Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Kona 2012: Disappointment, Gratitude, & Resilience

Another Kona has come and gone, and it's hard to believe that I have now done this race three times (2010, 2011 and 2012). I guess that come 2013, if I return, I can no longer call myself a 'newbie' to Ironman Hawaii can I? Damn, there goes one excuse! It's an interesting dynamic that even if this is not your one and only 'big' race of the season, it seems that everything essentially revolves around it. It's the marker for most things. I have frequently found myself saying 'before Kona' or 'after Kona' throughout the season. After two weeks of much reflection and digestion of how the day unfolded, I figured I would take a slightly different approach to my race report on this one. I was out riding today in Austin and I tried to think of three words that can describe my rather long day out there getting  pounded to a pulp by Madame Pele. Here is what I've come up with.

1) Disappointment. Yep, I am going to be honest here and not sugar coat anything. I don't intend to sound negative, just honest and pragmatic about the situation. I think it's safe to say that going into Kona, I had put together the best season of my 11 years as a professional. While I had many other important races, the majority of my training was designed to be successful in Kona. I felt prepared. I had a big goal, but I believed it to be a realistic one. I felt like I'd left no stone unturned. Race morning and even race week, I found myself more relaxed (which is almost always a good sign for me) and genuinely excited than I had ever been before an Ironman. I was bursting at the seams. It had been almost a full year since my last Ironman, and I knew my fitness was better than a year ago. I figured the potential was huge! Sure I knew it'd be a tough day, but I like tough; it becomes mental then, and I love the mental battle. One of my favorite phrases is a 'good swift kick in the ass' and that is precisely what I got out there. Why? I don't know. What went wrong? We're not entirely sure. The problem was solely the bike, which tends to be a nasty little bugger of a challenge that I cannot seem to shake. I know I've had more good than bad bike legs this year, however, Kona unfortunately was a season lowlight on the bike. This all goes to show us what we know; no matter how well prepared you feel, how relaxed you are, how many 'good signs' you seem to have... on race day, it doesn't matter. What matters is putting it together, and some days, it just doesn't come together; no matter how badly we want it to. I knew as I hit the final 30 miles that it would be bad. I didn't cry, though I wanted to. I was angry with myself, but I tried not to be. Those final 30 miles, I am fairly sure I was ahead of no more than a handful of pro women. It hurt; it hurt my ego, and it didn't seem fair. But one thing I told myself was "Swallow your damn pride Kelly and keep pedaling. Some days just suck; get over it." Once I finally limped my feeble self into town, the next self talk was "Run a sub-3 hr marathon and make something good of this!"

The positive? Out of disappointment, we become stronger; we learn more about ourselves. We learn how deeply we can dig when all is stacked against us. We ask the hard questions about what went wrong; we reflect on what we can do better. I've learned far, far more from the disappointing races than I ever have the good ones. Without disappointment, we have no opportunity for growth. 

2) Gratitude. Numerous times out there, I thought of all I had to be thankful for. 9 hrs and 45 minutes is a lot of time to think. I thought of the many notes and emails I had received from friends and family (and friends I don't know) wishing me good luck and telling me that they were already proud of me. I thought of all those generous people who had donated to my Can Do MS fund; we raised over $11,000; my performance today would not change that fact; already, much good had been done. I thought of my Aunt Sandy, who has MS, and tells me that she is that little angel on my shoulder when things get tough. I thought of the numerous great races I had had this season. I thought of my parents who came out to support, as they have every year in Hawaii (and most races!)... and how awesome of a chance it is to spend a week with them in Hawaii. I thought of my husband who has been on this journey with me every step of the way; without Derick, I'd not have the privilege of even being here. I thought of how fortunate I am to even be ABLE to do this great sport. Perspective, even in the heat of battle, is a good thing. Even when emotions run high and that dreaded feeling of 'failing' is on the horizon, I always try to gain some realistic perspective on the situation. Much to be thankful for.

3) Resilience. And here is the big one. This came to me within hours upon finishing. Thanks to good old Merriam-Webster, resilience = the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation, caused especially by compressive stress. My interpretation of this is the ability to bounce back from failure; the ability to not be defined by a beat down; the ability to lift your chin up just a bit and say, 'not may try to break me, but try as you may, I'm not breaking.' This concept was what got me through the day. I came into this expecting to do well; planning to do well, prepared to do well. Coming off the bike after 5 hrs and 40 minutes, it was embarrassing. I know everyone had bad days, but I have been working to prove to myself that I AM a good cyclist; that I CAN bike well for 112 miles. And here I was, slapped in the face with precisely what has sat uneasy with me for two years now (ever since my first time in Kona)...another bad bike split. And as much as I wanted to curl up in a corner and feel sorry for myself as I dismounted into T2, I said to myself "Come on Kelly. It's done, move on. Run a sub-3 hr marathon and make something good out of this day. It's not over. You do NOT quit just because it's not going great." I could not bear the thought of quitting out of embarrassment or the 'fear' of a bad result. So off I went. I shot out of there like a bat out of hell and ran for broke. I gave the run all I had in me right from the start; I didn't even try to pace myself; I didn't have the time to do so. And, I clawed my way back into the Top 15. Not the Top 5, like I had envisioned; not even the Top 10, which I imagined would be an "ok" day. But the one thing I've learned as an athlete is we give it what we've got, at the moment, on the day; and that, I had done.

Where a race like this gets really difficult is those few days afterwards. Within 24 hours, you're so tired and glad that it is over, you don't really feel much emotion; eh, bad race, so it goes. I always find however that it's the next 1-2 weeks when the emotional roller coaster begins. You beat yourself up over it, you ask what went wrong; you ask how could that have happened when you worked so hard. You feel angry one minute, yet indifferent the next. This is when the resilience becomes important. I realized that I've had a great (and long) season... a 1:14 half marathon back in January, three 70.3 wins, two 70.3 seconds including the World Championships; and some great success at the Olympic distances as well. I feel as if it would be very selfish of me to walk away from the season disappointed, having had so many successful races; you cannot let one race define you, be it good or bad. I'll digest it and learn from it. I'll take some much needed down time, rest, re-focus and look forward. I will be resilient.

I cannot thank enough the amazing support system I have around me; I am proud to represent each and every one of you, and appreciate your belief in me as an athlete and a person. Thanks to Memorial Hermann, Zoot, PowerBar, Quintana Roo, The Westin Lake Las Vegas, Reynolds, Recovery Pump, ISM, Road ID, Jack & Adams, Vision, Giro, BMW of Austin, Durata Training, Katalyst Multisport, SRM, Oakley, Go with the Flo, Hill Country Running, and Kendal Jacobson. I may not win 'em all, but you can rest assured, I'll give it every ounce in me and I'll be damned if quit. Here's to a great 2012. I'm grateful, appreciative and hungry for more! Now onto the fun stuff... planning out my Off Season 5K Race Schedule...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Vegas 70.3 Worlds: Slow like Turtle, Fast like Hare

Given some time to reflect on the 70.3 World Champs, I can’t help but feel like I’m a bit like a turtle. Maybe this is because I spent a bit of time at the Westin Lake Las Vegas’ outside patio, looking out over the water, admiring the giant turtle fountains spitting out water; cute little guys. While I’ve managed to put together a string of good results the past few seasons, the progression to this point in my career has been extremely steady and consistent. At times frustratingly slow and steady, but, in retrospect, I’d prefer to have had it no other way. It has allowed me to be that much more appreciative to see it all come together as it has.

Sunday's race was an interesting one. Given the week leading up, I tried not to change any of my goals or expectations; but truth be told, that is really tough when your 'master plan' gets the least bit rattled. It just challenges your mental capacity and attitude that much more. I had been out to the Westin Lake Las Vegas in June for a solo mini training camp/bike focus, and I loved the venue. Calm lake swim, hilly and challenging bike course with wide sweeping turns, and a hard hill run; and hot temperatures. There were few things that, if I could hand-pick a course, I would opt to do differently. To top it off, I had the support of my husband Derick, my parents, and my Aunt Sandy and Uncle Del all in attendance. Some of you may know that I'm raising money for Multiple Sclerosis, as it is something very close to me. My Aunt has had MS for 40 years now, and to have her there to watch my race made it all the more special. I just hoped I could put on a good show!

We kicked off right at 6:30, a few minutes behind the pro men. I felt strong from the gun, and managed to separate myself from the mass of women within a few minutes. I could see one woman up ahead and I guessed it to be Jodie Swallow. I could feel a couple people tapping my feet throughout but thankfully they were all nice! It forced me to keep my foot on the gas; when I felt them tap, I’d try to pick it up a bit. It ended up being Leanda Cave and Meredith Kessler; who, like me, aren’t into dogfight swims (to me it’s just wasted energy). I exited about 30-45 seconds behind Jodie with Leanda and Meredith right along with me.

We were onto our bikes after a nice long climb out of T1 and Leanda was right ahead of me. I figured that since last weekend at HyVee we had ridden together most the way, well, we would do that again. Ha! Not if she had anything to do with it! She soon drifted off ahead as we entered Lake Mead Rec Area, and the carrot was gone. I stuck to my plan, tried to stay strong and steady; work the climbs but also get small and fast for the huge descents. I was feeling fairly good, but I was also getting passed here and there. I just tried to stay positive, even though at the turnaround (~mile 24), I could see that the top women had put in a good gap. I thought back to the many long rides I had done out here (back to back 100 mile days) in June and reminded myself that this was only 30 more miles; compared to my training, compared to all the intervals, this was nothing. Foot on the gas, eyes down the road.

I entered T2 with far more of a gap than I would have preferred (about 7-8 minutes) so I knew I had serious work cut out for me on the run. I bombed out of transition while balancing changing my hair (low ponytail to high, my usual, so my visor fits better) and carrying my flask of 4 PowerGels, and it was time to get after it. It was a 3 loop run that is basically either downhill or uphill. I managed to move through the field the first loop, probably moving from 7th into 4th or so. I was feeling incredibly strong out there. Well into the second loop, about mile 8, I managed to pass two women which moved me into 2nd place. I was still feeling great, but at about mile 10 as I started the final long climb, my body started to really feel the effort. I knew my deficit to Leanda was decreasing (I was literally hearing ‘6 min down! 4:30 down! 3:45 down!) but I also knew that I was running as fast as my legs would let me. By the time I reached mile 12, I was told “1:45 down!” I knew that unless Leanda blew up (and she was running downhill, mind you… an unlikely scenario) that I would have to settle for 2nd place. Nonetheless, when I made the final turn downhill for the finish, I gave it all I had in me. I managed to cut the difference to 1 min 19 seconds, and while I wanted nothing more than to be the 70.3 World Champ, I was pretty satisfied to have run myself into 2nd place.

When I came here to train in June, I ran the run course a few times to know what to expect. I am not a huge fan of ‘visualization’, but I would picture myself out there, racing, and I would envision myself with a victory here, on race day, at this venue. It didn’t feel forced; it felt natural; it was something I believed I would do. It’s tough to actually believe and picture yourself as a World Champion. Many of us can ‘say’ we believe we can do it, but to truly buy into it with every ounce of yourself is something totally different; you can’t force that. I truly believed that on this course, in this venue, at this distance, I was 100% capable of winning the World Championships. It didn’t happen on the day, but for some reason, I haven’t walked away disappointed. Every race is its own beast. I dealt with some things going into this one that I’d not expected. While I don’t know if the week leading up to it affected my race, what I do know is that I executed that race, start to finish, to the best of my abilities. I felt good, I had no major mishaps, and I never ever gave up on myself; even when I knew I had 8 minutes to make up. I can honestly say, I don’t know if I had an extra 1 min 19 seconds in my race that day; there is nothing I think I could have done better. When you walk away like that, with no regrets, it’s tough to be anything but satisfied.

It has almost been a dream season for me (…it isn’t over yet!). I set out with big goals and with competitive races on my schedule, dating all the way back to February with Panama 70.3. Some people look at my schedule and think it’s ‘too much’, but I plan what I know I can handle and after 10 years of racing as a professional, I know myself pretty well. I like to race good competition as much as I can, but I also try to respect my body and give it the R&R that I know it needs. To me, this ‘Triple Crown’ thing really isn’t that big of a deal… I hadn’t raced in 8 weeks when HyVee approached, so I was fully ready to get back at it! I think that we can gain so much fitness from racing, given that we recover and rest afterwards. So that’s what I am now doing… trying to give my body the rest it needs so that I can be ready for the big one, Kona, in just 4+ weeks. It’s all the easier to get that ‘rest’ when you have blips like a slightly bum heel or a cold that hits after a race (both of which I’ve had)! In any case, while I have raced a lot of shorter races this season, I am very excited at what is around the corner. Ironman still holds a lot of unknowns for me personally. I’ve never really performed like I think I am capable of at this distance. So it’ll be fun to challenge myself on the most tried and true proving ground there is in our sport. But for now, I will enjoy the feeling of the 2nd place at 70.3 World Champs to cap off what has been a great year thus far.

I have to give a huge thank you to those who have been instrumental in my success’ this season: Derick, my husband and coach; he supports me when I need it but also knows how to get me to do things I don’t think are possible. My parents who are probably shocked their 34-year old daughter is ‘still an athlete’, just as she was 20 years ago, but are never anything but supportive. My Aunt and Uncle for coming out to Vegas to cheer me on. And my sponsors: Memorial Hermann, Zoot, Quintana Roo, PowerBar, Reynolds, Durata Training, Recovery Pump, Road ID, ISM, Vision, Katalyst Multisport, Jack & Adams, Giro, BMW of Austin, SRM, Oakley, Go with the Flo Acupuncture, Hill Country Running, Advanced Rehab and my newest sponsor, The Westin Lake Las Vegas.

I’ve had a few people call me ‘inspiring’. I don’t know if we ever really consider ourselves worthy of such a compliment; inspiring is when people overcome the impossible, they have every odd stacked against them and they somehow succeed; I don’t feel like I have had to leap too many hurdles in my life. But when I step back and take a look at my own career and progression through the sport, in my opinion I have just stubbornly clawed my way up the ladder. There have been times I’ve wanted to throw the towel in, thinking there’s no way that my cycling would ever make me competitive with the best. But just as often I’ve said to myself, “Why the hell not? With persistence, hard work and visible progression, there’s no reason you can’t get to that level.” Pardon the cliché nature of this statement, but if my success’ can inspire just one person to believe in themselves a bit more, or decide that there is nothing to lose by chasing a dream or a goal, then every success I achieve becomes multiple times more meaningful. With that said, aim high, my friends. There’s a lot to be gained, especially if you’re not afraid to fail.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

HyVee 5150 Champs: It Takes an Army

It’s no secret that I have had my eye on the final part of my season all year long. The overall plan was to start early, knock out the necessary points, and gain fitness from the first half of my season. We then shut it down in the heat of summer, head to Colorado and focus, undistracted, on training 2 months. I love to race, but this allowed me to shut off, put in some volume and also get that fire in my belly again to compete. The big racing push would include three Championship events: HyVee 5150, Vegas 70.3 and Kona. Call me greedy, but my goal is always to win! Maybe not all, but at least one! Thus far, however, I am pleased with the first two results, especially given an unexpected ‘glitch’ at HyVee. In short, I was 6th at HyVee. In long, here is how it unfolded.

I’ve been excited to do HyVee ever since I put it on my schedule late 2011. I train for 70.3 and Ironman, but I try to keep in touch with the shorter speed here and there. I trust in my ability to race well in both Olympic distance events and Ironman. I headed to HyVee after having been down from altitude for 1 week, and really doing mostly 70.3 and Ironman focused training in Colorado. I knew it would be fast and furious (especially on the swim) but I was anxious to throw myself into the mix and see how I measured up against some of the best in the world at this distance; fully knowing that it could go great or I could get it handed to me.

I liked the feeling of Des Moines from the moment we arrived. It felt like a mellow town, easy to navigate, low key, not too busy. I guess I’m just a small town Indiana girl at heart; but I always feel relaxed arriving in a town like this to compete. It was a treat to have Derick and my parents all there, and I felt fairly relaxed going into it, knowing this was not ‘the’ focus race for my year; moreso a good stepping stone for what was to come.

This race organization spares NOTHING. Top notch, first class everything; they go above and beyond to make you feel like they are truly glad you’re here in Des Moines for their event. Before the swim, all 30 women lined up with an ‘escort’ carrying our country’s flag. Incredible! We marched down to the pontoon for the dive start, and after fireworks went off, took our spots, and awaited the gun. Off we went for the 2-loop swim. I gave it all I had from the gun, but watch a few women drift off into the distance, trying to stay within myself. We exited after 750 meters, ran down the pontoon and dove in for the second loop. That heart rate jolt was a bit of of a shock! I felt a bit better as I settled into the second half, but found myself counting my strokes at the end. My mind was definitely drifting! I’m a very steady swimmer and I knew I was going as fast as I could. Upon exiting, I got to try out my new Zoot speedsuit, which unzips by simply tearing it apart; worked like a charm and no cord to deal with! Smooth as butter. I was about 1 minute down from the leaders; not ideal, but I didn’t let it rattle me.

I hopped onto my QR Illicito, threw on my new Giro Selector helmet (which I’m a huge fan of) and tried to bike like hell. We had a 4 loop course and it was a lot hillier than I had expected. I knew it would be technical with many turns, but it was also a lot of shifting and a LOT of punching high end power. I felt strong but definitely a bit out of my element; that intensity is so different than what my bike focus has been. I managed to hold my position more or less throughout the bike, passed a couple of girls, got passed by a few. I actually lost a few (4) spokes halfway into the bike when a competitor made a pass so close to my right that something on her bike (perhaps the skewer) ran up against my front wheel. I heard the noises, and when I looked down I could see something was off with the spokes. My Reynolds 46 front wheel seemed to still ride fairly true, but upon standing I could see it wobbling. For one thing, it pissed me off, which is never a bad thing…I tend to do well in this state. J But it also made me nervous with the technical course that the wheel could be a bit unstable. I was so thankful to finally finish up the bike knowing I had finished it in one piece. It was truly impressive that my Reynolds 46 wheel held up and still carried on safely with 4 broken spokes!

When I made the final turn to dismount, the line jumped up on me, a bad mistake I had made (completely my own fault) in that I didn’t realize the dismount line was THAT quick after the final turn. They had firmly emphasized being completely OFF your bike by that line with the huge primes. The good thing was I had a stellar dismount! The bad thing was I landed so hard on my left heel that after throwing on my Zoot Ultra Race shoes, running out of T2 I had an indescribable pain in my foot and up my entire lower leg. I literally hobbled, then stopped and shook my foot out. I decided if I could continue to run ‘normally’, I would carry on. If not then I would have to quit, knowing what races I had to come. These moments can be so tough as an athlete; do you pull out to be ‘safe’ or do you grit your teeth and suck it up? I began to run and it seemed the pain went away, so while I knew something was not entirely right in there, I decided ‘game on’ and began to put together the best 10k I had in me. I managed to go from 14th to 6th over the course of the 4 loop, 10 km course. Quite a good result given where I had started. The bad part was I could barely walk after I finished. I definitely wanted to be in the Top 5, but I my concern over my foot overshadowed that and I was pleased with the result. I enjoyed the evening with my family but a fun dinner out became pizza and beer in the room, along with icing and elevating my foot.

It made for an incredibly stressful next few days. Derick got me crutches at Walmart that I used the next day to get home, simply because any weight on my left foot was horribly painful. Nothing like leaving a race on crutches! I had an MRI on Tuesday which showed thankfully no damage to the bone or the plantar fascia, only inflammation and fluid in the heel. At this point, I had to make the decision about Vegas. I told myself it there was no real damage to my foot, I would still race. I pushed my departure back to Friday, as I needed all the time I could get in Austin getting acupuncture, massage, and seeing another doctor for a second opinion. Thursday before Vegas, I was still nervous and stressed out about even heading to the race. I was assured (as much as a doc can ‘assure’ anything) that he really felt like with ice, anti-inflammatories, and rest until Sunday, no further damage would be done. SO…I decided to head to Vegas despite a bit of skepticism, and hope that it came around by Sunday.

It was not the week I had anticipated going into what was one of my biggest focus’ of the year, but having been in this sport for so long, I’ve come to realize this is part of it. I could have been worse off, and I had to mentally realize that the lack of running all week had not hurt me in anyway; if anything, the forced rest had probably been good. I had a few doubts but as the weekend approached, I tried to push them out of my mind, knowing I had the fitness and I simply had to try to ignore any potential foot pain on Sunday. Yet again, a lesson in ‘shit happens, it’s how you deal with it’! If you’ve not had things like this happen, you haven’t been in the sport long enough, because they will. I knew it was up to me how I chose to deal with this; take myself out of the race from the start, or forget about it and go in with a focus as if it had never happened. I tried my best to do the latter.

I cannot thank enough the ‘army’ who helped me out during this tough week. My husband Derick (and of course my mom!) who were just there for me in the ups and downs; Kim Mullen, a chiropractor and friend who initially assessed me; Kendal Jacobson my massage therapist; Jack Murray of Jack & Adams reached out to get me in touch with a podiatrist; AJ Zelinski of Advanced Rehab; Karen Smith who paid me a home visit to do acupuncture; Aaron Brougher and Reynolds who came through with a new front wheel; James Balentine at Jack & Adams to get the wheel glued up. The community we have found in Austin is truly unparalleled. Additionally thanks to my sponsors for their constant support. It was time to stop feeling sorry for myself, put on my game face and get after it; despite any doubts I may have had, I was stoked at the opportunity to toe the line in Vegas and give it my all.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Active MSers Feature: Larry Danahey

Larry is from Denver, Colorado and appropriately (given the amazing surroundings, terrain and environment living in Colorado) he has taken to cycling as his activity of choice. Though he was diagnosed with MS about 13 years ago, he has in recent years tackled some of his biggest and longest rides. It is very inspiring to hear Larry say that the exercise has helped his MS symptoms; and additionally, the social interaction and simply being outside has improved his overall well-being. So great to hear these stories! Please take a moment to read his story; thank you Larry for submitting it, and thank you to all of you who have donated to my Can Do MS Fund.

We are at $4700, and my goal is $10,000 by October 13th. Please help spread the word!

Here is Larry's story, in his words:

I was diagnosed with RRMS in January of 1999 at the age of 48. I had noticed various symptoms for the previous 9 years ranging from foot drop, numbness, and vision changes, to balance issues, but the thing that drove me to find out what was going on was the paralyzing fatigue. I spent the next three years trying to get my mind wrapped around the diagnosis of MS, a disease which the wife of a very good friend of mine had passed away from just a few years earlier. Eventually, the worry wore me out and I decided to just get on with living.

Through out my life I had generally managed to stay active. Although I have never been a swimmer and now running was becoming more and more difficult, I eventually discovered that riding the spin cycles at the club was doable. That prompted me to dust off an old mountain bike I had and start riding outside. The bike took my mind off of the MS because there were so many other things to think about like where I was, where I was going, how far, how fast, the rain, the wind and the traffic and of course the scenery and whatever chaos might be going on around me. It was an exhilarating opportunity to experience life again and I fell in love with it almost immediately.

I attempted my first MS 150 in 2005. I was only marginally successful. I sagged and short cut my way to the end and still barely made it. I felt my effort was so miserable that I didn’t even attempt the ride in 2006 but I did step up my training on the bike. I successfully completed the MS 150 in 2007 and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life, but I decided then that I would do this ride every year until I couldn’t do it anymore.

In 2008 I noticed that my time on the first day of the MS 150 seemed to improve and by quite a bit and I began to see that the bike riding was actually helping me overcome some of the MS damage, so I started to pay more attention to that aspect of riding. I began to notice positive changes in fatigue levels and strength. I found things I had not been able to do at all in previous years that I could at least do to a moderate extent. I stepped up my training again in 2009 and again improved my first day saddle time in the MS 150. I decided to step out and try some longer, harder rides.

In 2010 in honor of our 60th birthdays, a friend and I did the “Ride the Rockies”, 7 straight days, 532 miles, 27,000 feet of ascent. Although I took one of the recovery days off to visit some old friends, I DID climb ALL 6 of the mountain passes the ride covered. The MS 150 that year was relatively easy for me and again I improved my first day saddle time.

At the end of 2010 I had a brief relapse that I felt was brought on by an MS drug that I tried. I spent the first part of 2011 getting through the damage from that relapse. In spite of it though, I signed up for the MS 150 including the 2nd day century. I also signed up for the “Triple Bypass”, a single day, 123-mile ride with 10,000 ft. of ascent. Again I improved my time on the first day of the 150 even if only by 7 minutes and I didn’t have any problems on the 2nd day century either, except maybe a little with the heat toward the very end. Unfortunately, I failed miserably on the “Triple Bypass” though. I did several other rides with varying degrees of success that year too and I took the liberty of blaming my failures on the relapse I’d had late in 2010 and my successes on my training. I decided to repeat most of the rides that I did that year again in 2012 to see if I could improve my success rate.

Although the “Triple” would only constitute a relatively hard training ride for a pro, there is a good chance that it might be more than I am capable of, but whether or not I complete it is not really the point any more. The real point of these rides is the training they encourage me to do. I know how lucky I am to be able to ride at all because I know so many who can’t.

Over the years I’ve seen how beneficial the training has been for my MS, I believe there is more at work here than simple strengthening of atrophied muscles. And, of course, the various rides with fabulous scenery and multiple opportunities to make new friends, provides more incentive for me to concentrate on that training. Sometimes it is a difficult concept to explain to a more competitive rider, but although I appreciate being able to complete the rides I sign up for and I thoroughly enjoy seeing the improvement in my riding abilities, it’s really all about the training and the tremendously beneficial effect it has on the MS.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Visions of Flour: Running in Salida

We are well into our annual Salida, CO "summer training/escape the Austin heat" trip. We've been here 4 weeks, and we have just less than 2 to go. As always we have had an awesome stay here; cooler temps, afternoon storms, and the daily river plays with our dog Amico. Derick and I are both mountain people by heart; we love Austin but we have to get away and see mountains at least once a year. I have yet to take to the Arkansas river and make it into my own swimming treadmill, but... there's still time!

Yesterday I was out on my 11 mile uphill Tempo run which Derick so kindly assigned to me. The one thing that Salida lacks is a nice long fairly flat dirt path for running. Living in Austin, we forget how spoiled we are with a marked 10 mile dirt path around Lady Bird Lake. It makes it easy to do fast tempo runs, long runs and even recovery runs on a softer surface. Here, there is no shortage of hills but at 7000+ feet, they can get pretty taxing if you are always running up or down. And, given that I am doing Ironman training, at times I need to get the 'miles' in, not just the time. The first long tempo run I did here was out and back 291, a long fairly flat stretch of road. The next week, I took the 12 miles to a treadmill for a softer surface and less pounding. Then Derick discovered a long dirt road that goes uphill for (at least) 12 miles. He suggested that I do an 'uphill tempo' on this as an alternative. I agreed. I then said 'so what pace do you think I can run it?' and he said '...probably 7 min pace or faster.' I thought to myself...huh. Really? That sounds fast. But I figured to give it a go and see what happened.

thinking 'oh shit, what have I gotten into..'
and mentally preparing here...
The run goes from our condo and takes 3 miles to the start of the dirt, but half of this is already going uphill on pavement. Then the dirt begins; the start line for 8 miles up. Derick marks every mile with flour (I guess this is a runner thing?) so, lucky me, I could see my run splits. When you're told 7 min pace and you see 8:22 on mile 1, it can be a little demoralizing. (I of course yelled at Derick when he drove by me the first time something to the effect of "7 min pace my ass!") But, I tried to suck it up and keep on running, knowing this was a strength workout, not necessarily speed. Mile 2 was more brutal as the road was both twisty and steep.

By about 2 miles in, I start to just zone out and take it as it comes. It's long, and while the environment is beautiful, it is unrelenting and simply put, my hill does not end until the 8 miles are completed; no matter how fast or slow I split each mile, there are still 8 of them. The good thing was I had done this a week earlier, so I knew what to expect and I also had previous splits to base this run off of. Thankfully, these ones were slightly faster than the previous week. Derick would leapfrog me to mark off the miles, along with Amico in the car to spectate and 'support'. Up, up, up I go.

Soon enough, I hit the 4 mile mark which was a nice sight to see...halfway! I watched for Derick around this point because previously, he had pulled the car off to let the dog play in a fairly open spot and hand me some water. However as I approached Amico's play field, the cows had decided to take it over for the day, so the poor little guy was left in the car to bark at the cows. Thankfully, they let me through the road; and looked at me like I was crazy. (smart cows!)

From this point on, it is kind of 'all downhill' (mentally) since I know I am down to 3+ miles to go. The air gets a little bit more thin, temps cool off a bit, but it's still about trying to stick to the best pace I can sustain while ...yes, still going up. By the time mile 6 rolls around, the terrain kicks up again and also gets a bit more rocky; which can be tough given the amount of fatigue which has accumulated by now. I'd start to see rocks up ahead of me, which appear white in the dirt, and I kept thinking they were lines of flour; but most times, they were just more rocks! I'd think "Damn, where is the flour!" I tried to not look at my watch except for the mile splits, because it kind of messes with your head if you fixate too much on the time; moreso, it's just one line of flour at a time. 

Even though the run 'only' tops out at about 9800 feet, it almost feels like I'm getting closer to the sky as I finish up the final couple of miles. And one of the best parts of this entire run is, the final 1/4 mile the terrain actually levels off and descends a bit. A nice way to finally find some leg turnover and finish it up strong!

...aaand, done. The run culminates with the view from the top and a happy Kelly; thanks to my awesome sherpa husband and of course Amico in tow to keep Derick company. This dog loves few things more than car rides (except maybe playing in the river, biting waves).


This run, to me, is kind of a symbolic microcosm of all of my time training here in Salida. Vastly all of what I do is on my own, solo, for 6 weeks. While most the time I relish in solo training (I feel good, I roll with it...I feel like shit, I dial it back; no added stresses of pacing off of/with someone else) I have to admit that I have had a few ups and downs. I may struggle one day to get myself out the door, but once I do, I realize why I do what I do and how much I truly love it. I've got an incredible playground here in Salida, and it's just a matter of figuring out where I'll do what on each day. Swimming is probably one of the harder things here; swimming at 7000 ft is extremely challenging, in an indoor 25-meter pool that is kept at a balmy 84F no less. There is no open water lake, or at least none actually 'in' Salida. However, like anything else... you make it work. I miss my masters group in Austin, I miss the long course meters pools...but I know that the altitude is making me stronger, and if I want to get it done, it's up to noone but me. And I have to hand it to Derick. I would have never (ever) chosen to run uphill for 11 miles and call it a 'tempo' run. I am usually pretty tied to paces; tempo means fast, and I want to see fast splits. However, in this situation, tempo means strength and even though the turnover is not there, to mentally run up a hill that lasts for 1.5 hrs is brutal; not to mention the physical challenges it brings and that it can actually make you a 'faster' runner. It requires so much fortitude and persistence, regardless of that satisfaction of seeing 'tempo pace' on my watch at each mile. One foot in front of the other, relaxed upper body, consistent breathing, keeping the effort in check...and just clicking off each line of flour. Noone around to keep me honest, noone next to me to keep me moving forward; just me. If that won't make you mentally stronger, I'm not sure what will! 
Here is a little glimpse of what tomorrow has in store...this is me riding back from Buena Vista, after climbing  up Cottonwood Pass; which tops out at 12,126 feet. When it gets tough and the legs are burning, I'll just remind myself that there are no mountains like this in Austin! It's not a bad way to spend a Saturday. Because this is the reward at the end; a natural ice bath & entertainment from Amico! 

Thanks for reading!