Monday, April 11, 2011

Lonestar 70.3: Managing Expectations

~Photo by John Chung~

We are always our own worst critic. It's likely one factor that can allow us to do great things, but on the flip side, we have to know when to back it off and to see the bigger picture. I went into Lonestar 70.3 aiming high, as I always do. Sure, I had raced the week prior, but the general consensus seemed to be that the one week turnaround seemed to work actually better than the two week, and I was optimistic; as well as smart and careful in the week between the events, paying attention to all the small details; ice baths, very easy training, spending some time in my recovery pump boots, getting the needed acupuncture and ART, etc. The body felt good, I felt confident in my fitness and ready to lay it all on the line; for the third time in four weeks (a little detail I tried not to remind myself of too much).

This race was the designated 'US Pro Championships', hence there were many strong US women, but also a solid contingent of ladies from around the world, all wanting a piece of the hefty prize purse but also the highly sought after "Kona Points". I, of course, being among them! I did have some nerves, but I have looked at these as a good thing; they mean that you care about what you are doing, that you're anxious to compete. It's only after the race, seeing how I somewhat beat myself up over my result, that I realize the nerves may have been moreso 'pressure'.

We kicked off promptly at 7:03 AM on Sunday, a few minutes behind the men, in Galveston Bay. Don't let the word 'bay' fool you; this bay hands you some solid waves, and today was no different (though a good bit calmer than last years swim). The lead swim women broke up rather quickly and I found myself - as usual - swimming alone. Not optimal in waves, but I went with it, cruising along in my Zoot Zenith sleeveless wetsuit, feeling decent, but knowing I had been dropped a bit. Nothing to worry about; soon enough, we were exiting to transition and onto the bike, which I set out on as the 4th or 5th woman. Moving right along...

We hit Seawall Blvd and it was there we would stay for the next 56 miles; 28 miles out and 28 back. The winds were tricky, but I tried to settle into a rhythm. I was rolling my Reynolds wheels, the new RZR 92 rear and a 46 front. I had ridden the RZR 92 the day prior, but I felt like the winds were tossing around the front end a bit (we're talking strong, persistent and changing crosswinds) so I opted to be safe and ride my 46 front to allow for better handling. I was not feeling great but did not think it was too ugly, yet by the time we hit the turnaround (hell, by the time I hit mile 20) it seemed as though 10 women had passed me. Talk about a mental struggle. It was not so bad that they had passed me, but moreso the ease with which they seemed to do it. I tried to stay positive, but honestly speaking, it was extremely difficult. I told myself 'keep in it, you never know what is going on up ahead, and maybe they're not putting too much time on you'. Once I turned around, I found we did have a bit of a tailwind coming home, but it has been awhile since I wanted a 56 mile ride to be over with so badly. It was a welcome site to see transition; yet an unwelcome thing to hear "11 minutes back from the leaders" as I exited onto the run.

If there is one thing I am, it's persistent, and today was no different. That margin sounded HUGE and I am fairly certain I was in 15th place off the bike. I came out of T2 on a serious mission to at least try to claw my way back into the race. No use in dwelling on the bike, but put in 1 hr and 20 min of running as hard as you can and call it a day, period. I caught a few ladies early on, one was walking, and a few others I was simply able to catch and pass. With a 4 loop run course, I could see some action up head and I could tell the gap was large, to say the least. Around Moody Gardens we went, and I was able to clip off women with each ensuing loop. That said, it did not feel 'smooth'; I was working hard, with no idea of my pace, but racing is hard and I expect that. As I passed women, I had no idea of my place except that it was better than when I started the run.

Here is where it got exciting. At mile 11 or so, I was told that I was only a small bit behind my good friend Desiree, who was having a great day out there. I figured that with as well as she had ridden, she was the top American; meaning if I could catch her, than I would be the top American. I managed to pass her at about mile 12 and gave her some encouraging words, but tried to stay on the gas. Derick then yelled to me with maybe a half mile to go, "Mary Beth is 30-seconds up!" to which I replied "Shit, she's AMERICAN!" I could see her ahead as we hit the winding sidewalk, with maybe 2-3 more minutes to run. TALK ABOUT PAIN! I put everything I had into that final 1/2 mile, but it was not quite enough, and I fell short by 14 seconds to Mary Beth; but, the effort was enough to move me into 5th overall, which, in hindsight, was a hell of a run considering where I was before it started!

Back to the 'managing expectations' part. I expected a lot out of myself in this race. As an athlete, we try to be as absolutely prepared, strong and mentally tough on race day as possible. My body, my mind and "I" wanted this so badly; to come into a race where I was 3rd last year, be on top of the podium; to close out the first bit of my racing season with a bang. I had said that Top 3 would be awesome on this day, and if not, then I wanted to be Top American. It's not always enough to 'want' something, sometimes life has other things in store for us. I fell 14 seconds shy of this goal, which is pretty nominal when we are talking 4+ hours of racing.

Perspective: I've been fortunate to win many races lately; spanning back to the latter part of last season. It's fun to win, it feels good, and it's quite addictive. Should I 'expect' myself to win each one? Not at all. Should I be content knowing that I put it all on the line; that without any doubts, I know I gave it all I had in me, at the time, on the day? That I raced with heart? Without a doubt.

There is nothing wrong with expecting the best out of ourselves, but when we let those expectations turn into pressure, even in the slightest sense, this is when a problem arises. I don't think that this slightly lackluster result was any more than I was getting fatigued; my cycling legs were telling me 'enough racing' and they did not want to fire like they should have. And, that's ok. Lesson learned; it is time to rest. But as Derick said, I should hold my head high, knowing that I layed it all out there and I never gave up. When it comes down to it, that's all we can ever and should ever expect of ourselves; give it what you've got, at the moment, on the day.

A big thanks to my those who are instrumental in what I do, Zoot Sports, Quintana Roo, PowerBar, Reynolds Cycling, Recovery Pump, Katalyst Multisport, ISM Saddles, Road ID, Jack & Adams, Advanced Rehabilitation, Hill Country Running, Go with the Flo Acupuncture, Xcis Software, Oakley, and 3 Cosas Massage. It's been a good start to the year; now it is time to rest and gear up for one big training block in preparation for Ironman Texas on May 21st.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Oceanside 70.3 - A Hard Fought 5th

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was slightly disappointed with my performance this past weekend in Oceanside, California. That said, this sentiment was with me through about mid-day on Sunday, at which point I had done enough thinking about the race, mulling over it, and I then snapped out and realized that in reality, I had a very solid race, it’s just that a few ladies had even better races, and if I looked at my performance alone, I am extremely pleased with the execution and the effort. It’s interesting what time can do to your perspective, and I’ve spent far too many years as an athlete ‘beating myself up’ over one event. I now realize life is too damn short. Give yourself 24 hours, think through the good and bad, learn from it, move forward and be better for the experience.

We arrived on Thursday morning to San Diego, went to our friends condo in La Jolla, and I built up my bike immediately. I have a history of often times doing something ‘new’ on race day, but this was an entirely new level here; I would be riding my new pink camo Quintana Roo CD0.1 along with my Reynolds RZR 92s (race wheels) for the first time on race day! Brilliant! Not ideal, but due to the timing of it all, it was what it was; I had ridden the new bike on the trainer a few times. We dialed in the bike on Thursday, I took the day off, and we hit up Pizza Port in Solana Beach for dinner. If you go to San Diego, you must eat at Pizza Port! Their pizza dough tastes like a doughnut. Great pre-race food!

Friday was a fairly busy day, as I got up, did my short 30 min spin and 10 min jog, and then had a few sponsor commitments in the afternoon. I did a Zoot panel at the race expo from 1-1:30, a Quintana Roo signing from 2-3 (don’t be shy people! I signed all of two photos! Everyone was at Andy Potts’ and Matt Reed’s booth across the way, I’m not sure why. What have they done?) :) and then did the usual pre-race meeting at 4:00. We enjoyed an early dinner with Hillary Biscay & her fiancĂ©e Maik, some pizza and my obligatory beer (a Peroni, nice and light!) and it was off to get some sleep.

Admittedly, I felt a bit of self-induced pressure on race morning. I have been fortunate to have started 2011 off with a good bit of success, and with that has come a slight bit more attention. I joke that I want to always ‘fly under the radar’. Maybe that is why when the body markers said “Age?” I said “33.” I figured maybe if my leg said 33, no fellow pro women would know who I was. Yeah, I probably should have the “P” on there…in any case, I digress. I tried to lighten the mood a bit when we went down to the swim start (those final few minutes are awful! So intense and we are all nervous as hell) and they said “Pro ladies, you may now step into the water, loosen up in your wetsuits.” To which I responded, “Meaning, we can all pee now.” Everyone laughed, but I was being serious; who doesn’t do that the minute you hit the water?! But of course, it’s my way of relaxing myself as well.

Promptly at 6:45, the ladies were off into Oceanside Harbor. I knew there were a couple of good swimmers and luckily Dede Griesbauer and I got a quick lead and swam great together. (I say together, but I really just stuck on her feet like glue!) I tried to get around her a few times to take a pull, but the effort to do it seemed silly as our pace was truly ideal so I just tried to navigate off of Dede. We swam well together and exited 1-2. I did the long run through transition, moving into first, only to negate any time gained by grabbing my bike, slipping on my Zoot Prophet wetsuit, and making for an epic fall. Good thing we are required to wear helmets in transition! I dropped my bike, mildly cut my foot on my chain ring but when I got up, the front wheel wouldn’t spin! So I panicked tried to fix the problem, quickly adjusting the front skewer. Unfortunately, the front brake had been knocked off center a bit. So while I recovered fairly quickly, I knew the alignment was slightly off. I was frustrated to have lost time here, but tried to look forward and move on. A great swim was off-set but a T1 mishap but what can you do?

I got out onto the bike course which is pretty flat for the first 15-20 miles, and then the fun begins. I got passed by a few women during those miles, again frustrating but I plugged along, waiting to eat up the hills. We got to the first big climb and when I stood up to go, I heard a slight ‘swoosh’ and I knew the front brake was rubbing a bit. I debated a few times stopping to adjust, but I was fairly certain it was just on the climbs, so I decided to try to ignore it, but it definitely messed with my head a bit. All in all, the bike felt mediocre to me today, as my quads just felt heavy and I did not feel quite like my normal self. But as with the T1 problem, can you do except keep on going? And that is precisely what I did, trying to stay on the gas and get to T2 as quickly as possible.

I transitioned and I knew that there was a race going on far ahead of me (I was told approximately 6 minutes was the gap to first), and that I had a lot of work to do. I was asked on Sunday at the Zoot Ultra Team camp, “What do you think about coming off the bike knowing you are a few minutes down; do you want to just get back in the mix or do you want to win?” I may not always be correct, but no doubt, my mindset is “Run your ass off and win this thing!” I never want to settle and I never want to feel sorry for myself. The bike was less than stellar, but I love to run and I wanted to make this exciting. That said, I knew Mirinda was up ahead so I figured just try to use her as your sight and lessen the gap to her, because no doubt she would be eating women up ahead of me.

I headed out on the 2-loop run course, which in my opinion is not ‘flat and fast’! It’s beautiful as we run right along the ocean for a few miles, but you do have a couple of small hills and mentally, I find the long stretch along the ocean challenging because it feels endless. I felt alright but not stellar for the first loop, and I had made up a couple of places, but I believe I was in 8th off the bike and I knew I needed to run very fast and some ladies up ahead would need to run not so fast. I also knew that many of those women ahead were strong runners! Nothing was going to be easy today. By the time I hit mile 9, I think I was in 6th place and I literally said to myself, “OK Kelly, you are running out of time here, get it moving if you are going to do anything here today! Pick it up!” The body seemed to turn a corner and those final 3 miles felt better than I had the entire run, which is pretty atypical. I was able to pass one more girl, Melanie McQuaid who had put up a stellar bike, and run myself into 5th place overall.

So final thoughts? It may sound odd, but I am glad that this race turned out as it did. This is a good reminder that shit happens in races and it is all in how you react to it; and as far as ‘shit happening’, this was minor; a fall in T1 and feeling less than stellar out there on the bike. I feel fortunate that the past few races I have felt strong, things have gone very according to plan and I have been able to come out on top. But every race is different; and nothing is ever given to you. I kind of like having the cards stacked against me when I am out there, as they were going out onto the run. It gives me two options: feel sorry for yourself, or do something about it? No matter how far down, I will always take the second option. I have to give a huge shout-out to the ladies up ahead of me, as they made this a hell of a race and they all put together very strong runs; as well as the entire field of women, this was a fast and challenging field assembled and it is races like this that raise the bar for all of us. Good stuff.

So life is good! Derick and I had a great weekend in San Diego, saw some amazing friends, and I got to go and do what I love to do. Lucky me, I get to do it all over again in just 6 days! A huge thanks my sponsors Zoot Sports, Quintana Roo, PowerBar, Reynolds, Katalyst Multisport, ISM Saddles, Road ID, Recovery Pump, Jack & Adams Bicycles, Advanced Rehabilitation, Hill Country Running, Oakley, Xcis Software, Go with the Flo Acupuncture & 3 Cosas Massage, for your unconditional support. Also a gigantic thank you to my parents who have yet to see me race this year! But are always with me when I am out there and my husband Derick, my official super support race Sherpa.

Thanks for reading & see you in Galveston!