Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ironman Texas: When it All Comes Together

*Photo courtesy of Courtney Livingston/Training Peaks*

If there is one thing I have learned after 10 years of racing triathlon, it is that on the days when it all comes together and it just feels like you are along for the ride, we have to appreciate and savor it. I feel fortunate to say that Saturday at Ironman Texas, it seemed to be one of those days. Not that it was easy, but it felt like despite some ups and downs going into the event, everything came together and I could not have been more pleased with the outcome.

I have to start by saying that going into the event, I was dealing with some 'head issues' on the bike. Not that training wasn't going well, but I just knew that this was the one area of the three disciplines where I was a bit unsure of myself. As the race drew closer, I kept thinking how really FAR 112 miles is... not good! Maybe due to some mediocre bike splits at the past couple of races, maybe because my long rides the power numbers were not quite what I had wanted to see (training with power has its ups and downs!). I gave myself up until race week (the Monday prior to the event) to deal with my insecurities; and I tried my hardest once I was 5 days out to relax and focus on the positives. I was healthy (despite almost 2 weeks off, unplanned, after Galveston), I felt strong swimming and running, and most of all, I had the unique opportunity to get to race a huge Ironman event in what has become my 'home state' of Texas, a mere 3 hours from our home in Austin. I never thought I would say it having lived in Colorado, but I have come to have a bit of Texas pride and I was stoked at the chance to get to race in the conditions I was used to, knowing there would be awesome support from friends. I also liked that it seemed few eyes were on me for the event; I prefer to go into big races keeping a very low profile.

*Photo courtesy of Courtney Livingston/Training Peaks*

Derick and I made the big 3 hour trek into The Woodlands on Wednesday, arriving to our hotel and settling in. I did a short trainer spin that evening in the hotel room, and we hit up dinner at BJ's Brewhouse, where we would end up eating for the next 3 nights in a row. I tend to lose my appetite going into a race like this with a big taper; activity levels are so low it seems my appetite is non-existent, but I know I need to eat. I am best off just doing something familiar and simple; hence, a brewhouse was perfect. :) Thursday entailed a full rest day, visiting with a few sponsors at the expo, the pro meeting and of course, more resting and more eating. Friday I went off of my 'usual' bike and run routine and opted for a swim and spin; it just sounded more enticing. I got into the swim venue for about 20 minutes and did a 20-30 min ride near our hotel. I definitely got my openers in, as I had 3 dog chases on the ride; might I add, I hit my maximal power output ever at 630W. I may have learned something because after these, I cruised along at race power and it felt effortless!

*Photo courtesy of Courtney Livingston/Training Peaks*

Race morning came quickly and before I knew it we were all treading water for the deep water, 6:50AM start in Lake Woodlands. Those few minutes before we go, I feel extremely nervous; if there is anything I 'hate' about racing, it is the night before and the morning of the event. I just want to get it started, because I know what to do once the gun goes off; it is controlling what is between your ears up until that point. We were off promptly at 6:50 and it was go time, finally!

*Photo courtesy of Courtney Livingston/Training Peaks*

In the swim, I knew that Dede Griesbauer was my girl, as we have swum together a few times and she and I seem to just have the same exact pacing and rhythm. She started further left than I did, as I always have a fear of getting boxed in, so I made a slightly longer line to the first turn buoy. I could see her to my left, but I tried to swim my own pace and about halfway through the swim, we finally met up. I fell in behind her feet and knowing that I wanted to push myself a bit on this swim, I tried to get around her to 'take a pull'. However it seemed she sighted so well that every time I tried to get around her, it was a lot of energy to take a line that was not spot on! So, I cruised along behind and beside Dede (thank you Dede!) until we entered the very narrow canal. When I could finally see the yellow finish buoys up ahead, I decided to make a small move to be the first one out of the water. I am fairly realistic in the sense that I don't often do this, knowing that it will not make or break a race, especially an Ironman. However, I knew that many women would be hunting me down on the bike, so I figured for my own confidence and the excitement of it, I would make the surge to exit first. It was pretty cool to hear the crowd and run into T1 winning!

*Photo courtesy of Aminator*

It was through the change tent and onto the long and lonely 112 mile ride, but I had my fancy pink camo QRCD0.1 along with my new Reynolds RZR 92's so I felt super confident in my setup; I just hoped the talked-about winds were not too strong. I settled into a rhythm and was of course passed by a few women in the first 5-10 miles of the bike. I immediately began taking my fuel, which over the course of the bike would consist of 3 gel flasks (4 Powergels each), 3 gels taped to my top tube, and 2 bottles of Powerbar endurance each with 2+ scoops per bottle (about 200 cal/bottle); ultimately 1900-2000 calories, along with salt tabs. I chugged along the scenic route and tried to just take it 10 miles at a time; and I made sure that after each 10 miles, I had consumed 'x' amount of nutrition. The plan worked well, as before I knew it I was nearing mile 90! I got a bit frustrated about 3/4 through the bike after having realized that I had probably been passed by about 10 women, but I tried to keep my head in the game and remember that it is a long day, and to be successful, you must race your own race; within your limits; and you cannot let what is going on ahead or behind you get to you. My body felt strong and I realized the final few miles that my bike split would be just over 5 hours, which for me, is FAST! I dialed back my power and effort quite a bit (ended up being apprx 10-15 Watts) the final 10 miles to prepare myself for the 26 miles left to run.

*Photo courtesy of Aminator*

The first thing I liked was that when I ran my bike into T2, my legs did not feel like total lead. Good sign. I transitioned quickly and threw on a fuel belt, which I had used in Kona, with one flask of 8 Powergels and of course my salt tabs. I tossed on my Oakleys, Zoot visor, and Zoot Kapilani's and was off. I started pretty moderately and tried to let my body find a rhythm, not forcing the pace. I forgot to start my watch so about 1 mile in, I started it to check my pacing. I was clicking off approximately 6:50 miles for a few miles, which I knew was a great place to be, but I tried to make sure that it 'felt easy'... which it did. I was actually trying to pull back the throttle just a bit, as I knew that at some point, it would get hard. About 4 miles into the run, I realized that the fuel belt was annoying the hell out of me. For some reason, it was bouncing a lot, which it did not do in Kona. So, I decided to ditch it, just taking out my gel flask and carrying it. Every 2 miles or so I would sip the flask and try to take salt occasionally. I came through the first loop feeling great; 1 hour down! Onto the next one. Lap two felt similar, still fairly strong, comfortable. Yet suddenly sometime between miles 16 and 18, it 'got hard' as I had predicted. I noticed my left quad starting to cramp up quite a bit. At this point, I flipped my watch to 'time' mode and stopped looking at my paces. I did not want a slip in pacing to get into my head. I knew I was still running strong, but I need to really take care of myself. By mile 20, I was definitely starting to hurt. It was here where I started taking a salt tab along with a Powergel every 2 miles, at least; that is 400 mg of sodium a pop! I was trying to really ward off any cramps. The exact words I said to myself at mile 21 were these. "This hurts really bad and I may need to walk. You know if you walk, you are risking your finish spot. You are in 3rd. Just HOLD THIS. You can dial it back a bit, but do not blow up. You have 5 miles to go. If you run 8 min pace, that is 40 minutes. You can do anything for 40 minutes. Take 40 min of hell to assure that you don't have to put yourself through this kind of pain again for 5 more months. You do NOT want to have to do another one of these for as long as possible." :)

*Photo courtesy of Courtney Livingston/Training Peaks*

The mantras continued, the nutrition continued, and before I knew it I was nearing mile 23 which was by the crowds and the canal; a very good place to be when the body was hurting. I knew nothing was assured until I crossed the finish line, so despite all of the amazing cheers and spectators, I kept my head down, my turnover up and my upper body relaxed. I tried to stay in the moment, focusing on just seeing that next mile marker sign. It was not until Mile 25 when I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that I had moved into 2nd place and this was going to be my day; to me, this was just as good as a win.

The finish chute was amazing; hard to describe. A huge crowd, many cheering my name, and the realization that I was about to secure a huge PR and the highly sought after ability to return to Kona. I didn't cry like I figured I may have; I think I was too tired; but I don't think I could have smiled much bigger or felt much happier. I raised my hands in success and relief, and crossed the line in 9 hrs 7 minutes, which turned out to be a best time by almost 30 minutes.

I definitely learned a few lessons from this race.
1: Things have an odd way of 'happening for a reason' and unplanned events can often be a blessing in disguise. I had to take almost 2 weeks entirely off from April 11-April 22. It was not ideal, and I highly questioned pulling out of this race. Once I was able to ease back into training, I tried to realize that there are things out of our control and we have to listen to our bodies; and, I had to trust all of the fitness I had gained up to that point.
2: Race your own race. Have a plan for yourself, especially for a race of this distance, and trust your plan. Have faith in your plan. Realize that what you do is independent of everyone else, and vice versa. Control your emotions; this can be one of your greatest advantages in a long event such as this.
3: Don't limit the possiblities. One of my biggest limiters used to be that I was afraid of succeeding too much. I would get in a position to win, get anxious and excited, and blow it. Over many years, I finally came to terms with the fact that "I could win." Know that your potential is far greater than even you realize; and on the day when it all starts to come together, do not question it; own it.

*Photo courtesy of Aminator*

I have to thank the many people who have helped me get to this point in my career. I have an amazing network of sponsors, including Zoot Sports, Quintana Roo, PowerBar, Reynolds, Recovery Pump, Katalyst Multisport, Jack & Adams, Road ID, Xcis Software, ISM Saddles, Oakley, 3 Cosas Massage, Advanced Rehabilitation, Hill Country Running, and Go with the Flo Acupuncture. My husband Derick has been my training and especially running partner the past few months; he is like a metronome, and he has helped me really up my running game a notch; not to mention my belief in myself. I would also like to make mention of my new Honorary Fund for Multiple Sclerosis which I just started, in my efforts to raise awareness and money towards Multiple Sclerosis research. After 9 years of racing professionally, it is amazing to see all the years of hard work paying off; and indeed very self-satisfying; but I hope to stand for something bigger than results, times and places, in the long run. Please take a moment to check out my Honorary Fund for Multiple Sclerosis Research, and help find a cure for this unpredictable disease.

Thank you for your support! Next up is a few solid weeks of R&R and then the second half of the season! Race schedule in the works...
Be safe out there & thank you for reading,

Friday, May 6, 2011

Recovery Pump 'Review'

It has now been 4 months that I have been consistently and religiously using the Recovery Pump boots, therefore, I thought it was about time to do a little write up on why I am a believer in this product. *Disclaimer: My goal is not to 'push' readers into running out to purchase one, just because they are a sponsor of mine!* But I know there are so many gadgets out there on the market (to aid in recovery, make you faster...give you better balance...make your muscles bigger without doing anything...make you look better, get my drift) and in my opinion, if you were to looking to invest in something to ultimately help your performance (especially if you are training for longer events such as Ironman, where recovery is as if not more important than the training itself), this is an extremely useful product to consider.

First off, in simple terms, what is the Recovery Pump? The brief description straight from the website is: "An FDA approved, medical grade compression device with 4-chambered sleeves that inflate sequential from the toes to the base of the buttock. Device used for recovery in maximal, endurance sports. The Boots massage the muscles to improve circulation during use and help reduce swelling, soreness and fatigue." It was originally developed as a medical device to help patients to increase lymphatic flow and venous return. Doug Weatherby is the man behind these who you will see at many events this season, be it a WTC/Ironman event, Rev 3 event, and even a few others. If you see Doug and the Recovery Pump booth, walk on up, introduce yourself, and pick his brain a bit. He is extremely knowledgeable and if you want to know the science of it, ask him (or peruse the website). I, as the athlete, will tell you personally how I use them and why I am a firm believer in the effectiveness of them.

I started using these in January, upon training for the USA Half Marathon National Championships in Houston, TX. I would do as was instructed, which is simply sit in these post-workout for anywhere from 20 minutes up to 1.5 hour (time dependent). As you can see from the photos, set-up is extremely simple. You plug the device into an outlet (3-prong outlet), lay the legs out on a couch or an ottoman with a chair, sit down, zip up and turn them on. From taking them out of the bag to actually pumping my legs is maybe a 3 minute process. This is huge for us busy individuals; the ease of setup and usage makes it that much more practical. The event came and went, and I was fortunate to finish in the Top 20 with a 1:16.59, about a 30-second PR (mind you, I trained for about 3 weeks for this event, coming off of a nice long Christmas vacation!). Of course, some of this success can be attributed to fitness and solid training, but I cannot question the added benefit I had of even better recovery going into the Houston Half.

The season progressed into February, and this is when the cycling kicked up a notch in preparation for the triathlon season, and ultimately for Ironman Texas on May 21. The regular usage that I have continued is essentially using the Recovery Pump boots on all of my harder days, Tuesdays and Thursdays, which entail a morning long and/or hard bike ride (2.5-4 hrs in duration) and an afternoon hard run (often times 8-12 miles with 4-8 miles of this at tempo to threshold pace). I will sit in the boots for between 45 min and 1.5 hrs post ride/pre run. I also try to sit in them on the lighter days when I find I am simply sitting working on my computer, simply to prepare for the next day. What 'results' have I seen? Almost every time I have these key sessions (bike/run days), I have nailed the run. For the past 4 months. I have hit the intended paces, and most of the time, exceeded the goal pace. You can ask my husband Derick; he has been with me and seen it. The interesting thing is, it is not as if I get out of the boots and suddenly feel amazing and not fatigued. Quite the contrary, my legs feel 'better', but I start my run thinking "Oh man, I sure hope the legs are there today... they still feel a bit heavy." Then we start the workout and bam, there they are. I sit in them between workouts or immediately after a hard workout and the next time I need the legs, they are there for me. So, my impression is that the boots are truly doing their work; increasing venous return, reducing swelling, soreness and fatigue in my legs so as to allow me to train stronger, faster, and more effectively. Period, that simple.

I know that many people are very busy with full-time jobs, families, etc. The one thing I can tell you is that, even if you can manage 20-30 minutes in the evening after a few key workouts that day, you can benefit from these. Training for an Ironman? Use a bit more time on the weekends post-long ride and run to sit in these for up to an hour. Having been a professional triathlete for a 9 years now, I have learned that recovery is an integral part of success. "Success" being whatever it is to you; it does not mean you have to be aiming to win the event, but maybe you are looking for that long-sought after PR in the half Ironman distance. Maybe you want to get through your first Ironman with a respectable time. What I can tell you with absolute certainty and total confidence is, the Recovery Pump boot is a useful tool to help you get to where you want to be in the sport. If you do not believe me, step into one of the booths at the next event! They will be at Rev 3 Knoxville, Florida 70.3, Ironman Texas... and that is just the next 2 weeks! Plenty of chances to try them out for yourself.

Until your next race, best of luck with your training and recovery, and thanks for reading...