Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lonestar 70.3: Waves, Wind & the Podium

When you live in Texas, any race within driving distance (especially a 70.3 event) is a must-do, seeing it takes a minimum of 3 hours to get out of the state itself (8 if you are going west). Lonestar 70.3 in Galveston happened to be the Professional National Championships this year, so I figured despite it being a pancake flat course, it would be a good challenge and of course the the added bonus that Derick (my husband) and I can pack up the car, drive 4 hours south and be back home the evening of the race.
I viewed this event as a big one, one which I wanted to do well at. While I did not go into it on a 'full rest' since Coeur d'Alene is my focus, I did allow myself a few days of recovery to go into this event feeling strong. We drove down on Friday afternoon, settled into our hotel on the 'Seawall' and later that night, about 1:00 AM, were welcomed to Galveston by 75 mph winds and what appeared to me (being from Indiana) to be a hurricane. The next morning things were still quite windy, but I made it out for a quick 30 min spin and a 15 min run, only to later find out that these winds were only weaker than Hurricane Ike's winds by 10 mph; so this was not a 'normal' occurrence for Galveston. Luckily, Sunday was predicted to be sunny and calm. I got my workouts done, threw on my Zoot compression socks, put my legs up and proceeded to lounge around our hotel room watching bad TV until the 3:30 pro meeting. We had a nice early dinner with Richie Cunningham and his girlfriend Melissa and were back to our room by 7:00 or so. I shut the blinds and acted like it was not a beautiful evening outside; just helps my body start to think about sleeping a bit, unwind and get ready for the 4 am wake up call.

Sunday morning was beautiful relative to the previous morning, and we arrived to Moody Gardens with more enough time than necessary on race morning; logistics were great for this event. It was seemless to get into the parking lot and the layout was simple, thanks to the Jack and Adams crew and Keith Jordan and his clan organizing the event. I got the transition set up and meandered over to the swim start, which was off of a pier into Galveston Bay (yes, the one Robert Earl Keen sings of).

We were off right at 7:03 AM, 3 minutes behind the pro men. It was non-wetsuit as the water temperature was 72.8, and it was actually pretty balmy. I usually love non-wetsuit swims, however today turned out to be different. I really struggled out there; this coming right on the heels of having a great swim in California only a month prior. I do not swim well in chop, and this surprisingly was extremely choppy. I knew by the first turn that I had lost the first pack, but I tried to focus on swimming strong nonetheless. Every time I looked up, it seemed I was greeted by a firm slap in the face by an oncoming wave. I was shocked out there! We were in a 'bay', wasn't it supposed to be calm? I thought to myself how tough this swim was going to be for weak swimmers, as I am a strong swimmer and was really struggling out there (hence the wetsuit comment). I carried on, tried not to worry about the fact that the small lead women's pack was slowly fading into the distance and kept plugging away. The 'Swim Finish' banner could not come soon enough for me.
It was out and onto the bike course, literally 28 miles out in one direction, then back. I am on my new Quintana Roo CD0.1 this year, and this thing rocked for me today. We dealt with some pretty strong headwinds and crosswinds on the way out, and I plugged away as hard as I could. I was sitting in 5th out of the swim, passed two women after the turnaround and then was passed by one on the way back in. I found myself repeating the acronym "CMAO" out there... which stood for 'cycling my a*s off'. I have found that if I have any hope of being within the top 3 of a 70.3 event, I cannot afford to come off the bike far back. So, I did all I could to keep myself with the top 5 or 6. I stuck to my regular nutrition plan, one gel flask filled with 4 Raspberry PowerGels, and 3 PowerGels taped to my top tube, all of which I consumed (along with just water for hydration). This has worked out well for me as it prevents any stomach upset mixing gels and energy drink. By the time I hit mile 45, I found myself thinking two things: 1) I am getting bored with this flat-ness and 2) My butt and upper legs *really* hurt right now. Luckily the last 10 miles went by fairly quickly, and it was time to get to the run and see what this tough bike course had left in my legs.
I came into T2, racked the bike, threw on the Zoot Ultra TT2.0's, grabbed my gel flask, Jack & Adams visor and was OFF. I was sitting in 5th place and from what I was being told, about 5 minutes out of first. That would come out to 1+ minutes per lap (a 4 loop run course) that I would have to put on the winner. It would be tough but I sure as hell would try.
I do not get my splits as I like to mostly race by feel, but I glanced down at my watch and noticed I was clipping off a few 5:45 to 5:50 miles right off the bat. I was pretty surprised, knowing how much I had left on the bike, but I tried to just relax and settle into a rhythm. It was so awesome being here in Galveston, because I was hearing so many people cheering for me and yelling my name! I guess that I know more people in Austin and Houston that I realized! It really got me fired up and I cannot tell ya'll how much it helped. I slowly put time on the leaders, moving from 5th to 4th to 3rd, which was where I would settle. Unfortunately, I ran out of real estate, as I crossed the line only 36 seconds out of 2nd place, however I later found out that I had run a 1:18.18, which for me was a phenomenal run time and nothing to be upset about. I celebrated a bit going into the finishing chute, knowing that I had laid it ALL out there and when you do that, there is absolutely nothing to be unhappy about. I pushed my body to its limits, as I feel I always do when I compete. I was 3rd overall in a tough field, and I have to commend all of the other women in the race today as they all raced strong and made me work hard for the finish.
I have to give a HUGE THANKS to my sponsors. PowerBar nutrition and gels have become a staple for my races and training, and I know that when I stick with PowerGels in a race, I will make it from start to finish feeling strong and my stomach feeling happy. Quintana Roo, a new sponsor for 2010 has been amazing; not only do I love the CD0.1 for it's comfort and my ability to produce good power on it, but QR has great people working there and they have been nothing but supportive. I feel like this bike was made for me! I have been with Zoot Sports for a few years now, and their clothing and racing shoes are second to none; the shoes always keep my feet happy both during the race and after. Additionally, Jack and Adams, Xcis Software, Advanced Rehabilitation, 3 Cosas Massage, Hill Country Running and Go with the Flo Accupuncture have all been nothing but supportive and I thank you all for that. Finally Chris McCrary at Katalyst Multisport, thank you for believing in me. And of course my parents and my husband Derick, words cannot describe how much your endless support means to me.

To wrap it up...I never really race for 3rd, I am always racing for 1st. Sure, I may or may not get it but that is always the goal; why shouldn't it be? Just as my blog title says, I live by the motto 'Aim High'. That said, when you know that you get up and give something all you've got, there is no reason to hang your head down. Don't ever be afraid to try something; whether you do or do not achieve it, I guarantee that you'll come out better, stronger and knowing a lot more about yourself after the fact than had you of never tried. It's not easy, but it's not supposed to be easy. That's the beauty of these things; they make make you see what you're truly capable of, whether you realize it or not. Thanks for reading, and see you out on the race course, I hope!

Monday, April 12, 2010

St. Louis Half: Second by a second...

Pre-race day run
Mississippi River and carriage ride; very popular in St. Louis!
The trees were in amazing bloom; this is taken at dinner Saturday night, looking up from our table

And of course, I had to have a beer sampler at Morgan Street Brewery :)

It was quite a bit closer than last September in Augusta, but again, I was out-kicked this weekend in the "Go! St. Louis Half Marathon". As painful as the 1-second differential is (as was evidenced by my choice of words at the finish line, said to myself of course) I really have absolutely nothing to be disappointed about from the weekends event.
This is a race which I have done the past two years, and both times I have been lucky to come out on top; in 2008, I won with a 1:20 and in 2009, I (somehow!) won with a mediocre 1:23. I was not going to do this as my original plan was New Orleans 70.3 on April 18th then Lonestar on April 25th, but I figured the one weekend 'off' would be good for me and I just really love this event. I think it is my mid-western roots that keep pulling me back, combined with the fact that I can coerce my parents into driving down from southern Indiana to hang out with me for the weekend; is always a double whammy when you can wrap a visit with family or friends into a race trip.

I flew in on Saturday morning, met my dad at the airport (as my mom was in Florida) and we got all the little things done upon arrival: packet pickup at Chaifetz Arena, a short 20 min 'shake the legs out' run, lunch at Subway and then relaxing at the hotel by about 2:00. St. Louis is a pretty cool town, as it has a nice infrastructure - many old buildings and nice wide roads yet despite being an older town, you can tell that they have done a lot to keep it current and worked to keep the city in good shape. My dad is typically extremely antsy the day before a race with me, as he cannot possibly sit in a hotel room on a beautiful Saturday afternoon (which is all I can and should do!) but he was quite content relaxing as he had stubbed his toe on an uneven sidewalk that day and was walking with a bit of a limp. He, of course, is where I get my lack of coordination. Luckily, his foot was alright for spectating on Sunday. We had a nice dinner at Morgan Street Brewery, splitting a BBQ chicken pizza and a little beer sampler. While I wanted to race well, I was really taking this race in a relaxed mode, knowing that I have a bigger event in a couple of weeks. I love to race, but I hate the nerves, so this was a nice weekend of getting to race without putting too much pressure on myself.

Sunday was a bright and early 7 am start to weather that could not be better: sunny and low 50's. I warmed up in my cushy Zoot Kapilani's (they feel like slippers! very fast slippers) and I have to admit, my quads felt heavy and I felt kind of sluggish! Ah, no big deal as that is fairly common before a race. I glanced around me at the start line and thought "Hmm... some of these ladies look like very fast runners..." and hoped I was not going to get it handed to me too badly today. I realized that with $1000 for first place this event could very well pull out some speedy runners. I tried to push that thought out of my mind and focus on my race.
We were off right at 7:00, and I have to say, two other women were 'off' MUCH faster than I! I came through Mile 1 in a 5:40, which was a bit too fast for my taste, but they were already out of sight! What?! I again tried to push those thoughts like "this could be a very long and frustrating day" out of my head. We trotted towards the Arch, then to and through the Anheuser-Busch building. The smell of hops is not quite as enticing at 7 am. I felt very controlled, but of course a little annoyed to be sitting in a distant third place at Mile 6. The spectators were awesome, but every time I heard "third woman!" I thought "that's not a good thing, people!" :) I was right under 6-min pace, and I decided about halfway through that the goal today was a personal best time (1:18.30 was the current). I could not control who had shown up, and for all I knew, maybe these chicks were going after the record of 1:14. I took my green apple PowerGel at mile 9, and kept on trucking, feeling very strong on the uphills and cruising the descents. As I approached mile 10, I saw the clock at 59:45. Upon quick calculation, I figured that to be a 1:17.45, I needed an 18 min flat last 5k. That would be tough, but I was up for the challenge. If I was the defending champion and I was going to be 3rd today, I might as well PR!I began to drop the hammer on myself at mile 10. At Mile 11, I unexpectedly caught the 2nd place woman. I then realized that first place was just up the road, not 50 meters up. What? How could this be? I decided maybe I would repeat as champion and PR to make it a stellar day! I pushed hard to catch her, as I knew time was running out. Right at Mile 12, I caught her. OK people, help me out here.

My thinking was that if I passed her just a bit, and took the lead, it would mentally wear her down a bit. Hear me out: If you are winning for 12 miles, and someone passes you with 1 mile to go, wouldn't it make it hard?! Or so I thought. I held the lead just barely until about 400 meters to go and decided I needed to finalize this. So, I dropped what little hammer I had left, gapped her by maybe 20 meters and thought "Sweet!" Yeah, not so fast Kelly. I ever so slightly relaxed, and suddenly she had one more burst about 10 meters from the finish (insert choice words on my part). I was done. My legs would simply not go any harder, so unfortunately, I had to settle for 2nd... her 1:17.23 to my 1:17.24. That stings. Live and learn.
I gave myself about 5 minutes to be angry, at which point I realized that this was an absolutely stellar race and had she not of been there, and had she not of taken off from the gun giving me the unseen carrot to catch, then I would not have walked away with a 1+ minute best time today. It sucks to be second, especially by a second (which will not happen again!) but in the bigger picture, it was easily my best running race of my life. I had a great weekend with my dad (who drove 8 hours to get a good show, thank goodness!), I got to return to a city and a race that I thoroughly enjoy and I pushed myself to a limit which I have not found in the past. The entire race felt strong, and I know without a doubt that I left it all on the course. Tactically? Well, I still do not have that whole sprint finish thing down quite yet, but I am learning it whether I like it or not.
My dad and I went back to the hotel, got some lunch and meandered back to get the car for him to take me to the airport. As the race was still fresh in my mind and I was still kicking myself a little bit for the lack of finish line tactics, I looked around me at the incredible day around me, the many marathoners and half-marathoners and their proud families and friends and realized that the finish time, the PR, or the place really is just the icing on the cake. We do our best to prepare adequately, and control what we can control, but once the gun goes off, all that is left to do is race to the best of our abilities. This race was a true lesson in 'running your OWN race'. I did not panic when those girls took off. Though I did get a bit angry, I knew I had to race within myself and if I was not going to win, I would at least go for a best time. So despite being so close to making up a lot of time and almost coming out on top, I honestly have nothing to be upset about and a lot to be thankful for. Next up is Lonestar 70.3 in two weeks, which will also be our first trip to Galveston.
Thanks for stopping by!