the course. “I’m not doing that stupid ½ IM again” was going through my mind. At least I only had 2 more miles to run, not 11! Since I was familiar with this course I just looked forward to the sprinkler and the short trail run in the woods. Once that was over the finish line was just ahead. I remember looking at my watch after mile 1 and seeing “1:22 total time”. I thought if I ran 10 minute miles (which I knew I was running faster) I’d finish in 1:42, which didn’t seem so bad at that point, even though I was hoping for 1:37. I ended up finishing in 1:39:30, 6 minutes faster than my time 2 years ago. I achieved my bike goal of 53 minutes (52:58 was my actual time), even though I was a bit disappointed that my run was a minute slower. I guess that’s the price I paid for biking 4 minutes faster and averaging 20.6 mph! I was 10th out of 64 women in my AG, and 3 out of the top 5 overall women (including the winner) were in the 35-39 AG.

More important race info: the post-race party. They didn’t disappoint: massages (which I didn’t get), chicken fajita’s, watermelon (the absolute best thing I can imagine after a hot race), other assorted fruit, and Hostess cupcakes & cinnamon buns that I had no interest in, but knew my sugar-loving kids would be overjoyed to have and would make getting up at 5:30am on a Sunday worth it. I actually gave my fajita to Nada, and Milan ate the refried beans and rice. I went for the Michelobe beer! They had 4 different kegs of beer, unfortunately I missed the Amber Ale, but the Light wasn’t too bad! OK, so my post-race nutrition could have been better. I’m already thinking Taco Bell after DeGray, unless I finish before all the Ta Molly’s taquito’s are gone!