Tuesday, March 30, 2010

California 70.3 - 2010 Season Kickoff

I decided to head out to California for a race which I had only done once, back in 2007, California 70.3 (yes, formerly "Ralphs Half Ironman"). Derick luckily made the trip with me, as we were fortunate to have a place to stay in La Jolla with some friends. I felt strong going into this race, yet a bit nervous as it really was a 'dust off the cobwebs' approach having not raced since last November. While the finish was a bit bittersweet, I am overall extremely pleased with the race and how I executed it from start to finish.

We got in on Thursday, as the race was on Saturday so we had a day to unwind (though it never seems you fully have downtime before a big race!). I took Thursday off of training which I frequently do, and did my short 20-30 min spin and 10-15 min run on Friday AM. I have to say, I felt pretty sluggish and heavy-legged on Friday. I completely brushed it off, as I have learned that you can feel spectacular or you can feel horrible the day before a race and it rarely equates directly to how you will perform. I then went to the Nytro shop in Encinitas to meet up with Cary and Chris Brown of Quintana Roo, as they had a tent there to 'showcase' so to speak the new CD0.1. It was great to meet them, a few other QR athletes and of course get my ride tuned up a bit for Saturday. It was also pretty cool that there was a Zoot tent next to them, which allowed me to meet Dave who works with Zoot out in CA and chat with him a bit as well about the fancy new kicks they have around the corner for 2011.
Friday seemed pretty busy as we then went to the expo up in Oceanside (where Jake from Zoot surprised me with a big box of goodies! even some kickass gloves with a hula girl and pineapples on them), did the pro race meeting at 4:00 and the grabbed some dinner on the way back to La Jolla (about a 20 min drive). I like to keep myself relaxed the night before the race, so I indulged a bit in a little cerveza... as you can see, Derick's was the big mug, mine the little. :)Saturday was a crazy early wake up call, 3:25! But wait, there's more! I actually woke up at 1:25 AM and jumped out of bed, threw on my hoodie and started to head downstairs for bagel and coffee when Derick said, "What are you doing, it's 1:30?" My fancy Blackberry Curve did not want to change from Texas time, so a 3:25 alarm was actually 1:25 CA time. Luckily I was able to fall fast asleep again for 2 hours. You probably think that is ridiculously early, but I like to give myself about 3 hours prior to the race start to eat, drink coffee, and really wake up. With a 6:43 start time, this led to a 3:30 wake up call. Painful, but it is nice to get up and get it going. I got to the race site with plenty of time to spare, set up (taking all of about 6 minutes), did about an 8 min jog simply to shake some nerves and warm up and then decided to suit up about 30 min prior to start hoping the Zoot wetsuit would help keep me warm. When we waded into the 59-degree water, I kid you not... it felt warm. Either they were low on the temperature, or the air was so chilly it made the water seem warm by comparison (I vote for the latter). We were off right at 6:43!
I felt awesome from the start of the swim. No mental struggles with the suit (I sometimes feel that 'suffocating' feeling especially starting the season), but I attribute this to having practiced twice in the Pure Austin Quarry, which was all of maybe 58-F. I also attribute feeling strong, confident and relaxed in the swim to the past 2 months training with Texas Longhorn Aquatics. It took me 3 years to buy into it (literally, I did not want to pay for it) but I feel it has been completely worth it, thanks to Whitney and the many lanemates!
I fell into a nice rhythm and exited the swim within a minute or so of the leaders, Leanda Cave and Pip Taylor. I had a mediocre transition and was off on the bike. This course is challenging and beautiful. I actually would compare it to (at least this year) some of the views I saw at Ironman Canada. Gorgeous, expansive hillsides and some nice long challenging climbs. I felt strong out there, but did get passed by a few women which did not surprise me; though it did motivate me a bit. Even though they passed me, even if I lost sight of them, I tried to realize that I could still lessen the gap. I pushed the hills very hard, recovered quickly and also pushed the flats. My 6 PowerGels went by quickly and I found myself grabbing a 7th one from an aid station (paired with simply water). I exited the bike in about 2:39, which was a 16 min improvement upon my 2007 bike split... WOW! Might I add, upon downloading my power file, I was 20W higher than I had ever been... thanks to training of course but also to my QR CD0.1! This thing rode like a dream.
I was excited but I knew I had my work seriously cut out for me, as I could not see many (any?!) women ahead of me going onto the run. As with the bike, the run course here is beautiful. You head out along the water for a few miles, then run into some neighborhoods, thus it is very spectator friendly and the crowds were fantastic. It is 2 loops, so you are only ever about 3 miles away from transition. I was able to move from 9th off the bike into 7th after lap 1, but I could tell that the women ahead of me were running strong. I kept on top of my nutrition, sipping on the gel flask I had (with 4 green apple PowerGels) and tried to keep pushing into lap 2. I was able to pass one more woman at about mile 9, and I could SEE 5th place for the last mile! PAINFUL! I pushed as hard as I could muster, but I fell about 20 seconds shy of 5th (and 39 sec shy of 4th)! However, when all was said and done, I had executed just about the perfect race for me... 3rd out of the swim, a huge PR bike split and a 1:21 on the run, good for 6th overall among an extremely strong field.

It was a bit frustrating to see the times and realize how close I was to top 4, however I see things in the big picture and this was a great start to the 2010 season. I felt strong, controlled and most of all I truly enjoyed racing. I think that is the most exciting part about it all is that, somehow after competing virtually my entire life (I think I started swim races at age 4?!) I still love to compete! I love stepping up to the line, looking around me and realizing that any one of us, on any day, could come out on top. The nerves get to me as they do to all of us, but ultimately it is so exciting to know that we are in control of what happens out there. The days like I had on Saturday are sometimes few and far between, when it all just feels good, and it feels 'on'. That said, the outcome was not quite as good as I had hoped (I always try to win, no matter who is there!) so I guess therein lies the drive to get back at it again in a few weeks.
I have to give a big shout out and THANKS to a few people who have helped me out over the past few months: Chris McCrary at Katalyst Multisport for believing in me, the entire gang at Zoot Sports, Quintana Roo for the awesome ride, PowerBar for fueling me with my favorite gels and bars, Xcis Software in Houston for the support, the endless help from all the Austin gang at Jack and Adams, Karen for her excellent needling abilities (acupuncture), AJ and Advanced Rehab, Jamie and Andrea at Hill Country Running and Cecilia of 3 Cosas for the massage work. And of course my family, and my husband Derick for not getting too frustrated at the constant 6:00 AM alarms (who am I kidding, he does not even hear them...!)

Here's to a great 2010, thanks so much for stopping by!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Do What Scares You - Part Two

What else scares me? Swimming in a full wetsuit. Added to that is swimming in a full wetsuit in very cold water (cold being under 60-degrees). Added to this can be swimming in a wetsuit in water which is too warm (too warm for a wetsuit to me is anything over about 72-74 degrees). Picky, aren't I?!

How can swimming in a full wetsuit be scary, you ask? Well, I guess it is the swimmer in me but I feel most at ease and relaxed when it is just me, my stroke and the water. I like t
o 'feel' the water. A sleeveless suit is not so bad, since my arms are free to do their thing naturally, but then you put on a full suit and it feels like your entire body is stuck in this thick mass. Now I will point out, I am using the Zoot Zenith full suit and if there is any that feels good it is this one. The sleeves are significantly thinner than the suit, and the various panels on the suit make it feel very smooth in the water. But to me, it is still not 'natural' to have a wetsuit on so I have to prepare for these swims. I tend to feel very clausterphobic after putting on a wetsuit, and so I have to get over this 'suffocated' feeling. The suits fit me just fine, but it is more a mental challenge than anything.
So, to prepare for the first (likely full) wetsuit swim in two weeks (California 70.3 in Oceanside), I have officially been IN the Zenith twice this week. The first time was kind of a cheater way to do it, but if you are without an open water training option, a good thing to do. I simply took it to the UT Masters Swim workout and I used it for the 1000 yd warmup, then I took it off (and when I did so, hot water came flooding out of the suit! the water temp was probably just under 80F). But, it at least got me in it and reminded me of how it felt to swim in it. Another advantage to practicing in the suit a few times before a race is that you will fatigue differently... not significantly MORE, just differently, than swimming without it. You may notice a bit more fatigue in your shoulders, since you swim stroke will be slightly altered. Today was the biggie though, I am embarassed to say, I have rarely ever practiced for a cold water race by training in my wetsuit prior. Stupid, I know, but at least I am being honest with you. :) Today I took to the Pure Austin Quarry, which is probably one of the most amazing open water swim venues you could find. This is a quarry that has buoys around it marking off approximately a 750-meter loop. Right now, the water is a chilling 59-F. But it was a beautiful day, sun was shining and despite the brisk air temp of the low 60's, I sucked it up and ventured on down there. I think that from the time I put on the suit to the time my entire body hit the water was at least 15 minutes; you know, mental preparation... But once I got in, it actually felt pretty good. My goal was to swim at least 3000 meters in this, and I was such the over-achiever that I did just about 4000. Despite the numb feet and hands, I did warm up about 45 minutes later, and the reward for the swim was a 20 min bask in the sun on the deck, with noone around, in complete solitude. It was actually an invigorating little swim!

Moral of the story... Do What Scares You! I know that I will be a bit intimidated the day before California 70.3 and well, I don't even want to think yet about Ironman Coeur d'Alene in June, but the only way to tackle the fear and have any hope of getting over it is to get out there and do it. Make
the best with the situation you have, we are so lucky to have this facility in Austin but if you do not have it, throw on the suit and swim in it a few times; even if you only do the warmup. It is often times the mental edge you will need on race day, simply knowing that you have faced the fear a few times prior to your day of competition. And it is empowering to do these things, especially on your own,
Happy Swimming!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Do What Scares You

I was talking to a friend the other day, who happens to be a fellow professional triathlete. We were talking about training (I know, boring, but we frequently talk about nothing to do with training) and she mentioned that 'swimming scares her'. Now, she did not mean getting into the pool and swimming back and forth scared her, but rather, the idea of the race, and the distance of the race day swim scares her. Likewise, I said back, "Long rides scare me." And I mean this 100%, though it is a bit embarrassing to admit. I am sometimes scared to go out on a long out and back ride, really any more than say 80 miles total, because that is 40 miles OUT in one direction and while I know I am likely good for the duration, the 'getting back' seems a bit daunting to me. What if I bonk and cannot get all the way home? I mean we all know that usually when we bonk, more food is what we need. However, have you ever had those days where more food did not equate to more energy? I know I have, when I am truly just worn out, and every pedal stroke just seems harder and harder.

The last week I have put in 2 pretty long rides (75 or so miles) which I have done solo, on a simple out and back route. While I enjoy the company of others, I also thoroughly enjoy tackling these rides on my own, just me, the open road, and some music in my ear to keep me company. Doing them solo allows me to push the intensity if I am feeling strong, yet dial it back if I am not feeling so great on the day. I can feel good about it without comparing myself to others. It also forces me to hold myself accountable for the workout. It is a little bit easier to have that company next to you, knowing that all you have to do is keep each other going. It is a bit harder when you have your own head and your own thoughts with you for 4+ hours on the bike. If you are feeling strong, it is great. If you are feeling tired, it can be tough mentally to keep going, and to put in the duration that you know you need to for the day.

What scares you? I know some people I have coached are scared to bike up hills for fear of falling over. It is a totally valid fear! When you are clipped into the pedals, and it gets steep, it can be a scary feeling to actually stand up on the pedals and maneuver the bike. I know many who are simply scared to push themselves to the limit; scared of 'blowing up'. I guess for me this has always come rather easy, in the avenue of athletics... I am enjoy pushing so hard that I may blow up in a workout or in a race, because I know that the reward can be so great if you don't blow up, and if you do have to stop (as we all have), then you realize where the limit is; and you may even go somewhere you have never gone before. That is exciting. That being said, I do lack confidence in pushing my limits in other areas (mountain biking being one, even skiing...I have a protective mechanism that kicks in and I like to play it safe).

I guess the underlying message here is, don't be afraid to do what scares you. It does not have to be every day, but think about those things you want to do, or things you want to try, but you realize you don't because you are just too scared. It is normal to be scared, but that is what makes life interesting, going after things sometimes knowing you may or may not get them. Risk = reward. You cannot have much reward if you are never willing to take a risk. I know that if I ever want to be successful at the longer distance racing, I have got to get over my fear of long rides. Last summer, I did a handful (as in, I can count on one hand) of 90-100 mile rides solo. While it was daunting leaving the house that day, knowing that I had 5-6 hours ahead of me on my bike, alone, on unknown roads and quite a ways from home, finishing the rides and the satisfaction I took from having done them solo was so rewarding. It boosted my confidence in my cycling, the weakest of the three disciplines for me. So, without sounding cliche or preachy... get out there and do what scares you! I guarantee the reward will be worth it; whether you come out successful or not, you will be stronger for having tried.