Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ironman Coeur d'Alene: 3rd Place - What a DAY!

Whew; what a journey it has been. I am still in beautiful Coeur d'Alene, at the coffee shop that Derick and I have eaten lunch at now I believe approximately four times. We head back to Austin tomorrow, and the past week here has been incredible. I am not really sure I have fully 'digested' that my first Ironman has come and gone, but I will try to put the thoughts out on paper as best as I can only two days post.

I came into this event still a 'newbie' at this distance, which is interesting because I am anything BUT a newbie to this sport. I started in 2001 and I turned pro in 2002. I knew I did not want to tackle an Ironman until I felt I could do WELL; I attempted this last year in Canada, but I dealt with some unforseen circumstances and was unable to finish (I stepped up to the start line knowing I would probably not finish). So, all things considered, this was truly the first one I knew I was ready and prepared for. I told a friend in transition race morning, as we walked to the swim start, "What a perfect day; we could not ask for any better conditions. I know now that if anything goes wrong, it is all my fault; nothing else to blame!" I like this kind of situation; I like holding myself accountable.
The days leading into Sunday were perfect; incredible 'homestay' with Sherry Brietenbach, who lives up in Hayden Lake right off the bike course. We arrived early, settled in, and I felt ready to go by Thursday. Probably the hardest thing was containing my energy and excitement until Sunday. I felt a strong sense of peace, and ease, even through Sunday morning. There were a few flutters of nerves, but I was moreso just ready to see what I was capable of and finally DO this thing that I had set out to do a year ago.

We arrived to the venue early, and I headed down to the lake with enough time to hop in and swim a few strokes; not much, but I knew that my Zoot Zenith wetsuit felt perfect in these conditions. I actually love 'cool' water so the temperature could not have been better; low 60's I heard. In the minutes before the gun went off, I made sure to find a few friends, give them a hug and wish them the best; we were all in for a long day, and I think it helps to relax by remembering this and knowing that essentially we are all 'in this thing together.'
Right at 6:25 AM, we were off! I felt a mild panic at the start. I think this could have been that it was a bit crowded, but I think that a small wave of nerves hit me and I thought "This is it! How awesome!" I still felt a bit boxed in, so I swam far to the right and found some clean water. I am sure I took a slightly longer line to the first turn buoy than needed, but I felt comfortable and for me, that is very important with the swim; feeling like I can find my own rhythm and stroke. I exited the first loop with Hillary Biscay, and we headed out for #2 together. She was a great swim partner, as I believe she led the first loop and I led most of the second. The chop was a bit worse than it appeared from the beach, but I tried to relax, enjoy it and realize that this portion was far shorter than what was to come; the body would not feel this light (or cool) for many more hours!

We came out, the awesome volunteers did their job well and tore that wetsuit off of me and it was onto T1. I was out on the bike and spent a little bit of time (we are talking maybe a few minutes) in first, which was fun. I knew that would not last long. :) I was passed by a couple of women within the first 5-10 miles, but I tried to 'let them go'. My biggest goal on the bike was to RIDE WITHIN MYSELF. I knew that women would pass me, and I had to be alright with this. I cruised along, started to push the nutrition (MANY PowerGels fueled me along; I probably took 15 gels and two bottles of PowerBar Endurance on the bike) and tried to keep myself controlled with my pacing, using my SRM to keep me controlled. It was tough to get to the upper part of the course and 'not push the hills', as this is what is my strength. I let the ladies come and go, many of them before the first loop completed, coming back through town still feeling great at miles 60-70. My Quintana Roo CD0.1 did not fail me, as I felt incredible in the TT position and just as good on the climbs. I cannot express enough how much that bike feels to have been made for me. Nothing ever 'unraveled' physically, but I did notice the hills were much harder by about mile 90, and the last 12 miles coming back into town I could feel my power start to fall off. I also intentionally decreased my intensity a bit here, knowing I had 26.2 miles to run soon and I needed my running legs. While I completed the bike in 5:27, a few minutes faster than 'planned', I think that I really nailed it in terms of perceived exertion. Now I had to only hope that I had it in me to run well. The unknown was a bit daunting, but I tried to not think too far ahead.

Into T2, I threw on my Zoot Kapilani's (they have laces, but they have been great for open half marathons so I decided to use them for this full; they feel like slippers!), PowerBar visor, gel flasks, and was off. Haley Cooper was out of transition just ahead of me and started off with a strong pace. My plan for the run was as follows: If you see sub-7 min for the first mile, dial it back. I did not catch the FIRST mile split due to the markers, but I did catch the second mile split: 5:58. That could not have been correct; maybe I was out of it, but I immediately said "EASY KILLER!" I substantially dialed back my intensity, let Haley go and settled into a rhythm. I was seeing between 7:00 and 7:30's for most of the first half of the run. The big surprise here was, it did NOT FEEL GOOD. :) I am blessed that almost every time I race a half, it just feels great! I knew this could happen, and I told myself it was alright; to simply keep moving, keep fueling and keep looking ahead. Once I completed the first loop, I was hurting. I found myself walking twice. They were short bouts, but I did walk around the 13 or 14 mile mark. I said to myself, "Kelly if you walk, it will take a hell of a lot longer than if you keep running." That got me going. I wanted this to be OVER WITH! :) I kicked it back up a notch and kept running, and somehow, my body came back around at mile 18 or 19 and I started to feel almost 'good' again. I did not think this was possible in an Ironman! I could see the lead women quite a bit ahead, but I did not even think about it. I told myself "This is YOUR journey. You are in 4th place right now. You can be sub-10 hrs if you just keep moving." Amazingly enough, I started hearing people saying that Haley was just 50 meters ahead. I did NOT alter my pace, knowing I did not want to risk blowing up. I kept it steady and passed her at about mile 22, offering her a few words of encouragement, and kept plugging along. I pushed in another PowerGel, and not until I saw Mile 25 did I start to pick it up. I figured after this long and so many hard training days, I could kill myself for one mile and still finish.
I finally saw Sherman Avenue, and I have never been so happy to see the finish up ahead. With my history of being out sprinted, I kept on the pace, and with about 200 meters to go, took a look over my shoulder; seeing an empty stretch of road was a huge relief. I smiled and thanked the lead cyclist, when he peeled of and I began to celebrate. WHAT A FEELING! Top three and a 9-something (I did not even know exactly what) for the first one! I enjoyed it, gave out some high 5's, and cruised my way into the finish.

After finishing, my first thought was, "I don't want to do that again for a long while." Then I was pulled off by the amazing Lisa Bentley and Greg Welch for an interview, and by USAADA for drug testing, to which I replied "I'd love to be drug tested." It is tough to explain exactly how I was feeling; mostly shock that I was able to recover from such a rough patch on the run to recover and still have a very respectable finish.

A few thoughts from this crazy experience:

  • I was quite humbled on the run. I had big hopes of a 3:00-3:10 marathon; I figure (hence my blog title), AIM HIGH and if you fall short, you still succeed! That is my approach and that is what I did. That said, I now know how truly tough it is to run a marathon after 112 miles of cycling and it is no easy feat. My goal will not change going forward, but I am NOW quite pleased to have put together a 3:14 run with how I was feeling.
  • The term 'mental fortitude' keeps coming to mind. This beast is truly about simply persevering. I knew that the others had more experience, I knew they had been through the 'first one'; but I knew that I was used to having to run myself into contention from prior races. I never gave up and when I wanted to walk, I reminded of how I'd kick myself for months to come if I had. It is amazing the strength that exists tucked away in our own head.
  • A sense of calm is a good thing before an Ironman. It is essentially a long day of training; three long back to back workouts. I think that the relaxed attitude I tried to take into it and the excitement of the event helped me out in the end.
  • SUPPORT - What a difference a support network makes. My husband Derick who has seen me go from being truly horrible on a bike to seeing me become non-sucky; my parents who have never done anything but support my athletic endeavors; my sisters, and my aunt Sandy and uncle Del. My sponsors Quintana Roo, PowerBar, Zoot, Chris McCrary and Katalyst Multisport, Xcis, Jack & Adams (Jack has called this for some time that I could tackle this distance, and he was right!), Advanced Rehabilitation, Hill Country Running, 3 Cosas Massage and Karen with Go with the Flo Acupuncture (who also did her first Ironman!). Sherry was our host and she was nothing but accommodating and a joy to be around. I could not ask for a better support network; these people all make my job 'easy'.
Also a huge congrats to Andy Potts and Linsey Corbin on their stellar performances and first Ironman wins. Both are truly nice people and very deserving of their success. Congrats to Meredith Kessler, first year pro and 2nd here, and Haley Cooper who made me work damn hard for that third place finish! I love the stiff competition as it forces us to bring out the best in ourselves. I hope that I can be a lesson in that anything is possible with loads of hard work and a never-say-die attitude. This is an incredible journey, and I frequently have to stop and think about how lucky I am to be able to do this. Thank you for the kind notes, it really means a lot to me to hear the support from each one of you. Now is time to rest, reflect and refocus for another one of these beasts of a race in October.

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Rev 3 Half Ironman: 2nd & Better than Expected!

What a day! I wanted to put my thoughts down rather quickly from yesterdays event, Rev 3 Tri Half Ironman at Quassy Amusement Park in beautiful Middlebury, CT. I had this event on my schedule in 2009 and opted out at the last minute for fear of a back to back race weekend with Eagleman, and I regretted it ever since as I heard such positive things about this event. So, this year I planned for at least the first two races, Knoxville Olympic and Quassy Half Ironman. Thus far, I have been 3rd and 2nd, and tackled beautiful and challenging courses both times. Here's how it all played out...(above is my mom and I at end of weekend, not sure why it is so small...!)

I flew in on Friday and met my mom at the Hartford airport, as I figured this would be a great trip to spend the weekend with her in a gorgeous part of the country. We settled in and before I knew it it was 7:00pm Friday night and we had not stopped; so we found ourselves a great little seafood restaurant and sat outside, enjoying a relaxing dinner with some wine and some much cooler temps than I am used to in Austin. Saturday I did my brief bike ride on my QR CD0.1 (about 20 minutes) and a quick run (12 minutes or so) and proceeded to chill out and get off the legs; Zoot compression socks and all. The pro meeting was at a very convenient time of 2:30 on Saturday, allowing my mom and I time to have an early dinner and be back into the hotel room by 6pm to relax for the never-welcome 4 am wake up call.
The weather was a bit threatening, with storms predicted for Sunday morning. I don't mind rain, in fact I can enjoy it for the cooling factor; however I had heard this course was very winding and hilly, so I was hoping for as dry a course as possible. We very much lucked out, as it was humid and warm but for the most part dry on race morning; we had a few sprinkles on the bike but no downpours. I arrived much too early to transition, out of character for me but better safe than sorry. I had everything set up in approximately 4 minutes (more or less) and proceeded to do a short run warmup and prepare for the 6:53 start.

The swim was in beautiful Lake Quassapaug, which fell pro friend and local Dom Gillen told me was one of the cleanest lakes in the area. It was crystal clear water and flat as glass, just as I like it. I tend to get pummeled and buried in choppy conditions. The entire course was visible from the beach; each buoy and all of the turns. We were off promptly, and I positioned myself right with the top few women from the gun. I felt strong, relaxed and confident from the start; very in control. We had a nice little group of about 4 of us, with no pushing or shoving; just swimming, the way it should be. The only tough spot was turning into the sun on the furthest part of the course, but luckily the feet before me swam a nice straight line and we all stayed on course! I exited on the heels of Joanna, Mary Beth and Julie, all very strong swimmers and I knew that I had put up a solid swim. Part 1: Done and onto the monster of a bike I had heard of.

I immediately began taking my PowerBar gels once on the bike, as I was feeling a bit light-headed pre-race and wanted to make sure I stayed ahead of my nutrition needs. I had put my typ
ical flask with 4 gels on the bike as well as taped 3 more gels to my top tube. I took my Double Latte PowerGel immediately and settled into a rhythm. You had to be ON YOUR GAME the entire bike course; the terrain was either going up, down, or twisting and turning before you. I felt so strong on my QR CD0.1, especially on the hills. I tried to stay low and fast on the descents, and immediately get into climbing mode on the hills, which were alternating so frequently. I was able to come out of transition in 4th and worked my way into 2nd within 10-15 miles. I knew that Mirinda would come by me sooner or later, and that she did about 25 miles into the course, with some nice positive words as she did so. I was quite shocked and encouraged to find that I was able to work hard to not let her get away too quickly! But by the time we were nearing 40 miles or so, I could start to feel the course and I knew I needed to stay within myself. She and Mary Beth rode away a bit, but I stayed strong, proceeded to down all of my gels and by mile 45 I was thinking "I will not be upset once this bike course is over with." That said, I thoroughly enjoyed it and was hoping that my running legs had not decided to stay out on the roads far behind me as I neared transition.

I entered T2, racked the bike and thanked her for carrying me along so swiftly, grabbed the PowerBar visor, gel flask, race number, threw on my Zoot Ultra TT2.0's and off I went for more hill torture; this time for a 'brief' 13 miles, by foot rather than bike.

I was sitting in 4th place out onto the run and I knew I had some work cut out for me. As I always do, I tried not to think about where the women were ahead of me but moreso what I could do to move forward as quickly as possible. I settled into a rhythm, checked a few mile splits but for the most part focused on getting a steady stream of calories and water into me and just kept looking ahead down the road. Talk about BEAUTIFUL! Long roads nestled among tall green trees and nothing but farm houses and lakes around you. Absolutely a stunning place to host an event. That said, I knew that a punishing hill started at mile 3.5 and went for ~1 mile, so I mentally prepared for this (on a gravel road nonetheless). I was able to run into 3rd place by approximately mile 6, but I tried not to alter my pace too much. I know what I am capable of and a race like this truly is a race against yourself. I knew we were all suffering in our own way out there, so as I then moved into 2nd at about mile 9, I offered a few words of encouragement to Julie; what an incredible competitor; I had to contain some excitement when I realized that I has passed her by. You know a course is challenging when people of her stature are struggling. That said, I knew nothing is a sure thing until you cross the finish line, so I continued to try to stay on my pace, take my gels and just take it one mile at a time.

I did not let myself start to 'celebrate' until about mile 12, at which point they did the unthinkable... ANOTHER HILL! One last hill to keep us honest, guess you could say! I pushed myself up it and the best part was that when you turned the corner at the top of the hill, there was the finish chute. What a welcome sight!
I then proceeded down a short grassy stretch, at which point my legs felt like they may give out on me from fatigue, the uneven terrain and the short downhill. Wouldn't that have been entertaining; the second place pro women falls down and trips 100 yards from the finish. It's definitely something that I of all people would do... luckily I kept myself upright, and I enjoyed every second of the celebrating down the finish chute.

Words are hard to describe how I am feeling from this race. I knew that I have had this in me for awhile, but it is so rare that we go to compete it all just 'comes together'. I said going into this race, I would be stoked with Top 3 finish. I truly thought that would be enough of a challenge. That said, I knew that I was capable of more. That is something I think is very important to differentiate -- Set your goals high, but also know what you are CAPABLE of doing. Had I of not thought that I could be 2nd or even 1st place, my emotions could have gotten the best of me when I found myself sitting firmly within the top 3 and it could have been my downfall. But when I moved into 2nd, I had to think to myself, "Kelly - This is where you deseve to be. Go with it." I am humbled to have performed so well among a field of such amazing women competitors. I am excited to see YEARS of hard work finally coming to fruition. And, I am confident about what else lays ahead. Nothing is ever a sure thing when we toe the line; what we have done in the past, what others have done on paper, or what our bodies will give us on the day. That is what makes this sport and the challenges so unique. It always comes down to competing smart and competing within yourself.
I have to give a huge thanks to my sponsors: Zoot, PowerBar, Quintana Roo, Katalyst Multisport, Xcis Software, Advanced Rehabilitation, Jack and Adams, 3 Cosas Massage, Hill Country Running, and Go with the Flo Accupuncture. The support and belief ya'll have in me means so much; I have such an incredible support network. Thank you to the Rev 3 event crew: Heather, Charlie and Eric and the amazing volunteers - you all know how to put on a top-notch event and I see big things on the horizon. Also thanks to my biggest and most enduring supporters, my husband Derick and my parents, who have seen me through this journey since my ITU days of getting dropped off of bike pack upon bike pack upon bike pack. Here's to perserverance!
Thanks so much for stopping by, and see you at the next one...